Maybe it was the politically charged times or perhaps it was the campy possibilities of a Valentine’s Day theme that amped up the energy levels of 500 Startups’ Demo Day. Wherever the charge came from, sparks flew at the Computer History Museum on Wednesday afternoon.
At the center of it all, as usual, was 500 Startups founding partner Dave McClure, who appeared in full Valentine’s Day drag. Call him Lady Haha or the Queen of Starts, but it was clear he wasn’t joking around when he took the stage midway through the proceedings to make a political plea.
McClure’s political diatribe was only part of this Demo Day’s entertainment and fund-raising activities. Here are some other highlights from a few highly charged hours.
— Camp Fun: Whether it’s dressing as witches, ogres or vampires at Halloween, or wearing copious amounts of hearts and flowers for Valentine’s, 500 Startups always goes to great lengths to be the jesters of the startup world. They featured not one, but two videos and a pair of satirical putdowns of the whole startup pitch routine from a group called “Rhyme Combinator”— whose name is an obviously playful jab at the other bigtime accelerator from Mountain View, Y Combinator. Among the faux pitches that were put down were “Butt Bit — like Fitbit for Your Butt,” and another for a company called “Task Rabbi.”
— Saving the World: That’s a pitch that’s made so often that it became a regular joke on HBO’s satirical “Silicon Valley” series. But a couple of the companies in this 500 batch are making serious attempts to reverse environmental damage around the world. Palo Alto-based Pluto AI is applying artificial intelligence to reduce the 2.1 trillion gallons of clean water that literally goes down the drain each year. Ontario-based Ambience
Data applies the Internet of Things to keep track of environmental conditions, inside and out, focusing at first on air quality.
— Fashion and Beauty: This was a major theme for Batch 19. Among the pitches here were Dallas-based Shearshare, which helps salon owners keep their chairs staffed, Los Angeles-based black beauty product startup We Are Onyx, and a startup from Taiwan that is actually called “Unicorn.” The latter sells men’s skin care products that may be fine, but the name is well past its prime in the United States.
— Smile, You’re Always on Camera: Several of the more interesting startups that pitched were touting new ways to use photos and cameras. Barcelona-based Gestoos is bringing “Minority Report”-style hand gesture controls to video panels that are now being used for advertising and marketing purposes. New York-based Scopio pitched the value of user-generated images over buying stock photos. London-based Owlr offers technology that it says makes images from inexpensive home and business security cameras as good as premium brand camera systems.