The Brandery Demo Day at DogPatch Labs NYC

January 3rd, 2011 by Caroline Scheinfeld View Comments

Attendees battled wind and rain to make it to The Brandery’s Demo Day recently, hosted by DogPatch Labs. The Brandery, an incubation program, prides itself as “the seed stage consumer marketing venture accelerator.” Six companies take part in its three-month mentorship and participate in several demo days, one of which was at DogPatch. Unfortunately due to the closing of LaGuardia Airport, three teams could not make it to the demo.

The incubation program takes place in Cincinnati because of its brand-building DNA, which has been firmly entrenched in the roots of the city. Cincinnati might not resonate as a “tech” city, but is recognized as one of the world’s top five consumer marketing regions. Iconic and successful brands like Macy’s and Procter & Gamble both call Cincinnati hometown! While Silicon Valley and Silicon Alley (NYC) have large early- stage tech company portfolios, The Brandery promises Cincinnati is “a better place to be based,” if the start up is consumer-faced. In addition to its location, the program offers mentorship, $20,000 in seed funding and opportunities to pitch angel and venture capitalists.

In return for mentorship, seed funding and all other intangible assets associated with the program, The Brandery receives a 6% equity stake in the companies, and receives common stock, “founders stock.” That the word “brand” is found in the program’s title underscores the program’s focus on branding start-ups. If consumers are the focus, then you must build a brand identity like Proctor & Gamble would do for Tide detergent.

Attendees heard pitches from three companies: ideaRally, giftiki and venturepax. IdeaRally, founded by Senay Semere and Matthew Veryser, links companies with questions to students with answers and propositions. Companies like Converse post problems, challenging students to come up with solutions in return for payment, jobs or internships. Students can also voice their own opinions/suggestions for brands on ideaRally. The site can be seen as a global platform for collaboration. The founders believe the amount of participation is directly proportional to the quality produced by ideaRally.

Giftiki, founded by Justin Stanislaw and Bryan Jowers, provides the ability to give your friends Facebook-type gifts that are worth real money. Cash gifts are gifted via computers and mobile devices. The gift giver can purchase a virtual gift valued at any amount, which the receiver can cash out. You can receive $5 to purchase an actual beer verses receive a picture of one via facebook virtual gifts. The process is entertaining and extremely viral. The company believes they have a large market due to the $75 million per year spent on worthless virtual facebook gifts.

The third company to present was VenturePax, founded by Danny Stull, who describes his site as a “Yelp for the outdoors…with gaming mechanics like Foursquare.” Danny believes society’s cure for stress is “getting outside.” The blend of technology and nature can enable users to share their experiences, find out about destinations, and purchase outdoor gear. Danny believes people using his site will influence others to become a part of their outdoor community.

Click here to read about the other 3 companies LifeBlinx, turboBOTZ, and VenueAgent as well as the three mentioned above.


The ecomagination Challenge: Open innovation, real business

December 9th, 2010 by Caroline Scheinfeld View Comments

Ideas, Innovation, Entrepreneurs, GE and Venture Capitalists = the potential for a greener tomorrow.

At the ecomagination Challenge conference, two panels discussed the benefits of crowdsourcing. Through capital and proper advising, companies can generate great products, which not only benefit the environment but also produce a profit. Jeffrey Immelt, Chairman & CEO of General Electric, defined ecomagination Challenge and its progress.

The Challenge consists of a platform where businesses, entrepreneurs, students and innovators can propose ideas about how to “build the next-generation power grid,” and have the chance to get funded. This experimental Challenge costs a whopping $200 million–100 million of which was funded by GE; the other 100 million by four venture capitalists. GE used this Challenge to learn about innovations with the potential to reduce energy usage, greenhouse emissions, carbon emissions but also to produce a profit.

With the $200 million investment, GE is using the power of the Internet to seek ideas from people on a global scale. GE has made 12 major investments, five grants and a University Challenge. The 12 investments are worth $55 million and consist of five in the energy grid arena, five on the energy-efficient side, one investment in solar energy powered air-conditioners and one with common wealth and Columbia University to research electric vehicles. GE also will be giving out three early innovation grants to very early stage ideas. Partnerships with universities will help promote material science technology.

The first panel focused on the incredible speed and audacity that characterize GE and helped the company process 4,000 ideas and choose five in a relatively short timeframe. While GE has been known to be one power, which engages in a great initiative, this Challenge illustrates openness to bringing outside ideas to the table. On a macro level, a challenge of this magnitude takes a large amount of people coming together to bring the most efficient technology forward.

Immelt said that people outside the GE community are capable of things he cannot achieve, but what the GE community does have is a team of 45,000 salespeople and 45,000 engineers. With thousands of talented GE employees, Immelt can “drive innovation [at a] scale” others probably could never accomplish. With partnerships between GE, small businesses and individual entrepreneurs, a tremendous amount of innovation and production can be accomplished. Innovations produced by smaller companies have a greater chance at success and adoption when backed by large corporation like GE.

CEO of Joulex, Thomas Noonan, said while capital is necessary, it is not sufficient in building innovation, a comment also mentioned by venture capitalists. Noonan applauded GE for merging great ideas with their big commitment. Currently, companies in capital markets face extreme challenges, which can be overcome with the help of large corporations like GE. Now, more then ever, corporations must step up to invest because others are apprehensive due to the instability of the economy and the previous recession. General partner at RockPort Capital, Chuck McDermott, said corporations must assume certain roles due to the difficulties in raising money. He also mentioned how people are apprehensive to invest without credibility.

This conference illustrated the power of what a large company can do by financing innovations by smaller businesses or individuals. The panels portrayed a new generation of companies, which consist of enabling, innovating and positively affecting society. We are moving from a consumption-based society to a collaborative one, as Rachel Botsman pointed out in her “Collaborative Consumption.”

I have high hopes for a 180 degree turn in this world and people thinking about the environment and preparing for future generations. Hopefully, our society will no longer be characterized by instant gratification and over consumption, as it was during the 20th century.


“Unstable Times Create Incredible Opportunities”

November 23rd, 2010 by Caroline Scheinfeld View Comments

Recently, I attended New York Entrepreneur Week, which consisted of panels and activities with the underlying message of unstable times creating incredible opportunities. Many of the speakers stressed the importance of entrepreneurs, describing them as “relentless…the kid who never fit in with a specific group…[and]did what they wanted to do.” The beauty of entrepreunership is the passion driven beyond monetary success. Entrepreneurs advised attendees to persist when others would quit, never be afraid to ask for help and to leverage one another–an entrepreuner’s greatest asset is his or her network. A remark by Gary Whitehill sums up the conference: “dream big, worry small, work hard, network.”

To give attendees a perspective of the full spectrum of entrepreunship, a panel of VCs, including our very own Jay Levy, debated venture capital, angel, and seed investing.. Jay provided the audience with advice, laughs, and candid honesty. To show the relevance of entrepreneurial endeavors today, Panelist Ross Goldstein, co-founder and managing director of DFJ Gotham compared the VC community of 1996 to the present VC community.

In 1996, Ross said, there were probably two companies in NYC who would invest in early stage companies—compared with dozen’s today, all vying for early stage companies with great potential.

In addition to market trends, the VCs discussed how entrepreneurs must have passion if they want to be successful. Should you invest in the technology or the people? Brad Harrison, founder of Brad Harrison Ventures, said he invests in people because they are the only constant. Technology will evolve, but a quality person will have the ability to attract other great talent and help the business thrive.

Jay Levy stressed the importance of the team and the initial meeting. “It’s hard to get to know someone in 10 minutes, but you can know if you don’t like them,” he said, to an uproar of laughter.

A good working relationship between the venture capitalists and the entrepreneurs, he said, is like entering a marriage. An entrepreneur should research a VC just as a VC would research a potential business. Just because the VC wants to sign a check does not mean they are a good fit. Look at investors as not just having capital, but as a resource.

Another piece of wisdom was a common issue between VCs and entrepreneurs: the exit strategy. The entrepreneur and the VC must be on the same page in terms of exits. An offer to an entrepreneur can be life-changing money, but not a good exit for a fund. On the investment side, angels are more professional in a category between friends & family and venture cap. There are two types: super angels–who were successful entrepreneurs–and regular angels, both of whom can add tremendous value. The parting piece of advice from the panelists for entrepreneurs was: you do not need an answer for every question when meeting with investors, but, rather, you should approach the initial conversation as the beginning of a relationship.

Jeremy Heiman, of and, visited the topic of social entrepreneurs, social innovation and profit for a purpose. He defined the term “movement entrepreneurs” as those who “create new sources of power by aggregating and mobilizing the voices of many.” Heiman, who successfully led social movements such as, political action for Australia and, spoke about the power an entrepreneur has to use the online sphere to create offline action

While many VCs or other members of the start-up community might search for entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley or NYC, this panel discussed the endless opportunities in Africa. By investing in developing nations, success can be measured not only by return on investment but also by stimulating an emerging economy in a socially conscious way. Summer Rayne Oakes’s company Source4Style is a great bridge between fashion and conscious capitalism. Source4Style helps “make sustainable design possible” by using products from forest resources. Source4Style serves as a destination for designers and retailers to search for sustainable services and materials from a variety of global suppliers.

Another inspiring entrepreneur, Dan Lack, provided a fabulous PowerPoint-free speech. “I don’t want work, I want a life!” He shared his contagious passion with the crowd forcing everyone to care about each other and strive to help. He reinforced the benefits of being persistent but resourceful. While you should try to say yes, he said, you also need to know when to say no.

You can learn more about the panels and speakers at

Great businesses & projects to check out:


1 Month Down!

November 8th, 2010 by Caroline Scheinfeld View Comments

A month plus at Zelkova Ventures has come and gone, which means I have more V.C. info to ponder upon. After a handful of inspiring conferences, meetings and time with Jay, I can provide my readers with the emerging trends of the online world.

A common thread amongst new sites is the bridge between traditional behaviors and technology. It appears many members of society feel nostalgic for older ways but with busy schedules, lack the time or means to do so. Sites like Farmville illustrate the modernization of archaic practices. While the world is becoming more impersonal and technologically dependent, the simpler ways of life seem to be intangible.  In addition, the omnipresence of social media has re-instated the importance of community, just manifested virtually.

In addition to revising old ways, entrepreneurs see the democratization of many industries as the way of the future. As communities re-emerge, new sites take advantage of one’s desire to feel a sense of camaraderie and have a voice. With a sense of involvement, engagement on sites will most likely increase. For examples, check out and

Word of Mouth referrals no longer carry the weight they used to, due to information available online. Today, entrepreneurs are creating sites, which pre-screen potential referrals from many industries.  A simple referral over the phone or in person is not enough to validate someone. Now, people resort to the Internet to perform further research on any recommendation. With the help of certain social media sites, professionals and other types of referrals can be vetted by online sites first and then by online users. Not online will the sites authenticate people, but site users will also be able to voice their opinion. Online users do not have to sort through google or other search engine results, with the emergence of referral sites.

In my opinion, the immense passion and innovation in the start-up world is unparalleled in any other industry. With intelligence and a keen understanding for people, entrepreneurs are able to add value as well as make life more efficient for the rest of society. Entrepreneurs keep innovating and Venture Capitalist’s keep making great decisions and enabling dreams to become reality!


The Feast Conference: SOCIAL INNOVATION

October 20th, 2010 by Caroline Scheinfeld View Comments

On October 15, 2010 Jay and I attended the Feast Conference at the Times Center, which focused on social innovation and ways to make our world a better place. Without a doubt, I felt motivated, inspired and driven to challenge and revolutionize society forthe better. The Feast highlighted the world’s core issues as well as creative solutions to these mind-boggling debacles. With tears, laughter and awe, the Feast innovators/speakers succeeded to provide attendees with an all day buffet of insight.

A main theme of the event was the shift in behavior from the 20th to the 21st century. Managing Director of Lovely Day, Jerri Chou, mentioned the previous era has been about cinema while the next will be participatory gaming behavior. Society has reached a breaking point with no other option but to reform. Issues in the environment and the economy can be seen as catalysts for necessary change; with the hope people will realize their human potential. After Choi pointed out the need for change in human behavior, Lovely Day Managing Partner, Tamara Giltstoff, provided clear hypotheses in which human potential can be realized. Most significant were: everyone can be a change maker, a new economy that centers around wellbeing rather than capitalism, and employees everywhere will act like innovators rather than “slaves to an industry.” Giltstoff separated the 20th, from the 21st century saying in the 20th century products were sold while in the 21st century value will be created as people solve social problems. The Madmen era of brainwashing society to become mass consumers will no longer be the mentality of tomorrow. In the future people will be enablers.

In addition to seeing the transformation of the 20th to the 21st century, “Collaborative Consumption” author Rachel Botsman explained her belief that society is actually reverting to archaic more simple ways of life.” Botsman stated the Internet is reinventing old ways, “what’s mine is yours,” which is evident in virtual worlds such as Farmville. Farmville illustrates the resurgence of community and people enabling others to grow food and farm. Through collaborative consumption, society will no longer feel “the things you own, end up owning you.” In the 21st century, it is collaborative consumption, about me and we while the 20th century was hyper consumption consisting of me, myself and I. Collaborative consumption will re-define society from what we consume to what we contribute. Botsman also proposed a very poignant question, “now that we can do anything, what will we do?”

As I sat in the auditorium and contemplated the event, I had a mini epiphany. I saw the V.C. and startup community as a derivation of the core values presented at The Feast. Startups often provide consumers with solutions to current problems as well as offer new innovative tools. V.C.’s have the power to facilitate the pursuit of entrepreneurs’ dreams, which in turn creates more added values for society. While startups might not be synonymous with world poverty and hunger, the Internet can serve as platform to provide tools for people to work together as a community and make the world a better place.

Two examples of how technology can help spread the word about large global scale issues such as world hunger, poverty and need for education are evident in these videos:



About Jay Levy

Jay Levy

Jay Levy is a co-founder and principal of Zelkova Ventures. Jay focuses most of his time in working with the current portfolio company and looking at new investments in the software-as-a-service, internet media and green tech space. More »


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