Posted: June 11th, 2010 | Author: Robert Shedd | Filed under: posts | Tags: funding, seed stage accelerator programs, startups | 2 Comments »
The list of startup accelerators has been getting a lot of attention as of late. It was exciting to see the list recently featured on Change.org’s Social Entrepreneurship blog. This activity follows the continuing interest and growth in seed-stage startup accelerators. Below are some updates and additions to the list.
Updates from the startup accelerator world:
- TechCrunch featured a nice write-up on Stanford’s recently launched SSE Labs program. Written by Larry Chiang, one of the advisors to the new Stanford Student Startup Lab, the post touches on some of the political hurdles that the SSE Labs program ran into at Stanford in the process of launching. It is interesting (and disappointing) to read of the difficulties students had in launching an entrepreneurship support program at Stanford, typically referred to as one of the gold standards for academic institutional support of entrepreneurship. Still, it is an academic institution and many of the struggles the students ran into sound similar to roadblocks we’ve hit at Penn State and that I’ve heard about at other institutions. I’m glad to see the students are forging ahead undaunted.
- Lots of activity internationally. The next few updates all concern accelerators abroad. One new program was mentioned in the comments on the accelerator list: The first accelerator for China just opened and will be based in Dalian: China Accelerator
- XING’s founder, Lars Hinrichs, is launching HackFwd in Europe. It has some interesting twists over the conventional model. Funding will be up to â‚¬191,000, depending on the size of the team, and companies will participate in the program for up to a year. This results in HackFwd taking a more substantial equity chunk, though:
HackFwd will take 27% of a company it invests in ““ that’s a sizeable chunk. In the US, Ycombinator takes around 6% but can do anywhere from 2%-10% while TechStars take around 6-10%, whereas the London-based Seedcamp takes 8-10%. However, those latter programmes only last months, while HackFwd”s backing will be designed to last a year.
Startups will get funding for one year, with the aim of roughly matching the founder’s current yearly salary. Founders keep 70% equity, with 3% going to advisors and 27% to HackFwd. However, that said, they then take care of ‘legal and admin stuff”¦ so you can focus on your product.’
- I came across some interesting comments from Kai Fu Lee on China’s Innovation Works accelerator program. It’s an interesting model and certainly unconventional.
“To remedy the problem [of not having any early-stage funding for young entrepreneurs in China], he founded Innovation Works, a startup incubator with a twist. Instead of just doling out a million dollars here and there to promising projects, the company recruits top engineering graduates throughout the country and enlists them to help its portfolio companies get off the ground, while simultaneously grooming them to found startups of their own in 12 to 18 months.”
“‘Y Combinator would have a very hard time making it in China,’ Lee says. ‘It would have a hard time finding the startups and qualified people to fund. It could interview hundreds and find only two.’ The American incubator model only works in China if you turn it on its head, starting first with the people before generating the concept. Right now, Innovation Works is funding two external startups and working on five projects that came from the inside team.”
- TechCrunch announced the launch of accelerator programs in Singapore and Japan: Neoteny Labs and Open Network Lab. The post points out a couple of interesting details:
“Another difference to the [Y Combinator] model: If the startup chooses a designated mentor, it will have to give away another 2% of stock options. ONL”s mentor line-up, assembled via the Neoteny Labs connection (both labs are partnering), is pretty impressive though, including big names such as Reid Hoffman, Napster founder Shawn Fanning, or Tim O”Reilly.”
- Continuing the international updates, King Abdullah II Fund for Development (KAFD) in Jordan is announcing that it will launch a seed fund in August which will operate on an accelerator model. The program is called Oasis 500. From the ArabCrunch.com article:
Oasis 500 aims to push 500 startups in Jordan in 5 years and will offer several programs starting with training courses for entrepreneurs with ideas.
[T]he training program will start around August of this year and will take a quota of around 100 entrepreneurs for several rounds every year ( any one with a tech idea according to Usama.) At the end of each program Oasis 500 will choose 10 ideas to invest in with an average of 10,000 Jordanian Dinars per idea and provide incubation (offices) for a period of 2 months. If the startup is qualified there will be additional investment of an average of 50,000 USD.
- It’s trendy to have an accelerator — PayPal launched an accelerator program, PayPal Startup Accelerator a couple of months back.
Programs being added to the list:
Check out the full, newly updated list of startup accelerators!
Along with updating the main list, I have also updated the Twitter list of startup accelerators – 51 of the programs are included. If there’s a Twitter account that I missed, please let me know!
Posted: May 21st, 2010 | Author: Robert Shedd | Filed under: posts | Tags: ibm, ibm smartcamp, seed stage accelerator programs | 1 Comment »
Back in April, I posted about the IBM SmartCamp initiative taking place this year. I recently connected with Eric Apse, the IBM Venture Capital Group partner for the Boston area, who is leading the program in that city, to learn more about the initiative. IBM SmartCamp will run on June 3rd in Boston. Dates for other cities are on the program’s blog.
In short, it’s one of the most innovative efforts that I’ve heard of to align startups with a larger enterprise. IBM has really thought this one through. While there’s certainly a lot of potential upside to IBM if it helps accelerate high potential startups through this program, the success of the program is also being measured from the participating startups’ perspectives, so IBM has their priorities in order.
Eric provided some details on how the program will work. SmartCamp is being run in select cities with strong entrepreneurial communities. In each city, there is a one-day program, bringing the selected startups together with a number of mentors and advisors. The program is structured interaction with the 25 mentors – 45 minute rotations with 5 mentors per rotation. Then at 3pm, the companies will present in a competition format. (The company that wins from each city will be invited to Dublin, Ireland, for a global competition in November – the winner there is deemed the world’s ‘smartest startup’.) Then following each of the city program days, the companies get 12 weeks of mentoring through IBM – TechStars will be helping to offer mentoring in Boston, Seedcamp in Europe.
During the mentoring, IBM places the startups in contact with internal connections that are aligned with the companies. The goal of these interactions is focused on helping the startups figure out the right go-to-market strategy. Internally, IBM is also putting together a cross-discipline board of Smarter Planet stakeholders to review the ventures and make decisions on which startups align with IBM’s initiatives and thus further partnerships should be made.
I asked Eric about how SmartCamp is being measured by IBM. After all, most business initiatives are measured by specific metrics and I was curious what IBM would be using to determine whether SmartCamp had been an effective investment. Eric explained that there were no specific metrics for SmartCamp’s success. Instead, IBM is more focused on what kinds of success IBM can drive from the program, whether that success is funding for a participating company, a partnership with IBM, or another kind of success for a participating venture. Certainly IBM is keeping a close eye on the ventures to figure out which would be best for IBM to partner with or acquire, but they’re taking a very long-term view on the success of the initiative, more around on how IBM can access these markets through startup partners over the long term.
Eric said that this is very similar to how IBM’s Venture Capital initiative has been running for over 10 years, taking a milestone-based approach towards measuring its success.
On the whole, I was extremely impressed by what I learned about IBM’s SmartCamp initiative. The relationships with the mentoring programs (i.e. TechStars, Seedcamp), give the participating ventures important opportunities to get advice and feedback, in addition to powerful networks. And the internal connections to Smarter Planet stakeholders will be important for the participating companies, as well. But, I think the most telling aspect of the program is how it is being measured by IBM.
Instead of the typical corporate world, quarterly management dashboard, IBM is taking the right view on the program. Seed-stage acceleration isn’t something that works on Wall Street’s calendar – it takes time, and there are many twists and turns in the road, as I’ve learned first-hand. But, over the long term, you can build a program that helps convert ideas into sustainable ventures and transformative products with the right mentors, connections, and process. It appears that IBM has put a lot of thought into what kind of process would be most effective – not only for Big Blue, but also for the participating companies. And I think a lot of entrepreneurs are going to find that hugely valuable for their ventures.
Posted: May 17th, 2010 | Author: Robert Shedd | Filed under: posts | Tags: entrepreneurship, entrepreneurship education, seed stage accelerator programs, startups, thoughts | 7 Comments »
The list of startup accelerators I’ve been cataloging has grown larger than I expected. We’re now up to 93 programs, in many corners of the world.
I think it’s fantastic that there are many people working to encourage entrepreneurship. It’s wonderful for the aspiring entrepreneurs and an extremely positive development for the innovation that drives our economy.
There’s another aspect to this growth that I’ve been discussing with several accelerator alumni and other entrepreneurs recently, though. That is: I wonder, though, if aspiring entrepreneurs are getting the right message about what ‘success’ is, as people rush to inspire and motivate these business moguls of tomorrow.
There seems to be an unstated message that success for entrepreneurs in today’s world is to raise a six figure VC round and scale your business to millions and millions of users. Funding = validation and its build a massively scalable business or fail fast. As a culture, we’re captivated by the outlier success stories – it clouds our visions. Really difficult challenges become simplified in our minds to make the impossible seem within reach. Things like: “After all, it’s only a matter of fine tuning your user acquisition formula and then just dumping gallons of virality fuel on the fire…” (Simple, right? — Because money burns really well!)
Seeking validation from investors by way of filling the bank account with other peoples’ money becomes the goal. Right from the get-go, entrepreneurs are planning how they can go from 0 to 1,000,000 rather than 0 to 1,000. My friend, DJ Stephan, Chief Marketing Officer for Notehall.com, likes to say “It’s like setting off to build the next Empire State Building when you haven’t even even looked at the construction plans for a one-story house.”
Now, to be fair, no entrepreneurship professor, speaker or mentor I know or have heard of has ever stood up and defined success like that. But just look at the headlines that are being featured. These are the role models that entrepreneurs are watching.
$2m to Newsy in series A round. $3.6m to HelloWallet in series A round. $6m to WordStream in series B round. $7m to Critero in series C round. $23m to Invidi in series D round. And that was just in one week.
Building a so-called “lifestyle business” is a dirty word, apparently. (So much so that Josh Kopelman put out a call for a new term.) I’ll use sustainable business.
I get it. Building a business that doesn’t sell for hundreds of millions of dollars to Google isn’t as sexy as one that does. It isn’t the splashy news that TechCrunch wants to feature. It isn’t as cool a story to tell your friends.
Is that ok?
A sustainable business that brings in more modest revenue is still a driver of innovation and economic development. It still can beget the entrepreneur life-changing money. Perhaps more importantly, it gives them experience and a success to someday parlay into another venture. It keeps them in the entrepreneurship game, rather than putting it all on the line, burning out, and not giving it another go.
And the probability of success is higher. It is likely easier to figure out how to create a useful business for your 40,000 fellow students than 400,000,000 Facebook users. And once you figure out how to make modest money from one market, it doesn’t necessitate putting all your chips on the table to see if you can turn on virality faucet.
It’s not that it’s wrong to aim for the stars. But after evaluating that option and finding that it might not be fully baked, it should be ok to aim for something more reasonable and to have that success celebrated.
There are only 600-some venture capital deals per year in the US. Assume that a percentage of this activity is series B/C/D financing, leaving only a portion of these deals for seed-stage / series A investments. Let’s assume 50% are seed/series A, to be generous — so, 300 VC deals for new ventures. Now, I realize that not all of the 93 accelerators on the list are in the US nor are all companies in the accelerators VC-fundable and not all of these VC deals go to accelerator-launched startups, but if they were, that would be ~3.22 deals per program. Assume each program has ~10 startups. So, on average, that’s 7 startups that aren’t getting funded, per program. The real number is actually much, much bigger. Are these entrepreneurs just going to give up and go home? If they define success as raising money, they might as well. Even if you include angel deals, there is not enough dealflow for each company to define success as finding follow-on funding.
Sometimes I feel like with the age of tech startup businesses, the focus is exclusively on building a product that people want. Entrepreneurs forget first and foremost that they are setting out to build a business. As in something that generates money. With not enough “Other Peoples’ Money” to go around, some of these companies are going to have to push the envelope and actually create businesses that generate revenue from day one.
Fortunately, there is more than one way to build a company than to focus on raising VC funding. Let your startup evolve and see where it goes. If VC funding is the right way to go, great. But just because you don’t build a company that fits with the pattern VCs are funding, it doesn’t make you any less of an entrepreneur. Let’s make sure we define success appropriately.
Entrepreneurs know in the back of their heads that raising funding is unlikely. Still, the temptation is there to keep telling yourself that the metrics don’t apply to you. With the number of accelerated companies seeking follow-on funding, the writing is becoming more plain on the wall. If entrepreneurs knew up front that building a VC-funded rocket ship wasn’t feasible, would they still think it was worth the long hours, the lack of pay, the risk, to build a successful business that is a bit smaller? Enough to get started?
I hope so. And I hope that the mentors in the 93 startup accelerators around our world are conveying that message. The message that explosive growth powered by VC rocket-fuel or smoldering ruin aren’t the only two options in entrepreneurship. After all, we can’t all be in the first group – another direction is perfectly ok, too.
Posted: April 23rd, 2010 | Author: Robert Shedd | Filed under: posts | Tags: bootup labs, seed stage accelerator programs, startups | 3 Comments »
Danny Robinson from Bootup Labs posted an apology for the unfortunate events that recently unfolded. His ‘personal learnings’ are certainly good things for him to come to a realization on. However, Bootup has a long road ahead of itself in its quest for restoration.
The early stage startup community is a small one, and the way that seed accelerators differentiate themselves is by attracting the best founders and then building a clear history of sustainable companies that move on to the next phase. Unfortunately for Bootup, rather than founders learning about the program by hearing of some fabulous startup that emerged from the program, this mud-stained history of founder/investor issues is going to cloud their reputation. As founders have choices and are going to select accelerators that have been able to demonstrate a strong value-add, recruiting the next class is going to be extremely difficult for Bootup, I suspect. Comments at Hacker News show how greatly the program is burned and the first page of Google results is now half filled with this mess. It’ll be interesting to see how the program progresses and what they can salvage from this. Powerful lessons for the other startup accelerators and for how to conduct your operations in general.