Looking for the next Pinterest at a street fair

First-ever open-air startup fair sets up in the shadow of city hall in Mountain View, Calif.

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. -- Are we in a technology bubble? From the looks of things here, we may well be. The city that hosts Google, Evernote, and Pinterest hosted its first open-air startup festival today, attached to the annual Startup Conference. Although churros, cotton candy, and midway games were lacking, the carnival atmosphere was not.

Kelly Toney pitches SoundFit to Tim Draper at the Startup Conference in Mountain View, Calif. Rafe Needleman/CNET

Inside at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, next door to City Hall, 600 conference attendees listened to talks from investors like Dave McClure and panels on topics like crowdsourcing. Outside, organizer Alain Reynaud had set up a festival where, he said, he was trying to replicate the atmosphere of the art and wine festivals he enjoys in the wine country to the north of Silicon Valley.

The Startup Conference is in its third year, but this is the first with the accompanying outdoor event. Reynaud says he has support from the city -- Mayor Michael Kasperzak was in attendance -- and next year he wants to close down Castro Street in front of City Hall and really blow it out.

As to the startups pitching in the tents, I don't think there was a Pinterest-level company among them, but some of the ideas were interesting, aggressive, and definitely opportunistic.

In that last category, opportunistic, the award goes to VentureDocs, which pitches as a "Legal Zoom for startups." CEO Bo Sartain says that his document-construction service, at $400 for a basic package for incorporation paperwork, costs a startup 10 percent or less than what it would cost to go through a law firm. But VentureDocs will also help you find a lawyer (probably not a bad idea). Sartain came to the Startup Conference street fair, he told me, since "these are all my potential customers."

Wristag CEO Ismaila Wane was at the conference hoping to drum up business for his NFC wristband. While his site pitches Wristag as "a wallet you wear on your wrist," Wane's in-person presentation is more realistic: He sees it being used at large sporting events (runs) or festivals to help people identify themselves at checkpoints and services, and for emergency workers to identify people when they need help. Any business working on NFC technology has a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem, but the idea of serving venues and events is a good stopgap. Wane was at the conference looking for partners and investors.

At another booth TouchPal CEO Michael Wong was demonstrating his Android keyboard replacement software. He says it's better than Swype. Wong wasn't looking for end-user customers so much -- he deals mostly with handset manufacturers -- but rather engineers to hire.

And then there were the companies not presenting, just milling about. VC firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson had a booth set up over lunch where entrepreneurs could pitch partner Tim Draper. Kelly Toney of SoundFit gave it a shot and said Draper was receptive. And SoundFit, by the way, was the coolest company I saw: It makes custom ear molds for headphones, and is working on an iPhone app that will generate a 3D scan of your ear, transmit the data to a 3D printer in a kiosk or retail store, and build your customized headphone adapters while you wait.

 

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