Startup Labs starts second year with more physical products

Jan 11, 2014

A product that could be straight out of a science fiction movie is one of the projects going through the Startup Labs business competition in Syracuse this winter.

The guys behind Crowsnest Labs, Mike Kruk and Ian Wilson from Rochester, are working to develop technology that will allow them to put tiny cameras inside, say, an ad in a subway station. Those cameras would analyze who stops to look at an ad and how interested they seem.

Remember that scene from the Tom Cruise movie Minority Report?

Developer Mike Kruk says there are some similarities.

"People have already seen it, which makes us think it’s going to happen eventually anyway. We’d like to be a part of it," he said.

He says their product won’t be quite as creepy as Spielberg’s movie. It wouldn’t store the pictures, just the metric data like age range, which would be fed to the company behind the ad.

Co-creator Ian Wilson says their main goal of the three-week program will be to have a working demo, "that we can actually get into some people’s hands and start getting real feedback on what it’s like to actually work with it."

They're a few steps behind putting cameras in ads. Right now they're focusing on technology that can upload the images and data to the cloud.

The other two teams taking part in Startup Labs are both from Syracuse:

  • Centscere allows users to make small donations to charities through social media apps. Users can assign a small amount, like a nickel, to be donated every time they tweet or like a post.
  • Reggatable is a foldable, portable sailboat. Their catamaran is small enough to be stored in an apartment closet.

They’re competing for a few hundred thousand dollars in seed money and other perks.

About to pop

The startup business scene in Syracuse is at a point where it’s about to really take off, says one entrepreneurship expert.

Nasir Ali runs a startup business incubator and is a venture capitalist. He says as long as Syracuse keeps creating more small companies than it loses, that’s success. The fact that the name of a startup company out of Syracuse hasn’t entered the lexicon yet, is a bit of a red herring, according to him.

He says it’s also good to see more regional growth among investors and entrepreneurs.

"To me, the big story is really that people are beginning to connect across what seemed to be impenetrable geographies before," he said.

Syracuse remains the only U.S. city to host the global Startup Labs competition.

Co-Founder Clint Nelson says Startup Labs works well in cities that are working to grow  ecosystems for entrepreneurship, like Syracuse.

"It works really well to serve as a catalyst to bring that community together and get them to co-invest and co-mentor," he said.

Nelson adds it’s interesting to see a shift in companies here that are focused more on physical products than mobile apps. He says it likely reflects what investors here are willing to put their money into.