Brainstorm Tech Startup Idol: And the winner is…

July 17, 2012, 12:56 PM UTC

Fortune’s fourth-annual contest for the perfect elevator pitch. 

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FORTUNE — Here at Fortune, the staff is selective when it comes to the companies we cover. When it comes to our Startup Idol competition at the annual Brainstorm Tech competition in Aspen, Colo., it’s fair to say that the stakes are even higher. After all, only one startup can win.

This year, five startups vied for the mantle and prizes included furniture from Herman Miller and a new multi-touch computer from Lenovo. Meet the contestants, and find out which one emerged the victor:

Bina Technologies

The pitch: Though the human genome can now be sequenced for as little as $1,000, analyzing that raw genetic data can still cost upwards of $10,000. The Redwood Shores, California-based Bina Technologies, sees that as an opportunity. The company, founded last year, began as a cancer research project at Stanford University and UC Berkeley, and produced the Bina Box, which pairs company-developed hardware and software to crunch, compress and process data, then either transmits it to the Bina Cloud, which stores and processes the data, or a private cloud constructed for the company.

Judge’s comment: “I think you’re going after something that’s incredible,” said UberMedia CEO Bill Gross. “It’s good to be early, but to be way too early is challenging. Get some money out of these partners. Make sure you’re alive when the market really booms.”

The pitch: Think of CEO and founder Evan Fieldman’s venture as an online hub with social networking elements focused on helping parents find after-school programming for their kids. “We’re faciliating conversations with parents and introducing new revenue streams beyond registration,” says COE and founder Evan Fieldman.

Judge’s comment: “I loved the product and would use it for my own kids,” said Gross. “But you need awareness, some angle to get critical mass but also so people can turn to you. I don’t have the idea, but that’s where you need to focus.”


The pitch: Founded in 2011, the company aims to transform the way employers train workers. The Waterloo, Ontario-based startup uses cloud-based software built around a behavioral-learning technique called “spaced repetition” that serves up trivia-style questions, bits of data, and games on different devices — computers, smartphones, point-of-sale, and security terminals — and take 90 seconds a day or less to complete.

Judge’s comment: “I really like what it is you do,” said Mamoon Hamid, General Partner, The Social + Capital Partnership. “It’s easier to retrain than to rehire.”


The pitch: The average email user receives over 9,000 shopping messages a year, which, if true, can account for 50% of their inbox at any given time. That can make for an awfully clumsy email experience, one seemingly overrun by retailer emails, daily deals, and order confirmations. Backed by mobile startup accelerator Tandem and angel investors like LinkedIn Senior Vice President Deep Nishar, Sift is a shopping app for the tablet and smartphone set that creates a mobile shopping experienced based around a user’s preferences and history from shopping emails, Facebook preferences, and Tweets, among other things. As for those pesky shopping emails? Users have the option of having them automatically moved into a separate folder.

Judge’s comment: How do you acquire users and use a product like this?” asked Hamid. “There’s an e-commerce fatigue in the market today and trying to get someone to use another app to consolidate will be a challenge.”


The pitch: Story Coach lets users capture stories either by letting them write them out or translating their spoken word to text. Under-the-hood tech also scours the Internet for items like relevant photos, videos, and articles, and weaves them in to create a media-rich retelling of the story.

Judge’s comment: “Interesting idea, but it seems a little bit niche to me and it seems pretty replicable that a lot of other bigger companies could put out if they wanted to. It really has to come out and be a really elegant product to use. I wouldn’t put it out halfway done.

And the winner was: Axonify.

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