Twitter List of Seed Accelerator programs

Posted: February 23rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: posts | Tags: , | 6 Comments »

Just a quick announcement to let you know that I’ve been compiling a Twitter list of the various seed-stage accelerator programs. At this point, I have many of the programs that I’m aware of added to the list. If there’s a program that isn’t included yet, please let me know in the comments. The list should be a handy resource to help keep track of the increasing activity with seed accelerators globally.

The list is located here: @shedd/startup-accelerators


Latest additions to the seed accelerator list

Posted: February 22nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: posts | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

More new programs in the world of seed accelerators. Below are the additions that were just made to the master list.

Also of note: Jüri Kaljundi created a great list of many of the programs with their upcoming application deadlines.

It was exciting to read recently about Startl’s new partnership with DreamIt Ventures. Startl is focused on improving education and is partnered with major organizations (Gates Foundation, Hewlett Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, IDEO) in addition to DreamIt Ventures.

I like co-founder and managing director Phoenix Wang’s view (from the Fast Company interview) on why the program was created:

Traditional foundations like the National Science Foundation give away millions every year to support lots of innovative ideas in education, but there isn’t an infrastructure that takes these ideas across the entrepreneur’s “valley of death.” If you look at the Internet industry there are incubation hubs, university labs, public/private partnerships–a fertile ground that supports different people at different stages for different purposes.
In education that layer doesn’t exist. There’s an emerging set of young players who really want to change education in fundamental ways and they have nowhere to go. It’s about money, but it’s also about the networks, expertise, cultivation, and insights to figure out how to be a good entrepreneur. So that’s how STARTL was born.

University-Affiliated Programs

Sources: Twitter, numerous blog posts. The New York student programs were listed at http://bianys.com/student_incubators


Best practices for applying to seed accelerators

Posted: February 21st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: posts | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

A few weeks ago, I posted some advice to entrepreneurs applying to the various seed programs. As the deadlines loom, I’m sure that many more are in the process of tackling the application. I’ve been reviewing some applications for DreamIt Ventures and based on some of what I’m seeing in those reviewed thus far, I wanted to put some additional advice out there.

  1. Put some thought into the applications. The program coordinators aren’t expecting an essay for each response (in fact, it’s good to be succinct), but one sentence responses to questions that don’t demonstrate any effort, thought, and/or motivation are not going to help your cause. Motivation is big – not showing any in your application begs the question if you’ll have the energy and drive to push a startup through to success. Remember, this is an application for thousands of dollars and hours upon hours of mentoring. Inspire some confidence that you can take advantage of this and harness it to achieve what you proclaim. As an example: In response to the questions around competition, don’t just say something to the effect that “There is no competition. We are the only ones who have been smart enough to think of this idea.” First off, it’s a red flag that you don’t think there’s any competition – there’s usually always something you can point to. Second, even if there’s nothing you feel competes directly, use this as an opportunity to emphasize your competitive advantage. I focused on the competitive question because that’s one that stands out to me, but this is equally true of any question on the application. Take some time. Think. Don’t take the easy way out of a question. That’s the fastest way to get a rejection.
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  3. Co-founders and the product. Everyone who writes one of these advice posts talks about the quality of the team. Even though (in general) single founders are red flags, do not just add a co-founder because you need a second warm body. Make sure they add something to the overall package. And if both of you are business grads and have only studied marketing, let’s be realistic – how is the product going to get built? The product is an integral aspect of any startup, so you’d better make sure that your application shows evidence of how you’re going to be able to make something. Not having a dedicated technology co-founder, is a red flag, but if you’re thinking there’s some other way to implement your plans, you had better be extremely detailed in explaining your thinking. And when describing your tech co-founder’s experience in the application, this is when it’s important to illustrate relevant past work. Please don’t just toss in generic buzz words – people with tech backgrounds will see through you and discredit you. Demos, prototypes, mockups – any kind of code will help to demonstrate that there’s something to your team.
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  5. For the love of all that is good, don’t simply submit an application that is a blatant clone of one of the program’s earlier portfolio companies. First off, the partners have been advising this company for almost a year at this point. There’s a very good chance they know as much about the market as you – you’d better make sure you show that you’re an expert in the space. Any gaps in your thinking will be extremely evident. Second, you’d be well advised to show some original thought and differentiate yourself somewhat. It’s been nearly a year since the original company was accepted. The market landscape for startups shifts extremely rapidly. As such, logic bears that something must have changed or progressed. The original startup has learned and evolved. Does your idea show the same evolution? In general, I would be cautious about cloning ideas – I think there’s little reason to accept them and furthermore, if you’re showing the kind of forward thinking and innovation that these accelerator programs promote and encourage, then you’re probably not going to be an exact clone anyway. Iterate and evolve. You’ll be doing it all summer anyway.

Finally, I can’t overemphasize the importance of building a dialogue, as I wrote earlier. Don’t wait until the last minute! Allow time to have a conversation! But also, the strongest applicants find ways to go beyond the application form to show the program that they’re motivated and have what it takes to get stuff done.


WSJ covers Indian Seed Accelerator: The Morpheus

Posted: February 19th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: posts | Tags: | No Comments »

The Wall Street Journal’s Venture Capital Dispatch blog provided some high profile coverage yesterday of recent changes at a seed accelerator program in India. Morpheus Venture Partners (which had been on my list of global accelerator programs) has rebranded to The Morpheus and has raised $250,000 for its ongoing acceleration program. It will be accepting about 10 new ventures in March 2010 (apply by March 10th) and providing each with $10,000.

A couple of interesting observations from the article:

  • The firm isn’t focused on internet software — “the firm has looked at Indian consumer companies, where the growth has been strongest.”
  • The program has been adapted somewhat — “Morpheus” incubator program does not take place in one location. Instead it is conducted remotely, with frequent Skype and email sessions and visits from Morpheus partners for day-long face-to-face sessions. However, the firm does intend to hold Y Combinator-style in-person events for portfolio companies to pitch to investors.”

Follow Morpheus on Twitter: @fom_morpheus. Also, check out my Twitter list of seed accelerator programs.


Tricks to getting involved with early stage startups

Posted: February 18th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: posts | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment »

I enjoy speaking to aspiring entrepreneurs. Earlier this month, I spoke to a class of seniors at Drexel University about early-stage startups and entrepreneurship. This is the first post of a couple on some of the topics covered.


I’ve found that students are usually intrigued by startups. They like the idea of working for a small, dynamic company and being able to make an impact rather than lost in a corporate machine. That said, many students are intimidated by the process of starting a business and would rather join a startup that’s already up and running. This in of itself isn’t always the easiest thing. Startups have limited time and money to spend on recruiting. You’re most likely not going to find them at the career fair table next to the Fortune 500 guys. So, how do you get a position with an early-stage startup? Here are some tricks…

Social Media

There are a lot of people who talk about why social media is important. And there are a lot of people who give you weird looks when you tell them that you’re on Twitter. Ignore the latter.

Here’s my personal experience using social media with startups: I’m working for Three Screen Games because of LinkedIn. I was already connected to my co-founder via LinkedIn ““ we met at Penn State, kicked some ideas around while we were there, but didn’t end up working together then. But, when he decided to leave his former position, he updated his LinkedIn status, which showed up on the dashboard or in the weekly email alert. I was curious (his previous venture was going well), so I sent him an email to see what he was up to ““ he didn’t give me a lot of details at first, but we started exchanging a couple of emails, and sure enough, it soon made sense for us to talk about working together.

Resumes are so passive (Andrew Hyde just published a great post about this). Whereas, LinkedIn, Twitter, and blogs allow you to build a presence ““ a brand for yourself ““ and engage with people that you’re interested in networking with. They allow you to take charge of your networking.

Show Off

Hopefully, the startup that you’re interested in makes something that you like. (In fact, if it doesn’t, you should find something else!) Say you’re interested in working for FanGamb, for example…

What’s the easiest way of getting involved? Show us you really, really care. First off, use the product. Actively use it, see what works well and what doesn’t. Then, get in touch with us. Give us your suggestions. But don’t just send us a quick email that says “hey, you should add this” ““ those emails get filed. Instead, engage with us ““ make us stop and say, wow. Show us that you’ve thought this through, that you’ve considered the angles.

Then, have a plan for how you can add value to the team. We’re busy, we’re trying to make progress one day at a time, putting out fires as we go. We’re not always stopping to think ““ “hey, we could really use someone to do X.” If you come to us, have shown us that you’re really into what we’re building, and then stop us and give us a great example of how we could operate so much more efficiently with you as part of the team, 9 times of out 10, that’s going to work for most entrepreneurs.

(And that’s true of most companies, too ““ showing the value that you can deliver works in the corporate world ““ but it’s usually harder to connect to the right people.)

Charlie O’Donnell , who works for First Round Capital in NYC, has an awesome post about this topic.

Community

If you’re looking to get involved with a startup in Philadelphia, do you know about Philly Startup Leaders? In Boulder, the Boulder New Tech Meetup? In New York, the NYC Tech Meetup?

Startups are sometimes lonely. It’s usually just a few folks sitting in an office, working really hard. There are also lots of questions that entrepreneurs may not know the answers to. What do they do? They engage the local community. In Philly, it may be a little hard to see from the outside looking in, but the city has a great community for startups. As do many cities these days. The monthly meetups and get-togethers are a great venue to meet entrepreneurs and entrepreneur hopefuls that you might be able to work with.

Plus, each of these groups has an active mailing list. There are always startups looking for help, asking questions, and giving advice on the mailing list. It’s another great way to engage the community and participate. If you apply some of the principals discussed above, around personal branding and engaging with entrepreneurs about ideas for their business, I guarantee you, you’ll be making valuable connections and talking to entrepreneurs about problems that actually matter to their business in no time.


So, there are some thoughts on ways to engage early-stage startups and get involved. Feel free to reach out if you have specific questions or comments. It’s a fun topic and I’m happy to give you my thoughts.


Management Undercover

Posted: February 8th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: posts | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments »

After the Super Bowl, CBS aired the premier of its new reality show, Undercover Boss.  While I’m not usually a fan of most reality TV, I actually found the show to be interesting and worth a watch.  While its merits as good reality TV may be debated, the show’s concept is one that all managers should stop and pay attention to.

I think it’s fairly common for those being managed to think that their corporate overlords don’t understand what they do, how hard they work, and in general, feel under-appreciated.  It certainly doesn’t necessitate that a company have 45,000 employees (as Waste Management does, the company in the first episode) to find a couple of steps in a chain between policies being set at a company-level and workers implementing those policies.  And the more steps you have, the more of a disconnect you get.  Just ask any elementary school kid playing whisper down the lane.

Why don’t more corporate executives and managers try to step into their employees shoes every so often, to see how their policies are actually being implemented?  Why is this a novelty fit for reality TV?  Shouldn’t this be good management practice, that we see all the time from executives?  Especially in a world where executives are trying to determine which jobs aren’t important any longer and should be on the chopping block?

In the corporate world, the practice seems to be for policies to be set, then communicated down the series of managers and their underlings via all-hands blast emails and quarterly conference calls.  Sure, your direct manager might have a decent understanding of how hard you’re working and what resources are needed to increase performance.  But, the farther up the chain you go, the more quickly individuals just get rolled up as metrics in a spreadsheet.  Looking at a spreadsheet with your employees as numbers quickly makes you lose perspective on what those numbers actually mean in human-terms.

If more executives took some time to come out of the corner office and actually work with their employees in their jobs, they’d learn a lot more about how to set effective policies.  It wouldn’t even have to be undercover management style – just watch the show to see what an impact it makes for your employees seeing that an executive cares enough to come out and see what they’re doing and how hard they’re working to contribute to the company’s success.

Startups don’t have to worry about this (as much) at the beginning. Everyone is usually in the same room.  There’s only one level separating the executives from the worker-bees (not that anyone uses those terms).  It’s very easy to see when a policy doesn’t work out, and everyone usually shares roles.

But startups (hopefully) grow, and grow quickly!  This has the “executives” learning on the job how to manage people in the larger company.  And then you need to start worrying about how to retain folks, that your company is a company people want to work at, and make sure that everyone shares the vision.  How do you do that?  We haven’t gotten there, yet, but I suspect that making sure you understand what your employees are doing (again, not necessarily “undercover management” style) will be a good start and an important way to make sure that you’re not setting policies that have employees thinking “that guy in the corner office has no idea what I do all day…”

Hm.  Maybe there is something we can learn from reality TV after all?