Little about the accelerator program StartX is conventional. On the one hand, the 5.5-year-old, Palo Alto, Ca.-based outfit is a nonprofit that helps founders affiliated with Stanford University to build peer groups, as well as their confidence. Specifically, it provides companies with 10 weeks of free educational programming about everything from setting goals to launching products.
But StartX is also becoming a power player, owing largely to a deal it struck in September 2013 with Stanford University and Stanford Health Care, which asked it to manage a for-profit vehicle on their behalf — uncapped capital that StartX now uses to invest in up to 10 percent of its founders’ rounds.
You can actually see StartX’s growing influence. Not only does the 16-person outfit now operate out of 13,000 square feet of office space, but at a demo day yesterday, on the heels of one of StartX’s three yearly sessions, roughly 200 investors stood elbow-to-elbow in a nook of that space to hear 20 of its companies ask them for funding.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the companies were a tad unconventional, too.
One presenting company, Summer Technologies, a sustainable agriculture startup, is hoping to transform the cattle industry by bringing analytics to grazing management. Currently, says CEO Christine Su, farmers aren’t making the most of their land. They allow their cows to graze too long in one place, when moving them around more frequently would keep the grass and soil healthier. Summer’s software, currently being piloted at 30 ranches across five states, pulls in rain, soil and other data that can help those farmers boost their productivity.
Another company, Payjoy, aims to bring consumer finance to hundreds of millions of people in India and elsewhere by embedding technology in smartphones and TVs that allows them to pay for the products as they’re used, instead of in up-front cash. Striking the right relationships would seem to be a big hurdle for Payjoy, but founder Doug Ricket, a former Google engineer, has spent the last six years selling technologies into the developing world; presumably, he has a network to leverage.
Vouch, a third startup, also has an unusual approach to what’s an increasingly crowded space. It intends to use the creditworthiness of a borrower’s personal network, as well as their own individual data, to tailor personal loans for its users. Think friends, uncles, cousins. It sounds a little out there, but online lending is obviously a huge and growing market, and the team includes former alums of PayPal and Prosper, among other companies.
How far these companies will go is anyone’s guess. But the portfolio of StartX appears to hold promise. Since launching its fund with Stanford’s capital — it’s called the Stanford-StartX Fund — StartX has invested $31.4 million across 82 companies, 9.2 percent of which have already been acquired.
At least one company, six-year-old, San Francisco-based Life360, looks like a breakout success story, too. Right now, two million families are signing up for its family communication app each month — traction that investors have noticed. (The company has raised $76 million to date.)
Of course, the organization has also seen its flops. Though 88.5 percent of its companies are still up and running, StartX readily admits that another 11.4 percent have gone out of business.
If press reports are to be believed, one of its highest-profile portfolio companies – the payment startup Clinkle – may be headed in the same direction.
For a full list of the companies that presented yesterday/are looking for funding, click here.