Variants of the “sharing economy” took center stage Tuesday night during a series of new venture pitches by four teams of young ad execs competing to win this semester’s KBS+ Ventures “Fellows” program. The program is mentored by the agency ventures unit’s management team -- Principal Jessica Peltz-Zatulove and Managing Partner Josh Engroff (also Chief Digital Media Officer of The Media Kitchen -- including:
EatWell, a startup enabling users to share pictures of their food in order to get recommendations for healthier and more satisfying eating options.
Schwap, kind of an “Uber for power equipment,” enabling owners to lease their underutilized gear to people who need to rent it temporarily.
Sustainable Suds, which does away with plastic shampoo and conditioner bottles by shipping biodegradable refills to subscribers to refill their own bottles.
casualHour, a venture enabling users to temporarily lease underutilized space in hotels and residential building common areas for gatherings, parties and meet-ups.
The four finalists were culled from a dozen startups developed during this semester’s Fellow’s program, which trains KBS+, The Media Kitchen and affiliates agency staffers how to think, feel and behave like entrepreneurs. The main benefits, Peltz-Zatulove says, is making some of the organization’s best and brightest young thinkers think even more creatively, entrepreneurially and innovatively in order to solve problems and come up with new ideas for servicing their clients.
The program, which was originally conceived by former The Media Kitchen Chief Digital Media Officer Darren Herman (now at Mozilla), has been refined under Peltz-Zatulove and Engroff to be less about book-learning and theory and more about hands-on practical application of startup culture, and includes teaching sessions by leading venture capitalists and startup founders that are part of KBS+ Ventures portfolio.
“It doesn’t matter how old you are, your apartment will always be too small,” said a middle-aged Alan Pearlstein, founder of Crosspixel, a KBS+ Ventures portfolio company, and one of the industry execs judging Tuesday evening’s “Demo Day” presentations. Pearlstein was commenting on the casualHour team’s presentation and business model, but he easily could have been speaking about most of the other startup ideas generated by the young, urban agency employees who all seem to share common frustrations with small spaces and hectic lives and apparently like to embrace sharing economy models as a solution.
“There are a number of other players in this space,” added Ellie Wheeler, an investor with New York-based venture capital firm Greycroft, who was also one of the judges who gave feedback after each one of the seven-minute startup presentations.
“It’s a super compelling concept,” added another judge, Ed Brojerdi, CEO of KBS+, noting that he recently “bumped into a former colleague on the street and he said, ‘I’m doing the Zipcar for space.”
All of the judges questioned casualHour’s focus on real-time matching of users with unused spaces, with one suggesting a fundamental reason why other sharing economy services have not gone that route.
“There’s some prostitution concerns,” quipped KBS+ NY President Matt Powell, noting, “that’s why Breather.com doesn’t do real-time.”
Despite some criticisms, suggestions for improvement and some tough follow-up questions, the judges picked casualHour the winner of this semester’s Demo Day.
But noting that all of the startup teams presented excellent, well-thought concepts and business models, agency chief Brojerdi concluded by saying, “I’m humbled and impressed. And I’m grateful to have people like you working here. Please continue working here.”