Techstars Austin Demo Day: 10 graduating companies to watch right now

by Tessa McLean
May 19, 2016

Austin’s Techstars Spring 2016 class will pitch their companies today, presenting to an impressive crowd of mentors, investors, community members, and Techstars alumni.

The 10 companies are a diverse group gathering from across the globe, and have now completed the program. In addition to $118,000 in seed funding, companies received mentorship from managing director Amos Schwartzfarb and notable Austin technologists, as well as mentors and ‘sherpas’ — previous Techstars graduates still residing in Austin. is revolutionizing the publishing industry where book deals are made.
What was Techstars like for your team? For, Techstars was like hitting a massive fast-forward button. Through conversations within Techstars and with the mentors, we found ways to jump forward in our execution plans. Within weeks of starting, we catapulted months ahead in our roadmap, and brought on larger and more strategic partners.
What's a lesson you learned that surprised you? The surprise lesson to me was more personal. We had bootstrapped for a year — with everyone doing whatever they could to support and grow the company.  We were “all hands on deck.” Techstars brought me back into the mentality of “measure and improve.” And as our business has progressed and our team has grown, I have been able to step more fully into the role of CEO — leading a dynamic team and executing on our strategic vision.
So, what's next? We’ll be running just as hard post-Techstars, growing our team and taking our technology beyond publishing and into film and tv. Techstars will have to kick us out of the office when they start the next program. It’s been a perfect fit, so we will stay there as long as there is space to rent. It has the added benefit of being a hub for the great mentors we met during the program.


Bamba is a web-based data collection tool that pays individuals to submit data over SMS, Mobile & Web.
What was Techstars like for your team? Bamba cracked the code for our User Acquisition Algorithm during the program — a fundamental piece to acquiring target demographics within just a few hours rather than within a couple of months (which is the industry standard today). This led to tremendous interest from Market Research Firms and a target market change. On the day that we cracked the code during the Austin program, our MD, Amos Schwartzfarb, did a dance.
What's a lesson you learned that surprised you? We learned some surprising skills around building a metrics driven organization from top-down. We learned about the power of the network — this was especially true when we had to meet 80 Techstars mentors in a span of 2 weeks. And we learned how to get stuff done fast. Techstars pounded in us a saying, "Do More Faster", and as a startup, you have the luxury of agility and nimbleness to stay ahead of your competition by executing everything fast.
So, what's next? We've achieved product-market fit so we are beginning our expansion into new countries. We are actively bringing on incredible advisors and investors. And we are looking for talented individuals that fit our culture to join in on our incredible journey.


Carserv is a platform that transforms communication and workflow in the automotive repair industry.
What was Techstars like for your team? We pivoted back to where we thought we needed to be when the program began — so we are not following the advice we received from a lot of mentors ("build a simple, specific product") instead following the demands of our customers ("build one tool that can run an entire repair shop"). Dustin was hired the day before Techstars (it was just me before that), and I think it is pretty incredible that things have worked out as well as they have, and that he has been so committed, considering we met on Angellist about 10 days before the program began. Our target market is the same (aftermarket automotive repair), but we have shifted to focus on the regional and national chains primarily, and the single-location mom and pops and local chains come afterward.  
What's a lesson you learned that surprised you? One big takeaway from Techstars was the value of the network. Cliche, sure, but it proved true time and again. With a simple email request we were able to chat with executives at large companies in our space. Another lesson was the importance of being a metric-driven organization. Amos really helped us understand how crucial metrics can be, not just for measuring performance, but when constructing a strategy for sales or marketing or any number of things.  
So, what's next?  We are excited to announce that...we are staying at the Techstars office for the time being. We would miss them too much if we left. We will be hiring another engineer once we raise our seed round. (The most exciting news for us is that we are in talks with several automotive chains about collaborating to build a software platform, but we cannot mention any names yet).  
I will also be volunteering my time to help startups avoid the common pitfall of designing the same tired logo t-shirts and constantly adorning themselves in said shirts.  It is long past time to bring some vague fashion sense to the tech industry. (Kidding but someone really needs to do this).  


Casabots is a general-purpose cooking robot meant for restaurants.
What was Techstars like for your team? When we came into Techstars, we had an engineering prototype of our product. During the program, we worked out our go-to-market plan. We added sales and marketing team members, established relationships with many companies thanks to the Techstars network and signed up pilot customers, including the Hilton Hotels.
What's a lesson you learned that surprised you? Techstars Austin and its managing director, Amos Schwartzfarb, spent a fair bit of time helping us CEOs get up to speed. You'd be shocked to hear how much body language and even dress sense of a CEO impact your company's perception to investors. It's not just strategize well, execute and make money. Without these you are toast, but just having these is not enough.
So, what's next? We'll be focusing on getting to successful volume shipments of our product.

Helper Bees

The Helper Bees connects seniors with local helpers to assist with a variety of tasks within their home.
What was Techstars like for your team? We created a functioning company! We had a strong team and great idea, but had not gone beyond the brainstorming phase. The combination of the incredible mentors and guidance from the Techstars crew allowed us to start delivering services within about five weeks.
What's a lesson you learned that surprised you? That starting a company that is built to rapidly grow is hard. Sounds silly, but all three of the co-founders were founders and CEOs of our own successful ventures so we should have known better. The focus on creating a mission-based company that also sees tremendous growth is a very difficult undertaking. So, it's good to have friends and mentors who will rally behind you.
So, what's next? We are hiring. Somebody to help us with operations and account management. Anybody who loves to speak with seniors and empower a huge workforce should talk to us. We'll be staying in the Central Texas area for awhile until we begin expanding to other cities in Texas. empowers semi-professional photographers to provide photography services.
What was Techstars like for your team? We discovered that we have a natural network effect. The key we've discovered is that exposure to other people at events is one of the biggest growth drivers for our business. We did add to the team! We're thrilled to announce that we've hired one of the Techstars associates, Rodney Martinez. During the program, we also changed our landing page to strengthen our messaging. "You live. We capture," is the essence of what we're about. 
What's a lesson you learned that surprised you? We've adopted Techstars' mantra: "Do more faster." Underlying this philosophy, we've discovered that a workable solution now is better than perfect solution in the hypothetical future. We've learned that improvement is a mindset—and in the tech business world, it's perpetual. 
So, what's next? Stay tuned, we have a big announcement in the works! We're thrilled about what's ahead and can't wait share more. 

PenPal Schools

PenPal Schools connects people from around the world to learn together. It's a global community of students, educators, and parents who believe that meaningful cultural exchange should be a part of every student's education. Whether connecting 4th graders in California and Ghana to discuss current events, or high schoolers in Ohio and Ecuador to practice foreign languages, PenPal Schools strives to bring together students from different backgrounds to share experiences and learn from one another.
What we're doing wouldn't have been possible even just 10 years ago,” said Joe Troyen, founder of PenPal Schools in a previous interview with Built In Austin. “So many schools across the developing world are just now getting the devices and internet access to connect to the world. In turn, that's making them more curious to learn more about other countries and cultures. We use technology to make great connections, and to make communication highly educational, fun, and easy.”


What was Techstars like for your team? Our team entered TechStars as FieldVine, a construction task management software and in the 4th week, we laid to rest 13 months of hard work in an effort to pursue the one thing that made or software different, permitting. Now we are PermitZone, a national provider of permit information and resource for contractors to pull permits online, from anywhere.
What's a lesson you learned that surprised you? I learned a lot about being vulnerable to change and managing the roller coaster of emotions that ensue. I can only liken the intensity of Techstars to Army basic training, and running my first marathon. In each case, it's been about the support of those around me. Fortunately, my co-founding team and the world-class mentors in Austin proved to be the equivalent of the best of battle buddies, and together 'we took the hill'.
So, what's next? We are leaving for a couple months to set up 22 municipalities (building departments) in and around Myrtle Beach, SC and Fort Walton Beach, FL. In the meantime, we are in talks with Austin city leaders about PermitZone and hope to realize the opportunity as we return in mid/late August.

PopUp Play

PopUp Play creates technology for kids that blends virtual world creativity and real world play.
What was Techstars like for your team? In the time we've been going through Techstars, we expanded our team and product line, took home the win at the 2016 SXSW Accelerator, garnered huge interest from some of the world's largest brands, and found time to thoughtfully and intentionally focus on our overall growth strategy. 
What's a lesson you learned that surprised you?  It's hard, as a startup, to narrow your focus when you're scrambling to scale. But going through the Techstars program allowed us to really shift the way we think about our business growth. Now, we operate with a revenue formula in mind, which allows us to heavily focus on the components that are most likely to positively impact our bottom line.
So, what's next? The reality is, we made smart choices at smart times. And because of that, we're humbled to be added to the list of successful consumer-focused startups in Austin. Now, the really exciting part can begin! Next, we'll be building on new partnerships and projects; expanding our team to meet the demands of both those projects and our existing yet ever-growing customer base.


Remidi is the first wearable musical instrument.
What was Techstars like for your team? We didn't pivot during Techstars and we didn't change our strategy, it just feels 100 times more solid right now! We also integrated a new guy in the team, our developer: Jeff!
What's a lesson you learned that surprised you? We learnt how to structure our team and work-flow and we learnt how helpful is to talk with experienced people. We also learnt how to go through hard moments and to turn them in good opportunities to become more solid and ready to face new challenges. And yes, the way of thinking changed completely: now we think even bigger than before!
So, what's next? For the next 3 months we'll keep staying in Austin and use the Techstars office. After that, we'll be an international team with collaborations going on in different continents, so it's pretty likely that we'll be spread over Europe and US. But Austin will keep on being our base!

Have a news tip for us or know of a company that deserves coverage? Tell us or tweet us @BuiltInAustin.

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