Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Student startup Fetchnotes selected for TechStars national incubator program

Student-founded startup Fetchnotes, with its cloud-based note-jotting and organizing system, has won a spot in the prestigious business accelerator program TechStars.

The company, launched by U-M undergrads in late 2011, spent two terms in U-M’s student-business incubator TechArb and currently has more than 19,000 users. Last week, the operation moved to Boston for a three-month stint.

As part of the 1 percent of startups that make it into TechStars, Fetchnotes receives $18,000 in financing, access to more than 100 mentors and an optional $100,000 in venture funding upon graduation.

The program began in 2007 in Boulder, Colo., and has five locations, each of which host around 10 companies per session. Of the 126 companies that have been through the program so far, 96 are active, 13 were acquired and just 17 failed. The average venture funding per company is $1.5 million, according to the TechStars website.

“We’re excited about this new opportunity to build the best business we possibly can,” says Alex Schiff, Fetchnotes co-founder and a senior in the Stephen M. Ross School of Business.

Fetchnotes aims to corral short notes like to-do’s, ideas and shopping lists for its users, and in so doing, relieve their minds, Schiff says.

“There’s just too much stuff for people to keep track of mentally today,” he says. “They use sticky notes and apps and end up with hundreds of things to sift through. We want to help make sense of the overload, and help people share the important things with the people that matter.”

The system lets users call, text, email, or type notes directly into their account through a phone, smartphone app, desktop widget or Web browser. Users categorize notes with hashtags for easy retrieval. They can view a category directly in the app or in their Web account, or they can text the category's hashtag to a special Fetchnotes number. Users can also attach files to notes, and soon will be able to add items to other users’ lists.

Schiff recalls getting word of his company’s acceptance. He emerged from a movie theater with a friend to find three missed calls, a voicemail and a text from his co-founder, Chase Lee, also a senior in Ross. He called Lee back. Lee told him to check his email. And there was the message from New England.

“I hugged my friend on a random street corner and started jumping up and down and saying, ‘We’re moving to Boston!’” Schiff says.

Accompanying Schiff and Lee are seniors Alex Horak, who is studying computational informatics; Michael Marsh, a computer science student in LSA; and engineering student Matt Brandly. The students are taking time off school, but they assure that they’ll be back to finish in the future.

“I wouldn't trade this experience for anything, and I'd encourage more people to take the same risk,” Horak says. “Don't be tricked into thinking that your career starts after some internships and graduation. You can use the time while you’re in school.”

Fetchnotes is one of more than 100 student-founded companies that have been through TechArb since 2008.

“I'm super excited for Fetchnotes,” says Moses Lee, assistant director of student ventures at the College of Engineering Center for Entrepreneurship. “I think this is a testament to the U-M entrepreneurial ecosystem that supports student entrepreneurs and encourages disruptive ideas. We have watched in amazement as the team hit its milestones and executed on all cylinders.”

TechArb is run by the College of Engineering’s Center for Entrepreneurship and the Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies and supported by the Office of the Vice President for Research.