Top 20 most promising startups

Ever wonder why a certain venture capital firm funded that particular startup? Feel you could do better if you had your own fund?

So did the editors of Thomson Reuters’ Venture Capital Journal, who just released their inaugural edition of the “VCJ 20,” a list of the 20 most-promising startups funded by U.S.-based investors in 2009.

“As journalists, we’re constantly second guessing investments made by VCs,” wrote VCJ Editor-in-Chief Lawrence Aragon, who led a team of 6 that crafted its list of 20 from an initial group that included more than 1,200 startups. “The goal of this project is to find out if we really are as smart as we think we are, or are as dumb as rocks when it comes to picking good deals.”

Aragon said his team focused on five factors when rating each company: potential market size, quality of the team, technology edge, business model and exit potential. Each startup was awarded a score from 1-5 in each of the five categories, up to a maximum score of 25.

Aragon and his fellow VCJ evaluators gave themselves $20 million “virtual dollars” to invest in 20 companies that raised seed or Series A funds in 2009. Aragon said his team will track the progress of these startups over the year, adding: “Like a real venture fund, we expect our virtual fund to have its share of hits and misses.”

A lost generation of entrepreneurs?

Jeff Bussgang is a General Partner at Flybridge Capital Partners, an early-stage venture capital firm in Boston. This post originally appeared on Bussgang’s blog www.seeingbothsides.com. The views expressed are his own.

I’ve been worrying lately that we are suffering from a lost generation of entrepreneurs.

That was my first reaction when I read what Sequoia’s Doug Leone said a few weeks ago about innovation and age at a recent talk with MIT Sloan students visiting Silicon Valley. Leone claimed only people under the age of 30 are truly innovative. Over 30 folks can manage innovation, Leone observed, but you need to be under 30 to create it. He cited people such as Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s founder who was 30 at the time he started the service.

VIDEO: New class of startup aims for quick revenues

peHub‘s Dan Primack spoke with Reuters about a new kind of startup that’s designed to develop an idea and then be snapped up by a larger company.

As Primack explains, these startups differ from the traditional sort in that they tend to be interested in creating targeted web services or applications rather than conventional companies with longer-term growth ambitions.

“The hope for these companies isn’t to create the next Google or the next Cisco, the goal is to create a little application that Google or Cisco or Facebook or Twitter wants and then will purchase,” he explains.

Twitter-based shopping website seeks retailers

imshoppingBuying something online can be a frustrating process. The shear numbers of websites offering the same product can lead to endless hours of surfing to try to find the right deal. Consumers often become overwhelmed and end up not buying anything at all.

Prashant Nedungadi (see Nedungadi’s personal five-day entrepreneur journal, exclusively for Reuters.com) has been one of those people and decided to use that frustration to launch IMshopping.com, a website that utilizes a combination of software and sales experts to direct buyers to the precise product they’re looking for. What Nedungadi has dubbed “human-assisted shopping” is a network of retail experts, or guides, and the broader community of IMshopping’s more than 30,000 registered users.

IMshopping leverages Twitter to help allow consumers to pose shopping-related questions around the clock.

Are your business plans more secure than Twitter’s?

lockIt’s not every day that a privately-owned company’s internal financial laundry is scattered across the Web for all to see.

But that’s the unfortunate scenario microblogging startup Twitter found itself in on Wednesday after technology news site TechCrunch published a slew of the company’s confidential business documents.

The files, sent to the site by a hacker who managed to gain access to some of the company’s servers, included everything from plans to launch a Twitter reality television show to notes from its executive meetings to a detailed financial outlook from February.

Free labor could pose problems for companies

USA-ECONOMY/As any small business owner knows, getting a new company off the ground requires a lot of work. And for those entrepreneurs not enamored with the idea of running their company as a one-person show, hiring employees is among the first steps along the way to actually making it happen.

Unfortunately, many of the same startups burdened with so much work also suffer from a limited supply of funds in their early days, meaning they can find it tough to afford the number of employees they need.

But with the ranks of unemployed in the United States hovering at its highest rate in more than two decades, some small firms have found a rather unusual solution to this dilemma  – people willing to work for free. Employment agencies such as Jobnob.com and PeopleConnect have done their part in connecting unemployed individuals willing to work without payment to small firms in need of a helping hand.

A “silver lining” for entrepreneurs?

cloudsA new study shows that bear markets and recessions can actually be good times to start a new company.

The report, produced by U.S.-based entrepreneurial think-tank the Kauffman Foundation, suggests that despite the widespread pain felt during tough economic times, an “entrepreneurial silver lining” can encourage long-term business growth and job creation.

In fact, the authors of the report found that more than 50 percent of the companies on this year’s Fortune 500 list and just under half of those on Inc.’s 2008 list of fastest-growing companies were started during a recession or bear market.

Competing for buzz and cash: Startup 2009 conference

It’s too late to get tickets for today’s Startup 2009 conference in NYC, but you almost don’t even need to be there. Event co-host Silicon Alley Insider, a NYC tech blog, is streaming the entire conference via live video now (watch below) and attendees inside are busy giving a blow-by-blow on Twitter.

The one-day conference features interviews with seasoned entrepreneurs and presentations by 10 emerging online companies carefully chosen by a panel of venture capital judges to compete for “bragging rights, buzz, and a $50,000 prize.” Here are the companies in the running: Advanced Marketing and Media Group, Adzoomi, Article One Partners, BeliefNetworks, Expensify, GlobeFunder Ventures, Good Health Advertising, Micronotes, Path 101, and Portfolio Monkey.

Update: Article One Partners, a startup that helps company’s establish patents or fight already existing ones, took the prize at Startup 2009.  Watch an interview with the company’s founder Cheryl Milone moments after the win (via The Deal).

Young entrepreneurs to watch in the tech sector

Bill Gates was 19 when he came up with the idea for Microsoft. Michael Dell was the same age when he started selling computers out of his dorm room. Who are the teenagers and 20-somethings trying to hatch the big tech and media ideas of tomorrow?

paidContent.org has compiled a list of likely candidates under the age of 21, from web design impresarios to “pimp my MySpace” tycoons.  Taking advantage of the Web’s low barriers to entry means that you often only need a really good idea. catherinecook_woCatherine Cook

Age: 19
Company: myYearbook

Some great ideas come from analysis and introspection. For siblings Catherine and David Cook, it was the result of a snarky comment. “My brother David and I were flipping through our high-school yearbook during my freshman year,” Catherine recalls. “We were looking for a girl in his class—I think he liked her—and he was trying to show me who she was. Once we finally got to the picture he was like, ‘She looks nothing like that.’”

Networks promise recession victims entrepreneurial edge

USA/“So you’ve been laid off. That sucks. But it doesn’t have to.” Those are the first words of encouragement offered up to visitors upon landing at the website for The Runway Project, a new venture that helps recently laid-off individuals start their own companies. Call it small-business networking, recession-style.

The project’s more than just a virtual affair, though. Since launching the group in March, founder Tony Bacigalupo and his affiliates have been busy hosting free get-togethers in New York City for would-be entrepreneurs on everything from the mechanics of starting a business to tips on building a personal brand. Another upcoming session promises a crash course on bookkeeping for startups.

The meetings are also a forum for brainstorming with other like-minded people and small-business experts. “Insanely helpful! Having a group of people to brainstorm with is priceless,” wrote one woman, who attended an April session, in a comment on the group’s website. And other comments suggest some are eager to get branches up and running in other U.S. cities, too.