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Innovation Economy

New app aims to link Tweets, TV shows

Steve Brand hopes his app can capitalize on the snarkiness and wit of TV viewers.

Steve Brand hopes his app can capitalize on the snarkiness and wit of TV viewers.

Highlights from the Innovation Economy blog.

An iPad app from a Weston start-up, Sidecastr, wants to make it easy for you to peruse snarky, insightful, and funny tweets about your favorite TV shows — even if you’re not watching the broadcasts live. Founder Steve Brand is making the rounds, trying to raise money for the start-up, which he has been working on since 2009.

Here’s how it works: Sidecastr captures the tweets about a particular TV show as it’s broadcast and filters them in two ways. The first tries to to eliminate redundant or spammy tweets, or tweets that aren’t really of interest to most viewers — “Drinking a beer and watching ‘Modern Family,’” for instance. The second involves a human curator — a social DJ — who flags and categorizes the best tweets. A catty comment about a starlet’s dress on an awards show would be categorized under “Fashion,” for instance.

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As users watch a show, live or recorded, the app tunes into the audio to figure out where you are in the show — even if you’ve paused it or jumped ahead — and plays the relevant tweets. (I found that it took 10 or 20 seconds to figure out what show I was watching and start displaying tweets.)

The app’s design is nifty: Each tweet is accompanied by a screenshot of the particular moment in the show, and tweets scroll by horizontally. You can filter out particular categories (like fashion-related comments on an awards show) or add your own opinions.

I used Sidecastr to watch a prior episode of “Saturday Night Live.” The tweets were well-chosen; one pointed me to an e-mail that guest host Louis C.K. had written about doing the show in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

Right now, the app collects tweets for 20 shows, including “The Walking Dead,” “Glee,” “Sunday Night Football,” and “The Voice.” Sidecastr also captures commentary about special events like the presidential debates.

As for Sidecastr’s business model, Brand says it plans to work with advertisers who are already placing ads on the shows the app covers: “They can use real estate on the app, and real-time interactivity to engage with these rabid fans. Companies that have paid for product placements might also want to highlight those when they appear on the show.”

Angels seeking to micro-invest

Two angel investors, Dan Von Kohorn and Norman Meisner, are launching a $5 million micro-VC fund that will invest in early-stage tech and biotech companies in the Boston area. Von Kohorn says half of the money for the Beta Fund is already in the bank, with the rest available when the firm’s investment partners are ready. “We have been talking to some companies over the past six months, with the expectation that they might be a good fit for the fund.”

A typical investment will be $100,000 to $200,000, with some money reserved for future rounds. Von Kohorn and Meisner will consider software and IT companies; materials science; nanotech; and biotech.

Biotech? Really? Von Kohorn says the two invested in SmartCells, a rare-drug development company that raised just $9 million before being sold to Merck for $80 million (and as much as $420 million if it hits certain milestones). “We liked that story a lot, even if it is a bit of an outlier,” Von Kohorn says.

The fund may invest with other angels or groups, he says, and usually before venture capital firms. He says Beta’s backers, all from New England, will be passive investors.

Von Kohorn is an organizer of New England AI, a group of artificial intelligence experts, and a portfolio manager at Apt Capital. He chairs the screening committee of Beacon Angels, a Boston angel investment group.

Meisner, a member of Beacon Angels and Launchpad Venture Group, is a former executive at Authentica, Chantry Networks, and Connected Corp.

Visit www.boston.com/innovation for the full Innovation Economy blog, updated daily.
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