On Effort, Unity and Strength: AdYapper to Join TechStars NYC

“You don’t just submit an application and hope for the best. It needs to be an all out, multi-pronged and sustained assault,” says Eliot Hirsch, AdYapper’s CEO and one of its three co-founders. He and his team found out this week that they’d been accepted to TechStars NYC’s 2013 class and Hirsch insists it wasn’t luck that got them there. Of the 1,700 applicants this year, only 11 made the cut, which works out to an acceptance rate of 0.6 percent.

Getting his ad transparency startup through the door was no easy task and, in fact, Hirsch and his team were so aware of the probability of not making it that they prepared for that scenario. Having bootstrapped for more than a year before and recently closing a bridge round funded by some Chicago angels, TechStars, mentors, friends and family, the AdYapper guys were ready to keep doing it themselves, if it came to that.

After several years in the advertising industry, Hirsch (a UX designer) recognized the inefficiencies in terms of transparency, data and time—as well as the money lost as a result. He teamed up with Wojo Wietecha, now CTO, who previously founded Poland’s largest social network, then one of its largest ad networks. They were joined by SVP of Media Products Kal Patel, a former startup founder and senior executive at large brands. Hirsch describes Patel as “a light of positivity that never, ever goes out.”

Read more about AdYapper’s approach to getting into one of the country’s most competitive incubators, TechStars, by clicking here.

Five Illinois Companies Make Top Work-Life Balance List

Work to live, or live to work? The former is a broadly-acknowledged philosophy at 25 American companies that rank highest for their emphasis on work-life balance. Glassdoor.com, an online career community, culled employee feedback from the past year to identify those companies that prioritized their workers’ needs nearly as much as the organization’s.

Five Illinois-based companies made the second-annual list, with CareerBuilder breaking into the top five. Orbitz (12), Discover (16), Morningstar (17), and Navteq (23) are also ranked. In fact, Illinois features more companies on the list than any other state. California and Texas clock in with four companies each, and Massachusetts follows up with three.

For the employees at these companies, perks range from telecommuting options to flexible hours. To find out more about their commitment to work-life balance, we asked employees at the five Illinois companies the same three questions.

Click here for their answers.

DealsGoRound Grows Up, Rebrands as MyCabbage and Raises $950K

Too many deals and no way to keep up? Have no fear, MyCabbage is here. What started as a service project in CEO Kris Petersen’s kitchen two years ago has grown into a full blown deals marketplace, complete with social capabilities. What’s more, the company formerly known as DealsGoRound relaunched today after raising $950,000 from the likes of Lightbank, I2A and New World Ventures, plus some angel investors.

“We knew for quite some time that our product was evolving into something which was applicable across the world of savings and not specific to daily deals,” says Petersen. DealsGoRound was an appropriate name when their business operated on the reselling of deals from sites such as Groupon and LivingSocial, but now that they’ve expanded into the coupon and gift card management space, the name became more of a distraction. So how did the name come about? “Deals, gift cards, coupons…they’re all worth money, or ‘cabbage’ as we call it.”

Read more: Find out how MyCabbage intends to use their new funds and how Petersen feels about the growth of his business.

BrightTag Sets Its Sights on Europe with SiteTagger Acquisition

Many would agree that BrightTag is a company that has, pardon the pun, an illuminated future. In June, it was named Startup of the Year at the Moxie Awards. Today, CEO Mike Sands announced BrightTag’s acquisition of a UK-based competitor named SiteTagger.

Together, the two companies combined to be the global leader in tag management services (TMS), representing over 100 brands. With this acquisition, BrightTag is making a major play to expand services in the UK and Europe. SiteTagger launched in 2009, and serves to manage analytics, affiliate marketing and other aspects of digital marketing for  brands in the UK and Europe. Cofounders Stephan Briggs and Paul Newbury will focus on expanding Yard Digital, their data-centric digital marketing agency, which will become a strategic partner and member of the BrightTag ONE Partner Program.

In terms of expanding into Europe, Sands sees the SiteTagger acquisition as a key step. “We found a group of like-minded folks at SiteTagger. They share our values and passion for what we’re doing,” he says. “It’s fun to learn about new cultures and yet realize that the business challenges we are addressing here and in Europe are remarkably the same.” Being able to hop a train instead of a plane makes a big difference in client service.

Read more: Learn more about Sands’ thoughts on expanding into Europe and keeping up here at home.

Braintree Acquires Venmo, Plans to Conquer Mobile Ecommerce

Braintree, Chicago’s own leader in online payments, is acquiring New York City-based mobile payments company Venmo for $26 million. This news comes less than three weeks after Braintree announced it would more than triple the size of its Chicago office. Both companies are backed by Accel Partners.

Earlier this month, Braintree CEO Bill Ready told us mobile commerce was one of two macrotrends on the minds of anyone in the online payments space. Already, mobile comprises one quarter of the $4 billion in credit card transactions Braintree processes per year. With his company’s acquisition of Venmo, it seems Ready and his team are pushing to take the mobile shopping challenge head-on.

And how will they do it? By pairing their processing power with Venmo’s digital wallet. While Braintree facilitates credit card payments for everyone from Disqus to Belly, Venmo makes it easy to swap funds with friends using a smartphone, and it’s the marriage of these separate but compatible services that looks to be a winning combination.

“By combining forces, Braintree and Venmo can continue to make the mobile shopping experience better for both merchants and consumers,” Ready said. For example, existing Venmo users will soon be able to use their digital wallets to place payments with any of the thousands of online merchants who utilize Braintree to process transactions. Ready sees this acquisition as an opportunity to bolster his company’s mobile offerings, by keeping up with the growing practice of mobile shopping and giving developers and consumers “a different set of tools to thrive in a mobile world.”

Read more at Built In Chicago.

CakeStyle Bags $1M to Change the Way Women Shop Online

“Personal shopper.” This phrase, though brief, has sent many a woman’s heart aflutter. The idea that another person, an expert, would look at you and understand your style and figure out your body type and then dress you—the concept is nothing short of a fantasy. E-commerce fashion provider CakeStyle wants to make that dream a reality, by shipping packages of pre-selected items straight to women’s doors. Some might call it the Trunk Club of women’s fashion. I call it the latest Chicago startup to score another round of funding. CakeStyle announced yesterday a $1 million raise from Sandbox Industries’ Sandbox Advantage Fund.

According to reports, CakeStyle boxes range from $2,800 to $3,000 apiece. That’s a steep price tag, but one women are apparently willing to pay—with thousands of new customers and shipments reaching six times the number they were at the start of the year, business has been good. CEO and cofounder Cecelia Myers acknowledges that word of mouth has been instrumental to CakeStyle’s growth. She and her team plan to put their funding to work for marketing and expanding into other cities, and that includes building on this system.

“The first step will be building a strong referral program to turn existing customers in [new] cities into brand ambassadors,” Myers said. “Next, we want to share our style advice in the local markets through press and style events.” Such events will allow CakeStyle to demonstrate how the company can provide customized services to women in cities as different as Washington, D.C., and San Francisco.

More on CakeStyle and its plans to expand out of Chicago here.

Target Data Raises $1 Million from Facebook Investor

Moving is a stressful process for the people doing it, certainly, but also for the marketers trying to reach them at that time. Target Data is a marketing solutions company that’s built its business on using big data and analytics to reach people in the pre-moving stage. Their objective is to make it easier for marketers to reach those people—frenzied though they may be—before they move. Their just-announced round of funding, $1 million from Bay Area firm Western Technology Investments (WTI), is a vote of confidence that they’re doing something right.

Last spring, Target Data raised $3 million in a round led by Apex Venture Partners. “We will use the new funds to continue to invest in world class talent, specifically analytics and marketing strategy positions,” said president and CEO Ross Shelleman. “We will also use the funds to launch a new digital offering where we will work with third parties to translate our offline data to online data for targeted display advertising.”

For marketers, movers are a valuable audience. Not only are they looking for a number of services as they pack up one home and head to another, they are also in the market for lots of new goods to stock their new abodes. Their struggle is getting their messages in front of people before they move, and that’s where Target Data comes in.

Learn more about Target Data and WTI here.

Social Entrepreneurs, Start Your (Impact) Engines

If for-profit social change sounds unusual, that’s because it is. Purists may think that profit and social change can’t coexist, but a new Chicago-based accelerator program called Impact Engine disagrees. The 12-week crash course offers support ($20,000 in seed capital worth of it) to companies taking on societal and environmental issues with for-profit business ideas. Program Manager Elizabeth Riley says, “We believe for-profit business solutions are crucial to solving problems [such as climate change and poverty] because they have the potential to be sustainable,” unlike governments and not-for-profits, who frequently face resource shortages.

Yesterday, Impact Engine announced the eight companies that comprise its inaugural class, known as Impact 1. The class, which takes off in September, is varied in its details, but a current of societal improvement runs through each company. For example, Ithaca Education offers a challenging but individualized literacy curriculum via its online platform, CERCA. POMS allows users to transfer funds in real-time, directly to the recipient’s mobile phone. And Raise5 matches micro-volunteering with fundraising, allowing participants to exchange a small task for a $5 donation, all on their online platform. See the rest of the list here.

The caliber of these companies speaks to the strengths of Impact 1, but that’s not to say putting the class together was an easy task. Explains Riley:

After Impact Engine launched in October 2011, we spent a lot of time engaging with entrepreneurs through our “Start Your Engines” event series. This gave us the opportunity to share our vision while getting to know potential applicants. We began accepting applications in May and received just over 175 in two months. Each application was rated on the overall idea, team, profitability, and potential for impact. After narrowing down the applications to 30 finalists, we spent four days interviewing candidates. Then we had to make some really tough decisions. The process was really inspiring for all of us. It’s great to learn about people’s passions and how they want to change the world.

Learn more about Impact Engine’s resources, goals, and challenges here.

Startup of the Month: InContext Solutions

Built In Chicago and Marengo Hampshire Partners would like to congratulate July’s Startup of the Month: InContext Solutions! An award-winning technology firm, InContext Solutions, seeks to lead the industry in best in class analytics and market research. Their unique take on research centers on providing clients a way to test various scenarios in a virtual store with real customers before going to market.

For many companies, high costs or a lack of resources are obstacles in the path of testing hypotheses, meaning a lot of ideas never get explored, let alone realized. InContext Solutions wants to demolish that roadblock, making it possible for companies to virtually “see” how a store or product change would affect their businesses. Sophisticated 3D modeling and using the open expanse of the World Wide Web makes this possible in a way previously unthinkable.

In 2009, Tracey Wiedmeyer founded InContext Solutions with Bob Gillespie and Rich Scamehorn “with a vision to revolutionize how virtual simulations could be used by leading businesses across the globe.” Last November, Hyde Park Venture Partners and Hyde Park Angels co-led a $1.5 million investment in InContext Solutions, which brings their funding to date to a total of nearly $2.7 million. Today, they work with many Fortune 500 consumer packaged goods (CPG) manufacturers and retailers, the kind whose products fall into consumers’ hands daily, to imagine new futures for their businesses.

Learn more about InContext Solutions’ business and goals via our Q&A with co-founder and CTO Wiedmeyer. Click here to read it.

Braintree Adding 150 Jobs in Chicago, Focused on Being the Leader in Payments

Braintree, an online payments tech company that put its roots down in Chicago in 2007, just announced that it will add 150 jobs to their West Loop headquarters. Over the next two years or so, that office will triple in size–a change that would allow Braintree to take the lead in the payments space.

According to company CEO Bill Ready, there are two macrotrends ruling online payments today. The first is using a cloud-based infrastructure, which not only decreases the cost of starting up and maintaining a mobile or online business, it also gives devs the chance to build products instead of serving as maintenance people. “Payments is the last piece of major infrastructure that has not moved,” says Ready.

Mobile commerce–the growth of it, specifically–is the other trend on everyone’s tongues these days. With one in five ecommerce transactions taking place on a mobile device, the opportunity to capture inevitable growth in this space is huge. Today, Braintree processes nearly $1 billion in mobile volume annually.

Why is this so important? According to Ready, his company is trying to build something that would transform the mobile payments ecosystem. “Braintree’s goal is to build a payment platform that developers can easily build on top of, similar to what iOS did for mobile apps,” Ready says. “In payments today, there is still a confusing backend. We are building the tools that will allow developers to innovate on top of our payment platform.”

Read more at Built In Chicago.