Last Friday we attended the GeekWire Startup Day at the Showbox in Seattle. It was well-attended, well-executed and vibrant event featuring a broad range of local speakers working to help area entrepreneurs at all stages. Kudos to our friends at GeekWire for an outstanding event. Thanks to Sanjay, 9Mile Labs had a booth front and center near the entrance. Thanks to Kevin, we also had perhaps the hottest ticket in town – Seahawks tickets which we gave out in pairs to a couple of lucky winners of our drawings. The best part for us though was the steady stream of traffic and the frequency and depth of conversation with entrepreneurs. Applications for Cohort II are up again following the event and we have a lot of follow up conversations we are looking forward to this week.
Many entrepreneurs sought us out with specific questions about the program and their own readiness to participate. A few other folks were not too familiar with 9Mile Labs or how an accelerator works. We thought we’d focus this post on helping answer two frequently asked questions from this event and other early engagements with new startup founders.
What is an accelerator and how is it different from an incubator?
At 9Mile Labs, we have a few unique things going for us. In addition to being focused on B2B (or B2B2C) and mobile/wireless technologies, we are also one of the only accelerators we know of that sits inside an incubator.
An incubator like SURF and the HUB in Seattle rent desk space, provide access to conference rooms, printers, internet access, and miscellaneous other shared resources for a monthly fee. Often subsidized by sponsorship dollars, incubators provide space for one or more people in a small business to get started in the heart of the city for a substantially reduced per seat rate over trying to lease your own space. Moreover, because incubators house many early stage small businesses side-by-side in a relatively open floor plan, the opportunities for cross-pollination of cool ideas and meeting like-minded co-founders or team members for your startup are pretty good. Incubators like SURF also provide a place where more experienced entrepreneurs interested can share their experiences through hosted events and professional services firms (like legal and accounting firms) can promote and socialize their offerings to startups.
We think incubators are such an important and valuable part of the startup ecosystem that we are proud denizens of the SURF Incubator ourselves. Several of the 9Mile Labs Cohort I companies were resident in SURF prior to our launch of the program and several more have remained in the facility following program completion. It’s great to see folks like AMP, CadenceMD, and Ombitron continue to grow in the space and watch the interaction with others at earlier stages who are co-located there too.
Accelerators like 9Mile Labs and TechStars offer investment, structured programs, mentorship, and extensive resources focused on helping early stage startup companies speed up their development. While we are a young organization, we pride ourselves at 9Mile Labs on being differentiated through our expertise in B2B and commercial software along with the strength of our mentors.
At 9Mile Labs our practical workshop based program is four months long. In it, you will focus on finding and articulating the core pain/benefit in your vision that makes customers want it as well as the value exchange point that helps you determine how much they are willing to pay for it. While resident in the program you will refine your go-to-market plans and revenue model while developing and executing on a commercially viable sales strategy to get meaningful customer traction. We help you develop and refine your product and services, build your team, understand the competition, and describe your addressable market and potential exit opportunities long term. Of course, we also help you develop your investor pitch and introduce you to angels and VCs in the Pacific Northwest and as appropriate from around the world.
All companies selected for 9Mile Labs Cohort II will receive $35,000 in funding from 9Mile Labs, space for up to three people in our facility for the duration of the program, access to hundreds of thousands of dollars in direct or discounted goods and services from our professional services and technology partners in addition to the core experience of the program itself.
So, is an accelerator right for you?
Possibly. Like most accelerators, our program is intense and requires you to put in extra effort to learn from the experts on site and rapidly flesh out your business strategy to speed up your execution.
You must be committed to the program and that starts with being committed to your business. You cannot participate in the 9Mile Labs accelerator part-time. We don’t believe you can truly understand your customer and break out as a business without the founders being fully committed. If you are just now thinking about leaving your day job to pursue your dream, you are probably too early for an accelerator. On the other hand, if you have been noodling on that great new idea for a while and are ready to fully dive in, an accelerator can add tremendous value in helping you flesh out the idea, develop a complete strategy, and guide you through early execution as you build some stage-appropriate fundamentals for your business.
The ideal company will consist of founders who know each other and are committed to the dream, have a foundational understanding of their customer and the potential value of the solution to those customers, and initial designs, specs or a prototype of their product by the start of the program.
We find entrepreneurs often mistakenly assume that companies with an existing product in market who have been around for 2 or more years aren’t candidates for an accelerator. While perhaps these aren’t the norm, if you took an initial product to market, know in your heart you are on to something big but it isn’t taking off quite like you hoped, then chances are help revisiting first principles and filling in the gaps in your business through a structured program and expert mentorship is exactly what you need. For entrepreneurs in this category, we find the biggest challenge is their willingness to fully embrace the entire shared learning experience an accelerator offers. If you approach an accelerator merely as a way to get help with your investor pitch and raise money for a seed round, then you aren’t right for the program. While we absolutely facilitate this, your dream is far bigger than it’s early stage ambitions alone and we want to help you establish a built-to-last foundation through a program that will benefit you now and prepare you for Series A funding and beyond. We won’t expose you to everything you need to know for the life of your business by any means but we will make sure you have depth in your business and opportunity that runs substantially deeper than any five minute pitch.
9Mile Labs Cohort I companies ran the gambit starting with founders who had a great idea and just quite their day jobs in the weeks prior to the start of the program all the way to the serial entrepreneurs with an early version of their product already in market. We tailor the program engagement and mentors to meet folks where they are and help push them make rapid and stage-appropriate progress in just a few months. It was a joy to see Patrick Henley, Founder and CEO from AMP, win the People’s Choice Award at the GeekWire Startup Day event. It was even more fun to hear him enthusiastically share the news that he’s adding new customers at a faster pace than anticipated since the official release of his solution in August during the waning weeks of his tenure in the 9Mile Labs program.
If you are committed to your dream, really ready to take the plunge, and want to get after it, come see us at 9Mile Labs. Applications remain open for Cohort II through November 11, 2013. We are hosting Open Coffee meet ups in Seattle, Bellevue, Portland, and Vancouver, BC in the next week. We will also host two evening mixers in the next two weeks where area entrepreneurs can mix it up with 9Mile Labs mentors and area investors.
We encourage you to come join us for coffee or a mixer in the next two weeks. We’ll be glad to tell you more about 9Mile Labs and help you answer the question yourself, “Are you ready for an accelerator?”
Check out the 9Mile Labs events listing on the front page of the web site for details on all our upcoming events. We look forward to engaging with you.