TechStars Harvests N.Y. Start-Ups

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NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- David Cohen, co-founder of start-up accelerator TechStars, presided over New York City's Webster Hall Thursday, watching his latest batch of young tech firms give eight-minute pitches to a crowd of 750, which included some of the city's most high-profile venture capitalists and entrepreneurs.

"We might see 100% of these start-ups funded, and usually it's more like 80%," said Cohen, nodding to the level of investor interest many of these New York-area companies, which ranged from an apartment-hunting Web site to a so-called social learning firm, have already seen.

The event, held at the infamous Manhattan music venue, was TechStar's first-ever Demo Day for its New York branch. The 11 companies seeking capital are part of TechStar's three-month program, which provides start-ups with $18,000 in seed funding and access to more than 100 mentors, including Union Square Ventures' Fred Wilson, venture capital pioneer Alan Patricof and Foursquare founder Dennis Crowley.

Based out of Boulder, Colo., TechStars also runs programs in Boston and Seattle and takes a 6% stake in each start-up it supports. The incubator is notoriously hard to get into; it accepted just 2% of the 600 applications it received this year. In the past, several TechStars companies have been acquired by companies like AOL and Jive Software.

The start-ups presenting Thursday varied widely, not only in their make-up but in also in their growth stages: There were mature companies already flush with revenue and established clients, and there were young businesses still figuring out how to make money.

The pitches all seemed polished and professional, and the founders showed little sign of weariness despite weeks of late nights preparing for the event.

Red Rover, a social learning software company whose platform helps co-workers engage and share ideas, came into TechStars with an established product and paying clients, including consulting and insurance services giant Marsh & McLennan. Red Rover CEO Kevin Prentiss said that the accelerator helped his company grow faster through exposure to experienced entrepreneurs.

"We might have spent six months testing something, but through TechStars, we're able to quickly surround ourselves with people that have gone through that experience," he said. "Who knows how expensive it'd be to chase the wrong things without having someone else tell us otherwise."

Red Rover already has 10 clients and had $1.6 million in revenue last year. It's hoping to raise $1.5 million.

Other TechStars start-ups gaining traction include OnSwipe, a publishing tool to make interactive, swipe-friendly versions of Web sites for tablets. The company raised $1 million in seed financing in January, and is currently in the middle of a Series A round.

CrowdTwist, a social service that helps companies reward loyal customers, counts concert promoter LiveNation -- and many other companies -- as a client.

This class of TechStars firms has improved their businesses dramatically through the past 90 days, investors said.

"It's amazing seeing the progression of these companies in their business model and pitch," said Jay Levy, a partner at New York-based Zelkova Ventures, who was already familiar with several of them and has committed to funding one (which he hasn't named yet). "If every company could innovate as quickly as these ones, the world would be a much better place."

TechStars founder Cohen, who temporarily relocated to New York from Boulder to run the program, said he was impressed with the city's burgeoning tech scene. Investment in the New York area has increased to 9% in 2010 from 6% in 2007, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association.

"New York is one of the top two or three tech communities, but doesn't care about being the next Silicon Valley," he said. "It's more focused on being the best New York it can be."

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