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VOL. 131 | NO. 162 | Monday, August 15, 2016

Collaboration Among Accelerators Hailed as Ultimate Startup Move

By Madeline Faber

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Last year’s Demo Day marked the first time that the city’s primary entrepreneurship partners, Start Co. and Memphis Bioworks, combined their separate efforts into one event. This year soared past previous collaborative efforts, with seven different accelerators and three partners participating in Demo Day, the culminating pitch event for Memphis-based companies seeking the next stage of investment.

Seventeen companies presented their business plans on Aug. 11 to a crowd of community supporters and out-of-town investors at The Orpheum Theatre’s Halloran Centre for Performing Arts & Education.

This summer of acceleration, the local term for the 15-week boot camp for company founders, knitted together the city’s various startup efforts under a new collaborative effort.

Each team, whether it was housed under Start Co., EPIcenter or Memphis Bioworks’ ZeroTo510 accelerator, split time between core curricula at Start Co. and industry-specific activities.

Last year’s jointly hosted Demo Day set the stage for this year’s massive event, which Leslie Smith, president of EPIcenter, described as building on an “unprecedented collaboration in Memphis where our partners came together to deliver a program so solid and steeped with collaboration that these companies grew together instead of apart in Memphis, which is how we’ve handled it in the past.”

Three new accelerators launched at Demo Day this year. Start MMT, one of the world’s first music industry innovation accelerators, fostered two Memphis-based companies looking to change how music professionals use technology.

Another accelerator, ImagineU, helped students from seven Memphis colleges and universities bring their business ideas to fruition.

EPIcenter introduced the second cohort of its Logistics Innovation Accelerator at Demo Day. Having only launched last year, EPIcenter held a standalone Demo Day for its inaugural class of startups looking to bring innovative logistics products and technologies to market. This year, EPIcenter introduced three companies alongside established entrepreneurial partners Start Co. and Memphis Bioworks.

EPIcenter was founded with the aid of the Greater Memphis Chamber to act as the connective tissue between Memphis’ many entrepreneurial and startup efforts. One of those steps was to open up programming and resources to all cohorts regardless of which accelerator they belonged to.

Andre Fowlkes, president of Start Co., said efforts around collaboration have better served individual teams.

“We came together and said, ‘let’s not cut them off from each other and have them be land-locked from the other resources that are out there, and let’s open it up for everybody,’” Fowlkes said. “So, having everyone under one roof the way we were at 88 Union Ave. where Start Co. is located, allowed for great collaboration among the teams themselves.”

That collaboration extended to the student level, with Memphis College of Art students coming together to provide design and concept work for the startup companies. As part of a newly established Creatives in Residence program through EPIcenter, MCA students acted as a mini design agency working with clients from 11 of the 17 startup companies. The students designed logos and marketing materials and received payment for their efforts.

“My perspective is that there’s great opportunity for Memphis, in this pilot program of Creatives in Residence at Epicenter, to see the economic value of creativity in our marketplace,” said Zark Strasburger, MCA’s director of professional practices. “We usually think about the cultural value of creativity and the arts, but these students make a big difference in the ultimate bottom line of a number of corporations.”

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