Start-up companies get shot at big break with Launch Festival 2015

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. - Startup companies vying to become the next big success story were pitching their products Tuesday night at the 2015 Launch Festival in San Francisco. 

More than 11,000 people are attending this year's event at Fort Mason, which gives entrepreneurs a chance to present their ideas to angel investors and other influential figures in the tech industry.

"This whole festival is a celebration of entrepreneurship," said angel investor Jason Calacanis, who has organized Launch Festival events for eight years now.

Calacanis told KTVU he modeled the festival after the Sundance Film Festival with the idea of creating an event where even small start-ups can join in for free and meet the power players in the business. 

He recalls the time 20 years ago when he was trying to break into the tech business and had to "lobby crash" conferences because he didn't have the money to pay for admission. He says start-ups these days face even higher fees to attend conferences.

"When I started investing in Uber or Thumbtack or a lot of these companies, when I was the third, fourth, fifth investor in them, they wouldn't have been able to afford or pay the $3,000 to $6,000 to go to an event," Calacanis told KTVU.

You might say it's part Sundance, part "American Idol." In one pavilion, there was a search on stage for the next hot start-up with a panel of judges and up to $250,000 in prize money for the winners.

More than 250 start-ups put their best foot forward, showing their products on the exhibition floor called the Demo Pit.

"This is very good for us start-ups to meet both potential customers, potential partners and potential investors. And it's also getting the media exposure, being on stage," said Dr. Alexander Borve, co-founder and CEO of First Derm, a software app that connects people with dermatologists who provide online feedback and a diagnosis of your condition for a price.

A wide range of ideas were being presented. One start-up Sereneti displayed a machine that can make you a meal when prompted by a smartphone.

Nearby, Eyegroove's employee number three, Julia Sun, showed a new social media app.

"Eyegroove is an app that lets you make instant music videos. We all have a lot of videos, but you get to add music and effects to it," Sun told KTVU.

Launch Festival organizers say the event has become the largest start-up conference in the world.

"This is the fertile ground of the web economy," said Clark Valberg, the CEO and co-founder of InVisionApp.com, which he says counts Twitter, Uber and many other tech companies among its clients.

"They're looking at people who are just starting out, they've just hit the point of maturity, where they have a real product. They have something to say. They're ready to show it to the world," Valberg said.

On Wednesday, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff will take the stage at the Launch Festival.

Calacanis said the event has generated such a big response that he is now looking into holding the Launch Festival twice a year.

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