Early-stage startup founders, investors and tech fans in general came out to 1776′s campus last night to booze and schmooze at Tech Cocktail’s D.C. Mixer and Startup Showcase. A great crowd showed up to see some of the D.C. startup-world’s latest innovations and pick their favorite companies to qualify for Tech Cocktail Celebrate – the publication’s new national competition held in Downtown Vegas on October 23 through 25. In the end, however, it sort of left you questioning if the showcase was really about competing or rather a chance to bring players in the startup world together and have a good time.
In all, 15 different startups with ties to the D.C. area were invited to show off their up-and-coming companies. There was Andelion, an internet shopping assistant software; Fortique, described by founder and CEO Stephanie Ulvey as an Etsy for local talent and creative services; My Study Rewards, a gamified social platform that allows individuals to build and test knowledge, while being rewarded for their effort; Yopine, which founder Gary Mendel said translates in Spanish to “my opinion,” and the app literally does that – crowdsources questions to an audience to help you make a decision; and many, many more stellar startups.
While it was great to have a drink or two while mingling with the exciting entrepreneurs to hear about what solutions and products they have to offer, the main point of the night was to pick two startups – one on the spot and another based on prior online polling – to invite to Vegas later next month.
Each company sent an executive to the stage to give a rapid elevator pitch to the crowd, upon which they were supposed to vote for their favorite by text. Of course, 30-60 seconds doesn’t provide enough time for a company to go in depth on their products, but it was interesting nonetheless. And still, you got brief glimpses of each presenter’s personality and confidence, both of which reflect on their startup in a way.
It was no surprise who won the on-the-spot vote, as the founder bribed the crowd with the chance to see him awkwardly rap “Rapper’s Delight” acappella – pictured above – if his company won. Tedd Evers of TripTuner went through a comical and brag-filled list of 10 reasons why the audience should vote for his travel discovery website. One was that he was missing his child’s back-to-school night to present, and another that TripTuner has been featured in a list of the top 10 vacation websites in the New York Times. Lastly, as already mentioned, he’d rap for the crowd on the spot; and who wouldn’t want to see a mid-40s white guy show off his rhyming skills with the only backing noise being audience chatter.
Indeed, after winning, he performed “Rapper’s Delight,” doing right on his side of the bribe, selling his dignity and embarrassing himself for a chance to compete in Vegas. Whatever it takes to win, right? And if you’re wondering, yes, it was pretty awful. But TripTuner is pretty awesome, so maybe he would’ve won even if he didn’t offer to rap.
Recoup.com, an e-commerce website like Groupon that helps consumers give to a cause at the same time, received the online bid to Tech Cocktail Celebrate. Beforehand, users could go on the Tech Cocktail website and vote for the startups they thought were the hottest in D.C., or at least the hottest of those on the list. But just like the popular people in high school who won everything, it’s possible that Recoup.com did the best at encouraging people they know to vote for them online. This isn’t a diss for Recoup.com, though – they just played the game the right way.
That said, it kind of begs the question then, what does being the hottest showcasing startup mean? Is it about being the most innovative, scalable, experienced and likely to succeed company in the room? Or does it mean that you were able to stand out the best in the crowd and capture the audience’s attention – which undoubtedly is a good skill for entrepreneurs to have – or create buzz that translated to votes online. It seems that Tech Cocktail Showcases are more about getting people together to support each region’s startup ecosystem and have a good time, and less about the heat of the competition with less at stake than many other showcase competitions. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. After all, the D.C. startup scene sure knows how to party.