Five Startups Spin Out of ThinkHouse
Inaugural ThinkHouse fellows demo startups they built and traction they made in the living-learning community
BY SARAH BILL
Filed Under: NEWS: Startups
Startup accelerators aren't new, but ThinkHouse gives new meaning to “entrepreneurial environment.” The inaugural living-learning-company building program hosted eight entrepreneurs in a renovated house in Boylan Heights since last December. Yesterday, we recapped the experience and talked to the ThinkHouse founders about the future of the program in cities around the world.
Today, we highlight the five promising businesses either born or further developed during an intensive six-months of ThinkHouse residence. The fellows pitched their businesses at a Demo Day at HQ Raleigh last night, and ExitEvent sat in to get their take on a first-of-its-kind experience in the Triangle.
So here you go, the stories behind five startups we'll be watching in weeks and months to follow.
Zack Milburn wants to make shopping for services as easy as shopping for products online. He founded CityWix to be that solution for customers. Services such as cleaning, babysitting and tech support are showcased in a highly visual, straight-forward format on the CityWix website. All services are offered at an advertised fee with no “quotes, bids, or bargaining,” says Milburn. According to him, this is the main differentiating factor between CityWix and other sites like Angie's List and Craigslist.
But the concept is the same: users can either post their services or buy services from others. CityWix is the platform for the transactions, and takes 15% of the payment plus a 50-cent service fee.
CityWix hasn't raised any funds yet. It mainly lists services located in the Triangle, but plans to expand to new markets.
According to Jay Dawkins (pictured above), founder of Cityzen, the gap between Millennials and older generations is sorely apparent in the realm of civic engagement. The younger generation interacts with the world through technology and many young people have overloaded schedules, factors which make them less likely to show up to city meetings or voting booths.
“We don't go to the government anymore,” says Dawkins. “[So] government needs to come to us.”
Cityzen is a website that lets users post concerns in their community, vote on proposed actions and create petitions to build support for change.
Cityzen plans to make money by selling the voting platform to news organizations, says Dawkins. Embedded polls will show up within stories on controversial city policies or plans. The idea is to turn “opinion into action,” says Dawkins. For example, the Hillsborough Lofts project received 65 votes of support through Cityzen and prompted the creation of a petition, which was then delivered to the Raleigh City Council earlier this month (a final vote on the development is expected Tuesday).
So far, Cityzen has bootstrapped the business, but Dawkins hopes to raise funds this summer.
Lance Cassidy says the problem with people trying to stick to nutrition plans is that they don't have the right tools to engage with the supporters they need. Cassidy founded Healthy Bytes as a simple platform for nutritional coaches to reach clients using an already ingrained behavior—photography.
The website has a dashboard for health professionals to view and assess client-posted pictures of their meals, then communicate with the clients and offer support. According to Cassidy, the target market is threefold: diet coaches can use the platform for a competitive advantage, wellness organizations can use it to increase awareness and decrease unhealthy behaviors, and research organizations can gather data on eating habits.
Healthy Bytes' plans to launch a beta version of the product on July 10th. Ten nutritional coaches with 250 clients will be the testers.
Sean Maroni is perplexed by the challenge of retaining science and math students in higher education. He says that only 50% of students majoring in these areas finish their degrees. And retention is low, he believes, because the traditional way that content is delivered is ineffective. Listening to lectures and reading from textbooks is too passive.
“Rethink the classroom,” says Maroni. His startup BetaVersity offers an alternative “learning-by-doing” space in a shipping container. This mobile classroom, called BetaBox, delivers high-tech, hands-on learning relevant to school curriculum. Betaversity also offers supporting software called BetaVerse.
More than 400 students currently use Betaversity at the University of California—Davis. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will be a returning customer this Fall. Betaversity has raised $75,000 in grants and just hired its first two full-time employees. ExitEvent wrote about BetaVersity's Arch Grant award last month. Maroni will join his co-founder in St. Louis this summer to take advantage of the Arch award's support system.
David Shaner (pictured below) wants you to “fall in love with your city.” It sounds romantic, but there is actually a solid business plan behind it.
Shaner explains how searching for things to do in a city usually involves the frustrating process of visiting websites that “look like they were made in the 90s,” and scouring events sections in local papers. His solution is to modernize the process using the current behavior of photo sharing.
Offline is a website (with a mobile app coming soon) where users can view a stream of other users' local experiences. They can also receive personalized suggestions for places and events in their area, as well as “check off” their participation. Users are incentivized to be active—Shaner says Offline gives out awards to the most active users during the month.
Offline wants to focus on underserved mid-market U.S. cities, says Shaner. So far, he's raised $100,000 (including $50K from his participation last year in the Startup Factory) and secured financial support from Angie's List Vice President Michael Holt. The site has over 4,000 users in the Triangle.
Offline's next move is to launch the mobile app, which Shaner believes will help him reach many more people and expand to other cities.
“We spent the time getting it right with our website,” Shaner says. “You measure twice and cut once.”
During the social hour after the pitches ended, I asked the startups about the greatest benefit of ThinkHouse. One theme seemed to be clear: peer support and involvement.
“The people and support at ThinkHouse was the best,” says Dawkins of Cityzen. Working alongside so many people going through the same entrepreneurial struggles helped ease the stress of developing his business.
Shaner echoed this sentiment. It's less about the leadership growth and speakers who came in intermittently, he says.
“There was no specific person I can think of [that influenced me the most],” says Shaner. “In fact, it's the opposite. It's about diversity. There was so much input from so many different areas. It was amazing…all the inspiration from others.”
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