Category Archives: Accelerators

Kauffman Foundation Grant to StartX (Stanford Student Accelerator)

There is so much going on at Stanford University that its almost impossible to keep track of all of the initiatives. StartX, an accelerator for university students, received a big commitment for additional funding from Kauffman. From the Kauffman Foundation press release:

The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation today announced an $800,000 grant to StartX, which runs a startup accelerator for university students, to support expansion and national scaling of the program.

StartX, formerly SSE Labs, was initially launched in 2010 by Stanford students to accelerate the development of the best Stanford student entrepreneurs through experiential education. Kauffman’s grant will help StartX scale its current services and build a model for replication.

“StartX has taken important initial steps to develop an experiential education-based program for founders at the university level,” said Wendy Torrance, Kauffman director of entrepreneurship who leads the Foundation’s curriculum development. “Our grant will help StartX further develop its curriculum and program and identify a model for replication, while bolstering its capacity to gather and analyze data on its work and crucial outcomes.”

StartX, a non-profit organization affiliated with Stanford University that takes no equity from its portfolio companies, has received applications from more than 6 percent of the Stanford student population each year. To date, StartX has supported more than 240 founders and 90 companies in several markets, including clean tech, biotechnology, enterprise, consumer internet/mobile, hardware, healthcare technology and social enterprise. In total, StartX companies have raised more than $70 million in funding.

Will be interested to see how it scales and would like to know how StartX differs from other channels students use to launch firms.

via Kauffman Foundation Announces Grant to StartX.

Microgrants at U. of Michigan Will Spark Innovative Research | The Chronicle of Higher Education

We recently reported that the University of Michigan was offering a masters in entrepreneurship (joint program from business and engineering). Michigan is going deeper into the innovation and collaboration world with the announcement of microgrants to interdisciplinary teams to pursue new areas. From Paul Basken at The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Under the plan, which begins today, all Michigan faculty will be eligible for a $20,000 credit that can be redeemed only if they work with two other faculty members, including one outside their academic field.

The idea, which appears to be unique among American research universities, has numerous elements that Michigan leaders believe will be attractive to professors and the institution, including its emphases on encouraging interdisciplinary work and helping faculty compete for a tightening pool of federal money.

And, said Mary Sue Coleman, Michigan’s president, it will help Michigan and perhaps other universities overcome their widespread failure to let faculty pursue high-risk, high-reward hunches.

“I know that people have new ideas, good ideas, they’d love to try it out,” Ms. Coleman said in an interview. “But we don’t have good mechanisms now within the university for them to do that.”

Later in the piece,

Continue reading

Civic Startup Accelerator | #Socent #Socinn | AcceleratorDirectory.com

Apply now!!

In a conference call this am the participants including me, discussed the growth accelerators, seed funding, and lean startup methods. There is now a new accelerator, the Civic Startup Accelerator, from Code for America. Application deadline is June 1, 2012.

For those accepted: trips to Silicon Valley, $25,000 in funding and great membership are in the offer! So add this to your list of accelerators all your social entrepreneurs and innovators. (btw, the url AcceleratorDirectory.com is for sale): From the Growthology blog:

Code for America, a national nonprofit backed by the Kauffman Foundation and Google, is now recruiting teams to do just that with its first-of-its-kind Civic Startup Accelerator.

As the name implies, this is an initiative targeted at early-stage startups in the civic/government arena. The link contains more information about the program specifics, but essentially there is some funding support and mentoring opportunities; the application deadline is June 1. The mentoring aspect of the program is important; it’s noteworthy that other successful accelerators like TechStars, Y Combinator, and the like also place heavy emphasis on mentorship.

This looks like another great opportunity for student entrepreneurs and others around campus to use the mechanism and tools of entrepreneurship to increase their impact. We’ll get some Startup Mason folks engaged in this.

via Growthology: Civic Startup Accelerator.

More Barbarians at the Gates of Higher Education | hungry academy

Had a great conversation today with an entrepreneur at a local startup and we discussed technical education for founders. He pointed me to Hungry Academy here in DC. The initiative is a partnership between venture backed giant LivingSocial and JumpStart Lab (both DC based). They offer a 5 month intensive programming program followed by an offer of employment for 18 months. The first class just began on March 5. From the Hungry Academy Website (those who get chosed get medical/dental and work out of LivingSocial’s offices):

Hungry Academy started with the question “If you had good people who had the right attitude but were missing development skills, could we turn them into proficient developers in six months?”

The answer isn’t easy. Collegiate Computer Science programs are an intense four years. But the reality is that academic form of CS only maps to some areas of real world development. If you’re building 3D-game engines, you’ve got to understand complex geometry and eek out every instruction cycle from your CPU.

But the world of web development is a different story. Our real challenge is figuring out how the application should work. If we build out ideas, smooth the rough edges, and follow strong guidelines along the way, we can later turn the slow code into fast code. The real challenge is figuring out what the software needs to do and how to do it.

We take people who have the right spirit, a knack for solving complex problems, and teach them to build those solutions in software. A six month program can’t turn them into true masters of programming — but that’s not the point. To be a great programmer is like being a great artist or musician: you combine a solid foundation with a lifetime of practice. This is the foundation.

The application was released in December of 2011 and due just a few weeks later. The notable requirement was an eight minute video answering five questions. “Video?!?” people asked. We weren’t looking for skills they already had, so how good was a resume? We were looking for character, attitude, and drive. And video was the perfect way to communicate it. A huge pool of applicants led to a selection rate lower than the world’s top colleges.

That’s the story so far as we get ready to kick off with our first class of twenty-four on March 5th, 2012.

I love that they state that are trying to replicate a 4 year computer science degree in 5 months. Oh, and they pay you and offer you a job afterwards with a venture funded firm? Do you hear that higher education?

Also notice the difficulty in getting accepted? Like Y Combinator, the Thiel Fellowships, the Minverva Project etc. They are trying to ‘rewrite’ the rules of education, but by only wanting the best talent, they are back into the elite game that many higher ed critics decry. I also like that they have taken a page out of the vocational training playbook by attaching employment to completion — this is something that traditional higher education and many of the non-profits are having trouble with today.

I love all the experiments and am looking forward to learning more about the Hungry Academy.

via hungry academy.

Visit to ASU Skysong | G3Box | AZ Pro DJs | Coolest College Start-Up

Last week while in Scottsdale I was fortunate to visit with 3 of the founders of G3Box, a start-up out of ASU converting shipping containers into mobile medical clinics. Clay, Gabby, and Billy (John) are dynamic young entrepreneurs looking to solve a specific global problem and their successes so far really highlight the culture of entrepreneurship being built at ASU. Details of their story and the ASU programs, curriculum and people involved in their development will be included as we release portions of my research over the next 3-6 months.

While visiting G3Box at ASU’s Skysong‘s Edson student accelerator I was introduced to Will Curran, founder of Arizona Pro DJs an incredibly successful entertainment service provider that he founded at ASU. Will also works out of Skysong and is building a high impact firm — in terms of revenues, customers, wages paid etc. Will’s story highlights the concept of the campus as market for experimenting with new ideas and iterations and as a launching pad to move beyond campus or to other campuses.

Both G3Box and AZ Pro DJs are in the running for America’s Coolest College Start-Up, sponsored by Inc Magazine. You can watch their videos and vote for them. You can also check out a bunch of other great student firms.

Vote for your favorite America’s Coolest College Start-Up | Inc.com.

Y Combinator | “It Really is the Entrepreneur” | Amplifier Venture Partners

My friend, Jonathan Aberman, investor and Startup Virginia leader, has an interesting piece in response to Y Combinator’s current experiment with accepting teams that do not have beta products or services or even an idea. Clearly Y Combinator is bowing to the reality of new venture iterations or pivots. From Aberman:

By taking away from the equation the coupling of a business model from acceptance to accelerator program, Y Combinator is taking away one of the pillars that seed stage investors use to evaluate an entrepreneurial team. If an acceleration program is financed by investors capital (and not government or not for profit capital) then it is properly described as a seed stage investment model. The risk of failure must be compensated for appropriately for investors to want to fund the program.

Y Combinator’s proposed change turns the business model of acceleration further away from an investment model, and much more into what I would call an “R&D model.” Research and development is an essential function in ideation – there are few things as powerful as allowing bright people the luxury of “thinking things up.” However, financing smart people to think things up is not really consistent with the mechanics of investment – investment requires a matching of opportunity with risk, which allows investors to rationally evaluate it against all other investments. This change turns acceleration into much more of a black box and much less clear as a seed investment.

As my friends who are starting accelerators know, in order for the model to work you need investors to provide the capital for the acceleration program. It is a model that requires the existence of a fund, both to provide financial fees to the accelerator promoters as well as to provide capital to the startups. Turning an accelerator program in to a broad R&D effort may make it harder for acceleration programs other than Y Combinator to raise capital. Or, for these programs to maintain an open source approach that doesn’t require harsh investment terms and stratify entrepreneurs under differing criteria.

Jonathan points out the change in model and the uniqueness of Y Combinator’s new approach — based on size, reach and location.

Read more about Jonathan, Startup VA, and the DC metro as an entrepreneurial goldmine.

via Y Combinator Says: “It Really is the Entrepreneur”.

D.C.’s Newest Accelerator “The Fort” Debuts Inaugural Class | TechCrunch

More accelerator news in the DC Metro. From Techcrunch

Hot, new Washington D.C. tech accelerator known as The Fort is debuting its inaugural class of startups today. The organization grew out the efforts from early stage VC firm Fortify Ventures LLC, also known as Fortify.vc (that’s its URL, too), which had previously invested in nearly dozen D.C.-area tech companies.

Over the past 9 months, The Fort’s co-founders, Jonathon Perrelli and Carla Valdes, have been busy trying to spark innovation in the nation’s capital. They set up the fund, invested in group of startups, created the accelerator, hosted a pitch competition called “Distilled Intelligence” which handed out $25K to winners, and selected a dozen more startups for The Fort’s first program.

“D.C. is not a place where people are always working together,” says Perrelli of the group’s efforts, “but now there is this uprising. People are trying to build something here.”

He notes that the area, despite being the center of government where important policy decisions are made, has been slow to join in the burgeoning tech scene. But things have been changing. With The Fort, the hope is to provide a path to get D.C. area startups off the ground.

The program, which gives founders anywhere from $25,000 to $100,000 in seed capital, was lured to the area from nearby Arlington thanks to a $100,000 grant from D.C. Mayor Vicent Gray. Now set up in offices on K Street two blocks from The White House, the organization its opening its doors to 12 new companies who will spend 6 months in its program.

Its interesting to note that accelerator founders are now playing the  economic development game. And, once again we see more pressure on universities in the entrepreneurship education space. BTW, I met some of the founders in the The Fort’s first class at GWU’s Startup Job Fair earlier this week.  Some cool new ventures.

via D.C.’s Newest Tech Accelerator “The Fort” Debuts Inaugural Batch | TechCrunch.

10 Lean Startup Machine Tips and Tricks | @TriKro

Cool post, 10 Lean Startup Machine Tips and Tricks by Tristan Kromer at Grasshoperherder.com. There are actually more than 10 (Tristan admits to not being a great editor).

I was at Lean Startup Machine in New York last weekend. (LSM is a 48 hour excursion into lean startup techniques created by Trevor Owens to push your boundaries and help you learn something about your business model.)

  1. Problems don’t exist. You can’t go out and talk to a problem. Focus relentlessly on people.
  2. Cash in hand beats bullshit on slide. A pretty powerpoint isn’t impressive. Go get a real customer to hand you money.
  3. If your teammates don’t buy in, then test fast and let reality convince them. You’re not going to win by arguing, you’ll just wind up working alone.
  4. If your MVP can’t prove you wrong, then it can’t prove you right either.
  5. Ask questions like a child. Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?

There are some good thoughts in this post and I am looking forward to learning more about Lean Startup Machine.

via 10 Lean Startup Machine Tips and Tricks by @TriKro.

3 Ways to Accelerate Your Social Venture | #Socent #socinn

Scott Henderson of Mashable points to three ways to accelerate your social venture.

In exchange for equity stakes, for-profit accelerators and incubators provide robust resources and access to experts. Y Combinator, TechStars and a growing population of other companies have paved the way. Fortunately, social impact startups (for-profit and non-profit) are feeling the love, too, thanks to springboard organizations like Skoll Foundation, Scwab Foundation, Echoing Green and Ashoka.

Here are three more programs worth considering if you want to accelerate the growth of your social-impact startup.

Unreasonable Institute – Boulder, Colorado: Unreasonable’s marketplace is open; you can help determine or even be one of the projects selected for this summer’s program. Do you like the mountains and being connected to a global roster of mentors? Check this program out.

Civic Accelerator – Atlanta, Georgia: Just announced this year, the Points of Light Insitute’s Civic Incubator program is expanding to launch one of the first accelerators focused on social entrepreneurs. Learn more as it rolls out the program in the coming weeks and months.

MassChallenge – Boston, Massachusetts: In its third year, MassChallenge is open to all startups and has no strings attached. Compete for $1 million in cash prizes, interact with over 600 mentors and experts over four months, and enjoy free office space overlooking Boston Harbor. Four of last year’s top cash prize winners were social-impact startups. Apply for this year’s program starting March 1.

via 3 Best Social Good Startup Accelerators You’ve Never Heard Of.

On 4 Years of Seedcamp | Entrepreneurship Education | Fred Destin

If you are not paying attention to off campus entrepreneurship education and seed initiatives, then you should start. Read this great piece (h/t @MichaelGaiss) by Fred Destin sharing his experiences and thoughts on Seedcamp and related issues.

There seems to be a kind of marketing war going on between all of the incubation/acceleration programs, what with YCombinator getting 600 applications a minute or Techstars providing some awesome TV. At some level you could argue all these are fighting for a limited crop of A+ entrepreneurs, but I tend to take a slightly more prosaic view on this. Each of these initiatives serves a defined community and tries to rise above transience by building sustainable processes of value creation for startups. Each has a unique place and role to play in improving the early stage ecosystem, as was well argued by Jonathan Wegener.

Beyond any marketing spin, the only thing that really matters is whether startups go through these programs and come out at the other end stronger, funded, ready to go win in the marketplace. For my money, well-supported, locally backed, collaborative initiatives are the only real way to go. There is no shortcut to generating real engagement between startups and mentors and spending quality time together on problems that truly matter to entrepreneurs and limit their chance of success.

I have been lucky enough to be involved in both Seedcamp and Techstars Boston, and to see how these two initiatives deliver value in different ways. Techstars as a 3 month residential creates a real furnace of entrepreneurial emulation. Seedcamp, designed for a more distributed European ecosystem, is very efficient at creating connectivity and access. Both usually get very strong reviews from entrepreneurs. I also wrote recently about 500Startups, another impressive initiative.

Maintaining quality is a sustainability challenge for all accelerator programs, which is why I think they are fundamentally hard to scale. Quality primarily relies on getting high quality mentors and designing formats that deliver real value to entrepreneurs. It’s tough to scale good mentors, and god knows I have witnessed some pretty awful mentoring. But I have also and mostly seen companies get real breakthroughs in strategy and execution thanks for the variety of views and quality of probing that they are subjected to.

The piece offers many insights into the building of successful entrepreneurs, firms, and ecosystems. We are hoping to build some of this at Mason with StartUp Mason, Center for Social Entrepreneurship and Center for Entrepreneurship and Public Policy.

via On four years of Seedcamp — and why you should get involved – Fred Destin.