March 13, 2013

Startup turns a smartphone into a smart toy

Unveiled at Launch, Ubooly shows power of sensor technology (and hugs)

Target audience: Entrepreneurs, technologists, designers, marketing professionals, businesses, toy manufacturers, parents.

JD LasicaAt last week’s Launch Festival in San Francisco, I spent a few minutes talking with Carly Gloge, the founder and CEO of a new startup called Ubooly. They make cuddly plush toys that you can personalize and interact with through your iPhone or iPod Touch. (You stick the device inside the toy.) It’s for kids ages 4 to 9.

Carly gave one of the more dynamic presentations on stage at Launch, so I caught up with her after her demo. Ubooly is out “to make toys smart,” she said. Smart devices, starting with the iPhone and iPod Touch, have become “so powerful compared to anything else that has been put in toys. So we thought, let’s merge the two.”

Voilà! The Ubooly (pronounced OO-buh-lee, which I finally pronounced right by the end of the video). What’s cool about this is:

• Children form an emotional bond with these toys that they’ll carry with them for years;

• Parents get to program the toy via the online Ubooly Lab, starting with setting up their child’s favorite color, animal and sports. From there, the parents can activate educational packs that seem best suited to their little one.

Ubooly launched with six packs — written by elementary school teachers and comedy writers — and will expand to 20 by the end of the month, Carly says.

Watch, download or embed the 4-minute video on Vimeo Continue reading

February 24, 2011

5 cool startups at the first Launch conference


Photo of Launch attendees by Keith Powers (CC BY on Flickr)

JD LasicaWith a crowded conference space for the launch of new startups — DEMOspring, DEMOfall, TechCrunch Disrupt — is there room for another springboard for interesting start-ups?

Yep. The first Launch conference, held Wednesday and today at the San Francisco Design Concourse, showed off a wealth of entrepreneurial talent — and proved to be entertaining at the same time, thanks to the conference prowess of founder Jason Calacanis and the on-stage cleverness of judges such as VCs Dave McClure, Yossi Vardi and actor Kevin Pollak, who instructed startup founders to target “the C- to B+ students” who have grown up to become the vast midsection of U.S. consumer culture.

About 1,300 attendees turned out, and more than 100 startups competed for one of the prized placements on stage.

Here are a few of the startups I found interesting, both on the stage and in the demo pit:

 

Group{in}: Organize your work & personal lives

1Appconomy’s Group{in} is a mobile app that lets you organize your work and personal life into “the groups and people that matter to you” and across the channels you already use. By simplifying group communications across multiple channels, including private in-app messaging, e-mail, SMS, phone Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and more, Group{in} makes working in groups easy, efficient and fun. It looked pretty cool to me, though the judges seemed unimpressed.

Give2Gether: Democratized social fund-raising

2Anyone can instantly raise funds for a cause with give2gether, a welcome addition to the social good space. CEO/co-founder Amon Shafir gave me a deep dive into the service, which appears to be much more effective than efforts like Facebook Causes. While the average donor on Causes gives 70 cents for each cause he joins, the average person on Give2Gether has given $75 — about 100 times more — during the early going (about 30 projects). The trick is in sharing causes with your social contacts and monitoring the results in your dashboard. Says the site: “Think of it as the Twitter of philanthropy — a tailored, self-service SaaS platform helping non-profits monetize social interactions. Give2Gether turns strangers into friends, friends into donors and donors into fundraisers, at one-third of the traditional cost.”

News 360: News & multimedia on your iPad

3In the demo pit I met Nina Grigorieva, CEO of Moscow-based News360, who showed off its marvelous capabilities on an iPad. (I’m waiting for version 2 of the iPad before buying one.) It has the same elegance as Flipboard and, unlike News Corp.’s The Daily, it’s completely free and has some nice social sharing features. It aggregates thousands of news sources, tracks your favorite news sources, creates personalized news feeds by topic and lets you share interesting stories with your friends. If you own an iPad, you’ll want this app. Continue reading