i/o Ventures, the Hip Take on a Tech Incubator

i/o Ventures, the new San Francisco, Mission District, tech incubator, invited an audience over last night to see what its first class of startups has been working on. It’s not that the i/o office is secret or closed — far from it; half the ground floor is a cafe that’s open to the public until 2:00 a.m. each night. (i/o’s partners say they tried running the cafe themselves when they opened earlier this year, but have already switched to leasing it to a guy who knows what he’s doing.)

Anomaly Innovations co-founder Jay Air presents at i/o Ventures
The incubator’s inaugural class of six consumer tech startups presented what it’s been working on for the last six months. They were: Appbistro, a marketplace for Facebook fan page applications; Socialvision, a social video viewing platform; Anomaly Innovations, which makes real-time personalization tech; Damntheradio, a social media promotion agency; Skyara, a user-generated marketplace for activities and experiences; and AppRats, a provider of social media presences for YouTube (s GOOG) stars.

In an increasingly crowded market for tech startup incubators, i/o doesn’t have a particularly distinctive angle, besides the fact that it’s located in a hip neighborhood of San Francisco where lots of young founder types live and/or hang out. i/o does have a friendly and non-pretentious vibe, and seems likely to turn into a bit of a frat house, given it will be open 24 hours a day to anyone who rents desk space. That vibe is in keeping with its founding partners, who aren’t exactly the bad boys of Silicon Valley but have helped create relatively non-nerdy companies like MySpace (s NWS), BitTorrent, HotorNot and an early location-based social service called Meetro.

The i/o Ventures space
i/o has four main partners, who have each invested their own money. Paul Bragiel (he’s the Meetro guy, who recently sold his follow-up startup Lefora) is general manager and works full-time in the space, while Ashwin Navin (BitTorrent), Jim Young (HotorNot) and Aber Whitcomb (MySpace) are all serial entrepreneurs and CEOs of their own new startups (NewTeeVee wrote about Navin’s yesterday). The incubator takes 8 percent of a company’s common stock in exchange for $25,000 and six months of full-time access to the space and its founders’ networks of investors and entrepreneurs. Bragiel and Navin told me that four of the first six companies came straight through an open application process, not through connections or recommendations.

[inline-pro-content]The usual super angel/micro VC clique wasn’t in full attendance at for i/o’s “Demo Day,” though that’s not to say there weren’t well-known faces like Naval Ravikant and Kent Goldman of First Round Capital taking in the companies’ presentations. The startups weren’t noticeably different or more raw than those at other incubators, even though i/o is just getting started. AppRats said it is “sushi profitable” (instead of “ramen profitable“); Appbistro has already raised $600,000 and is out raising more; Socialvision bragged that it’s currently participating in “advanced” acquisition talks; and Damntheradio has big-name customers like CBS (s CBS) and Sony Music (s SNE).

The earliest-stage company presenting last night was probably Skyara, which I believe was founded as a Groupon for activities (like Zozi) but now has pivoted to be a marketplace where users can sell each other experiences (the kind of stuff that would normally be offered at a charity auction, like a personal cooking lesson). That version has yet to launch, but it sounds like it could be pretty neat, in the vein of user marketplaces like Etsy and AirBnB, but for services and activities.

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