15 October 2013

VCIR Fall 2013: points of interest

Utah, the 45th state admitted to the Union and containing points of interest such as Bryce Canyon National Park, the Sundance Film Festival and Lake Powell, hosted this year’s Venture Capital in the Rockies (VCIR) Fall conference with startups on the hunt for investors including seven local companies alongside cluster of early-stage players from Arizona, Nevada and Colorado.

When presented with a list of unfamiliar names it is always good to turn to those publications with experience of picking out interesting tech startups. However, surely most people have come across Ancestry.com, the genealogy and family heritage company which raised USD 100 million by listing on Nasdaq in 2009 before being taken private by Permira Advisers for a tidy sum of USD 1,600 million. Well this may pique the interest of readers as Ancestry.com’s former executives have just launched a new Utah-based genealogy venture, YouWho.

According to VentureBeat, YouWho, which links family photographs and documents to family members and direct descendants of the people in the pictures by using metadata and facial recognition programmes, has already secured USD 5 million in seed funding from Lightspeed Venture Partners and is on the lookout for another backer.

VentureBeat noted the startup is in the process of procuring old memorabilia that is stored in attics and thrift shops with the aim of becoming a marketplace which sells content, licenced from the original owner, at premium prices to those consumers who feel an emotional connection to it. VentureBeat even managed to scoop an exclusive interview – the first press such coverage – with cofounder Andre Brummer, who indicated the company already has 200 million photographs, keepsakes and mementos stored in the backend and said he hopes people will upload pictures to and tag them on the website, which is integrated with Facebook via the open API.

Another VCIR Fall 2013 company, Wave, has also been on the receiving end of press coverage as both VentureBeat and AllThingsD indicated this Utah-based startup has a seriously nifty idea. The company was spun out of a research project at Utah State University, which now holds an equity stake, and has developed a wireless power transfer system that can be used to operate electric vehicles, in this case buses, with a greatly reduced battery size. It runs on a similar wireless charging technology format to the mobile phone system Powermat.

Once again VentureBeat managed to gain an exclusive interview with the venture, which is already powering the state’s first wireless electric bus. The company said it received an equity injection of a little over USD 1 million for expansion to more cities across the country and added the round of venture funding led by Kickstart has brought the total amount raised to just under USD 8 million, which includes city contracts. Capital for the initial research came from a federal grant but founders are already sounding out the possibility of further investment and are in discussions with a number of transit authorities, including New York, Seattle and Monterey, according to VentureBeat.

VCIR Fall, now in its sixth year, showcases the most promising companies based within the Rocky Mountain region for an audience of over 150 venture capital and service professionals, and encourages emerging growth ventures in Colorado, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Montana, Nevada, Wyoming and Idaho to participate.

While companies based in California and Texas received the lion’s share of venture and development capital in 2012, the value of investment targeting those located in Utah rose for the third consecutive year to USD 231 million (2011: USD 194 million; 2010: USD 144 million; 2009: USD 138 million; 2008: USD 153 million), according to Zephyr, the M&A database published by Bureau van Dijk. Out of the Rocky Mountain-based states promoted by VCIR Fall, Colorado topped the list with known venture and development capital investment of USD 772 million last year.

© Zephyr