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VOL. 129 | NO. 145 | Monday, July 28, 2014

Start Co. Steers Accelerators Toward Demo Day

By Andy Meek

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Memphis’ startup community is in the throes of its busiest summer in memory.

The Start Co. organization is running four startup accelerator programs at the moment simultaneously, compared to past undertakings that involved one accelerator at a time. The four programs underway now include Seed Hatchery, Upstart, SparkGap and Sky High, and they include the participation of more than two dozen teams, some of which hail from Memphis and others from around the country.

And it’s all leading up to a Demo Day Aug. 21, an event where as many as 1,000 people are expected to converge on the city to watch the startup teams present their concepts to investors in the hope of securing funding to take their ideas to the next level.

MATHEWS

FOWLKES

“We’re expecting anywhere from 750 to 1,000 people, including folks from around the country, to join us on Demo Day,” said Start Co. CEO Eric Mathews. “This year, we had a large applicant pool for our ‘Summer of Acceleration,’ and the quality was great as well. About half the teams are from Memphis and half outside, so it’s been awesome to see the talent moving here. They’re moving right along and making things happen.”

This summer also has seen teams from Hungary and Amsterdam visiting the accelerator cohorts to shadow them and participate, looking into the possibility of bringing their own companies to Memphis in the future.

Besides the big expansion of its capacity this year, meanwhile, Start Co. president Andre Fowlkes said the organization also is expanding in other ways related to the startups that come through its pipeline. There’s an increasing push, for example, to put more in place to help startups once they’ve finished the program, and not just while they’re in it.

That’s involved everything from boosting Start Co.’s mentor pool to getting more of the private sector engaged to bring venture capital to bear. On Fridays, Start Co. also hosts office hours, where many of Start Co.’s mentors come in to help the startup teams with their business development.

“It’s about making the switch from startup mode into real go-forth business mode,” Fowlkes said. “It’s about post-Demo Day validation. To do that, we have more of the private sector engaged, and we have an active pool of 97 mentors we can draw from as we need.

“You know, we really took a risk this time, running four accelerators at once. We didn’t know how that dynamic would work. But we already know that in 2015 we want to see more of this.”

Start Co. is now three years old, and its programming like the accelerators underway now has resulted in the creation of more than 70 new high-growth jobs in the Memphis area, among other things. It’s also invested more than half a million dollars that enabled 44 startups to raise more than $8 million in investment capital.

“At the beginning of last year we especially started thinking through post-acceleration, what that would look like,” Mathews said. “We knew we needed to develop a process to move our startups toward business success and a process for portfolio management. So we came up with a methodology we’ve been using for the past six months or so.

“This year, for example, we instituted standard office hours on Friday, continuing that into the post-acceleration phase. It’s all part of figuring out how to sustain these startups as they grow to new heights.”

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