It’s been a year and three months since the newly established Hudson Valley Startup Fund (HVSF) announced its first investment, an indoor shrimp farm in Newburgh. A couple of weeks ago HVSF announced its fourth, a hyperlocal event aggregation and distribution digital platform called Burbio, based in Pelham in southern Westchester County. Though the amount of the October 18 investment in Burbio has not been released, it’s believed to be more than $100,000 and less than $200,000.
Each HVSF investment tells a different story. Its second investment was in StateBook International, a Kingston-based county-level data aggregator headed by Big Indian resident Calandra Cruickshank which provides an online marketplace for economic development organizations. Its third was to White Plains-based sports hub uStadium, which streams fan connections in communities.
By providing the presence of an additional investment resource for the local tech ecosystem, HVSF has participated in the recent economic upturn in much of the region. In a recent communication, Foursquare founder Dennis Crowley said that HVSF “has funded some of the region’s most interesting ventures.”
“I’m excited to try to infuse some of the Hudson Valley spirit into Foursquare,” said Crowley, of his mobile search app, “and why I want to bring some of Foursquare into the Hudson Valley.” The beauty of the area in which he and his wife had bought a home, the founder of the Stockade FC startup soccer club explained, had been “a welcome escape from the madness of New York City.” Despite Crowley’s enthusiasm, the Hudson Valley is far from the only choice for Foursquare.
Burbio’s principals are president Dennis Roche, a past leader of several new-media startups, and his CEO wife Julie Roche, a corporate marketer and market researcher who used her Harvard education in applied math to become a web architect and developer. Using an iCal standard calendar format, Burbio integrates various kinds of hyperlocal events on its app. The Burbio calendar connects with kindred digital platforms.
Burbio has previously raised $1.4 million in two rounds of money-gathering. In addition to the seed capital from the HVSF investment, which Dennis Roche described as Burbio’s first “institutional round” of support, he expects other investments in the next six months. He found HVSF’s due-diligence procedures extensive. “We were ready for that level of scrutiny,” Roche said.
The calendar app space is evolving rapidly. The Googles, Apples, Facebooks and Amazons of the world are all expanding into the calendar business, creating ways to both import and distribute events for a technology platform like Burbio that specializes in aggregating local information. The huge tech firms have vast resources, but none of them aspire to run comprehensive local event sites, according to Dennis Roche. They would be happy to have someone else do it for them.
From its Westchester home base, Burbio is developing a strong regional following. This September, both Yonkers and Stamford announced they were launching citywide digital events calendars accessible through smart-phone apps. Stamford mayor David Martin and Yonkers mayor Mike Spano both waxed ecstatic about the opportunity for enhancing civic engagement. Burbio events were made available by smartphone, on-line, on Amazon Alexa and built for discovery in Google Search. Users were able to create their own personal-event feeds.
The Roches see advantages to partnerships. “We want to be a platform,” Julie Roche said. “We want to be both a publisher and distributor of event information. We pull information in from thousands of local-content sites such as schools, libraries and non-profits. As for partnering with local media sites, we want to do that as well, but we aren’t there yet.”
Burbio’s ambition is to take its app national. It would like “to scale up at hyperspeed.” The startup wants to organize a Digital Cities (or Smart Cities) program.
The Roches are convinced that calendars accessible by voice are the path of the future. That’s how users prefer their timely information, they say. The Roches also want all events to be as accessible to audience participation as ticketed events (where there’s a financial reward for the data organizer) are now.
With this fourth investment, it’s probably too early even for the five co-managers (Tony DeMarco, Paul Hakim, Noa Simons, Chad Gomes and Johnny LeHane) to have a definitive sense of how their investments are faring. Seed funding is a high-risk game, with big winners and big losers. The fund participants — not just the managers but the participating investors — scrutinize proposals, exercise due diligence, assess their applicants as fully as they can, and then follow their instincts. Then they move on to the search for the next investment opportunity.
For the HVSF, it’s not too early to think of the next funding round. Even as they continue to review new applicants, the co-managers must look forward to the time when HVSF will want to start raising funds for a second round of investments. They will seek participation from the present seed-fund investors and from new investors. There are bound to be other entrepreneurial enterprises in the Hudson Valley thirsting to scale up at hyperspeed.