Start Co. Launches ‘Summer of Acceleration’

By Andy Meek

This summer, Downtown Memphis is entrepreneur central. For the first time, Memphis’ venture development organization Start Co. will be running all of its startup accelerators at the same time.

This year, though, there’s a new accelerator also in the mix adding its own batch of entrepreneurs to the scrum. And the whole thing will unfold Downtown where Start Co. is newly headquartered.

The organization, one of 50 members of the Global Accelerator Network, has officially kicked off its “Summer of Acceleration.” It features 26 teams comprised of more than 50 entrepreneurs embarking on a 120-day race to lay the foundations for successful – and, hopefully, lasting – startups.

They come from around the U.S. and even around the globe. Spending the summer in Memphis will be local startup founders plus a mix of other entrepreneurs hailing from as far away as Pennsylvania, Florida, California and Singapore.

They’re all participating in one of four accelerators: Seed Hatchery, Start Co.’s first program, which is focused on Web and technology-based startups; Upstart, dedicated to women-led startups; SparkGap, a logistics technology-focused accelerator; and Sky High, a social innovation accelerator.

The latter is looking to connect existing and new innovators with tools to make a big social impact.

Start Co. managing director Mara Lewis, who initially worked with Start Co. in Memphis and San Francisco as an entrepreneur-in-residence, said the organization has one of the larger accelerator programs in the country “with some of the most progressive programming I’ve seen so far.”


“This is the first time we’ve run accelerators simultaneously, with this many entrepreneurs building their businesses,” said Start Co. CEO Eric Mathews.

Start Co. is now three years old, and in its run it’s provided programming that more than 2,000 entrepreneurs have taken advantage of. Among other results, the organization’s accelerators have led to the creation of more than 74 new high-growth jobs in the Memphis area and invested $530,000 enabling 44 startups to raise more than $8 million in investment capital.

Industry sectors covered by the entrepreneurs participating in Start Co.’s programs this summer include wearable technology, drones and social commerce, to name a few. Each team will unveil their startup Aug. 21 for “Demo Day,” which will be an opportunity to celebrate their accomplishments and network with the entrepreneurial and investor community.

More than 200 applicants lined up this time around to participate in one of the accelerators, which will lead participants along a path that includes developing a business plan, refining their offering, starting their marketing efforts, and more. At the same time, more than 120 mentors from the business and creativity communities also have signed up to support the summer’s startup teams.

Four teams are participating in Seed Hatchery – Troopto, Trackit, Tortuga and OpenRPOS. Upstart has three – Play-tag, eDivv and BarterSugar.

SparkGap’s three are GraphStory, Extra Rail and CamInAir. And SkyHigh’s eight teams are Core Fire Commandos, College Initiative, Memphis Software School, Yawway, FuelFilm, Care2Manage, Life Enhancement Services and Power Angels.

In addition to the accelerators, Start Co. also is putting on a new 12-week program for local entrepreneurs and small businesses. It’s called Start University, and for that one, seven teams will participate, using Start Co. resources and methods to move their companies from the idea stage to being investable businesses.

Underscoring the significance and reach of Start Co.’s work, two teams from Hungary and Amsterdam also will be visiting the accelerator cohorts this summer to shadow them and participate, looking into the possibility, Start Co. says, of bringing their own companies to Memphis in the future.