Ivy Entrepreneurship: Princeton’s eLab Demo Day

They do have ambitious plans at Princeton. Yesterday I attended presentations made by the first graduates of the Keller Center‘s eLab, which is a student startup program that ran over the summer. In opening remarks, the Director of the Center talked about how the Princeton area could become Silicon Valley East. Maybe. But I think they will have to work out some of the amazing traffic snarls on US Route 1 before things can really get going.

I have to give the Keller Center lots of credit for bringing the down and dirty world of entrepreneurship to the dreamy, academic enclave of Princeton. I hadn’t been to the Nassau Street area in years, but on this last trip I was certainly aware that giants once walked here. Actually they still do. In any case, with a push from Keller, it seems entrepreneurship finally got on Princeton’s radar. By the sounds of it, it wasn’t that easy to navigate the bureaucracy to build the eLab incubation space and line up mentors and money. Kudos to the staff.

I heard four presentations from this initial group of eLab hatchlings. I was most impressed with Duma, which is “a job matching service for emerging market that uses basic text messaging to connect service providers with potential customers.” And Duma, btw, is also Swahili for cheetah.

The idea for the startup sprang from Duma’s experience working and living in Kenya, where there is a large but underutilized short-term labor market for plumbing, laundry, taxi, and other services. The Duma team has developed a location-based, real-time job marketplace, which is accessible by cell-phone, a gadget just about everyone in Kenya and other under-developed countries has.

Interactions with Duma are made entirely through SMS messages. Their back-end has an enormous database loaded with place names and geo-coordinates so it will work with plain GPS-less cell-phones: it just requires service providers to do a Foursquare-style check-in to places and locations. The company was ably pitched by Arielle Sandor and Christine Blauvelt.

There were also professional pitches from Wantwarrior’s Jason Silver, Dewey’s Peter Zakin, and MYGZpoints Trevor Wilkins.

Now for my shameless boosterism for New York City. My one comment is that some of the eLab startups would have benefited greatly from coming up to Manhattan and Brooklyn for the day, hanging out at a meetup or watching a hackathon. We have some hacking giants here upon whose shoulders these young entrepreneurs could have stood to get a broader view of the startup landscape.

FYI: more pics of Demo Day can be found at our Facebook page.