Author Archives: Andre Fowlkes

New Propel Accelerator Open for Applications

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The application for the new Propel Accelerator is now open!

Propel is a 12-week minority business accelerator run by the partnership of Start Co. and The City of Memphis Office of Business Diversity and Compliance. It focuses on the enhancement of business models through hands-on programming, mentor opportunities, technical resources and more with an objective to further enhance capacity with existing minority companies. There is a stringent criteria for companies that apply, as we are looking for the following:

 2 or more full-time employees
 At least $400,000 in annual revenues
 Established for more than 3 years

Learn more about the expected outcome and review the timeline of the accelerator at this link.

Apply here.

Summer of Acceleration Launches in Memphis with 18 Teams Across Seven Accelerators

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More than 50 startup founders and students will build businesses in downtown core

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (May 2, 2016) – EPIcenter, hub of the greater Memphis entrepreneurship movement, and Start Co., a member of the Global Accelerator Network, together with ZeroTo510, have today announced the teams that will participate in this year’s groundbreaking ‘Summer of Acceleration.’ This will be the first time in the region that six industry-specific startup accelerators and one student accelerator will journey together through rigorous entrepreneurial startup programming led by the region’s top accelerator experts to grow and develop their business.

The teams, listed with their respective accelerator, hail from around the world and include a diverse mix of apps, platforms and initiatives:
EPIcenter Logistics Innovation Accelerator, sponsored by FedEx, was created to help startups bring innovative logistics products and technologies to market. It is comprised of the following teams:
o NovoNav — Provides a personal navigation platform that solves the issue of “Last 100-foot” navigation in areas that are not mapped.
o Roundabout Markets — Brings technology to the pawnbroker industry to create a national marketplace for pawn shops, increasing market exposure and streamlining product marketing and delivery.
o iShipdit — Expedia-like platform for matching less-than-truckload (LTL) shipments to unused space that exists on trucks every day.
o Magneto Innovations — 3D-printable magnetic sensors that can be created on demand and to user specifications for a variety of applications.

Seed Hatchery, Memphis’ first accelerator, is one of 50 full members of the Global Accelerator Network and focuses on software and hardware as a service for enterprise customers. Its cohort this year includes:
o FitNexx – An interactive virtual reality platform that encourages children to exercise through the use of simulated environments and fitness games.
o FrontDesk Connect – Unveils an alternative solution to the in-room hotel phone by adding a quick connect capability to the guests’ own mobile device at check-in.
o ProxBox – Tailored initially for the real estate market, ProxBox combines proximity sensors with a mobile app to guide potential home buyers through the home in a self-paced manner. Potential buyers receive details room by room by standing near a ProxBox sensor.

Sky High, a social impact accelerator to build innovative business models to address challenges in the Memphis metro area, is comprised of the following teams:
o PIE Link – Combines Salesforce and Dropbox into one program, solving the painful problem that PTA associations have with maintaining record donors, documents, and best practices when there is turnover, i.e. when students (and their parents) graduate.
o One Step Initiative – A social enterprise that partners with universities and community colleges to expose, empower, and instill skills in underserved high school kids via international exchange programs, technology, and service models that make them desired higher education students.

Start MMT, one of the world’s first music industry innovation accelerators, was founded in conjunction with Hall of Fame Songwriter David Porter. Its inaugural cohort includes:
o EPKpage – A web-based platform that makes it easy for musicians to create professional electronic press kits and for venues to effectively vet musicians and their credentials.
o Memphis Media Technology – A technology platform that produces plug-ins and other software solutions in the audio engineering space.

Upstart, one of the top ten women-led technology startup accelerators in the world, is comprised of the following teams:
o Coursicle – A course scheduling software and notification service to help college students easily plan their schedules and get into the classes they need to graduate.
o Homey – A mobile app for gamified management of household chores that organizes tasks by taking pictures of the mess and assigning the work to individual family members. Kids complete chores and earn rewards that parents can buy through the app.
o RevvPay – Turns your car into a wallet using license plate recognition technology to initiate hands free payment at fast food restaurants, parking garages, dry cleaners and other drive-thru locations.

ZeroTo510, founded by and housed at Memphis Bioworks Foundation, has been named one of the top 25 accelerator programs in the country by the Seed Accelerator Rankings Project for two years in a row. ZeroTo510 focuses on medical technology innovation that takes advantage of the FDA’s 510k regulatory pathway; its teams include:
o SOMAVAC — Creates solutions for the management of post-surgical fluid accumulation and the prevention of seroma, a condition that occurs after large-flap surgery where fluid accumulates in the dead space between tissue.
o FlexSpark — A wearable electrical muscle stimulation device used to supplement anticoagulants in DVT prevention. By stimulating the muscles in a way that causes muscle contractions, FlexSpark also decreases the rate of muscle atrophy that occurs in this patient demographic, that often has limited mobility.
o Cast21 — Cast21 has designed a lightweight, lattice-structure cast that is breathable and waterproof, eliminating some of the disadvantaged of traditional casts. Its design also allows for the integration of electronic therapies to decrease healing time.
o RistCall — A wearable wrist monitor that replaces the traditional call button in hospitals and nursing care facilities. Provides patients with an easily accessible communication device and integrates into a shared dashboard for nurses and administrators.

ImagineU, a first-of-its-kind collaboration of seven Memphis colleges and universities (Christian Brothers University, Southwest Tennessee Community College, LeMoyne-Owen College, University of Memphis, Visible Music College, Memphis College of Art and Rhodes College), helps students bring business ideas to fruition. ImagineU is housed at the University of Memphis Crews Center for Entrepreneurship and partnered with The College Initiative. Due to the nature of the program, teams have yet to form, though specific student participants have been selected.

“Teams are joining us from as far away as Slovenia and Israel but also hail from Illinois, Pennsylvania and our metro area,” said Eric Mathews, CEO and founder of Start Co. “We look forward to hosting the teams at the Start Co. Lab and are honored that the partner accelerators have trusted us to provide their core accelerator programming.”

In addition to the customized curriculum, each team will have access to potential customers, mentors, industry partners and investment capital groups. Teams will also spend much of their time focused on industry- and sector-specific activities within their respective accelerator cohort.

“Beyond the core programming, our accelerator operators, like ZeroTo510, have deep expertise in industries that are specific to and strong in Memphis,” said Leslie Smith, president of EPIcenter. “We’re confident this model — co-locating the companies at Start Co. for expert core curricula, and allowing each accelerator operator to focus on providing world-class, sector-specific engagement — will create a culture and experience that our participants can’t get anywhere else.”

The newly chosen accelerator teams are also participating in this year’s Start Q events, hosted by Start Co., EPIcenter, ZeroTo510, and Emerge Memphis, from May 11-13, during the Memphis in May International Festival World Championship Barbeque Cooking Contest. The Summer of Acceleration will culminate on Aug. 11 with Demo Day, the startups’ opportunity pitch their startup ideas to investors, share their insights with the greater entrepreneurial community and network with community leaders.

Investment partners include Innova, a Memphis-based venture capital fund that is leading the co-investment into the accelerator teams participating in ZeroTo510, Seed Hatchery, Upstart, and EPIcenter Logistics, as well as MB Venture Partners, The JumpFund, and Wolf River Angels. Program partners include Launch Tennessee, the Chairman’s Circle of the Greater Memphis Chamber, Memphis Bioworks, Baker Donelson, American Airlines, IBM, Amazon, Paypal, Archer Malmo, Mosaik Solutions, The Marston Group, Waller, and many more.

About EPIcenter:
EPIcenter is the hub of the Greater Memphis entrepreneurship movement. With its network of partners, EPIcenter is the enabler of unified strategies to increase support to new and existing entrepreneurs for business growth. Serving as the broader voice of the partner network and a single point of accountability, EPIcenter measures and celebrates the impact of entrepreneurial support to create a just, inclusive, and growing economy that accrues to all Memphians. More information is at epimemphis.com.

About Start Co.:
Start Co. is a nationally recognized nonprofit 501(c)(3) venture development organization based in Memphis, Tennessee, that relentlessly builds founders and companies, promoting entrepreneurship for everyone with a focus on digital startups. Start Co. is a member of the Global Accelerator Network and aims to advance Memphis’ economic growth through entrepreneurship. The organization is supported by partners including American Airlines, Archer Malmo, Baker Donelson, The Marston Group, Mosaik Solutions and Softlayer (an IBM company). More information can be found at neverstop.co.

About ZeroTo510:
ZeroTo510 is unique among accelerator programs in that it focuses on medical devices, leveraging the regional strengths of the Memphis area. The goal of the three-month, mentor-driven program is to help medical device entrepreneurs navigate the start-up process, refine their business models and achieve the Food and Drug Administration’s 510(k) pre-market notification filing. ZeroTo510 has been named as one of the top 25 business accelerators in the United States by the Seed Accelerator Rankings Project for the past two years and is operated by Memphis Bioworks Foundation. More information is at zeroto510.com.

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Unprecedented Community Collaboration Recruits Businesses to Memphis

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More than 50 startup founders and students will grow their businesses through
seven accelerators in joint partnership

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (Apr. 19, 2016) – For the first time, EPIcenter, Start Co. and ZeroTo510 are today announcing a partnership of six industry-specific startup accelerators and one student accelerator that will host more than 20 technology-based teams from around the world and 12 students from seven universities in Memphis this summer. The joint accelerator program will kick off on May 2 and is operated by EPIcenter, hub of the greater Memphis entrepreneurship movement, and Start Co., a member of the Global Accelerator Network. The 100-day-long “Summer of Acceleration” will culminate in the region’s largest Demo Day on Aug. 11 at the Halloran Center in Downtown Memphis.

Teams that participate in any of the seven accelerators will collectively experience the rigorous entrepreneurial startup programming curriculum, have access to potential customers, mentors, and industry partners, and be able to network with investment capital groups. All teams will also spend time focused on industry- and sector-specific curriculum activities in each individual accelerator cohort.

“We’re not aware of another market executing this kind of entrepreneurial collaboration, especially through student and industry-specific accelerators – industries in which our region has a competitive advantage,” said Leslie Smith, President of EPIcenter. “Having more than 50 founders of startups coming to Memphis to participate in these accelerators this summer puts Memphis on the map as a vibrant destination in which to start and grow a business.”

Applications for the accelerators were due in March, and participating teams will be announced May 2. The seven partner accelerator programs include:
• EPIcenter Logistics Innovation Accelerator was created to help startups bring innovative logistics products and technologies to market and is sponsored by FedEx.
• ImagineU is a first-of-its-kind collaboration of seven Memphis colleges and universities to provide a true startup acceleration experience to help their student teams bring business ideas to fruition. ImagineU is developed and sponsored by Christian Brothers University, Southwest Tennessee Community College, LeMoyne-Owen College, University of Memphis, Visible Music College, Memphis College of Art, Rhodes College and community partner The College Initiative, and it is housed at the University of Memphis Crews Center for Entrepreneurship.
• Seed Hatchery was Memphis’ first accelerator and focuses on software and hardware as a service for enterprise customers. Seed Hatchery is one of 50 full members of the Global Accelerator Network.
• Sky High: is a social impact program to build innovative business models to address challenges in the Memphis metro area.
• Start MMT was founded in conjunction with Hall of Fame Songwriter David Porter and is one of the first music industry innovation accelerators to operate in the world. They will be holding their inaugural cohort this year.
• Upstart is one of the top ten women-led technology startup accelerators in the world and one of 50 full members of the Global Accelerator Network.
• ZeroTo510, founded by and housed at Memphis Bioworks Foundation, has been named one of the top 25 accelerator programs in the country by the Seed Accelerator Rankings Project for two years running. ZeroTo510 focuses on medical technology innovation that takes advantage of the FDA’s 510k regulatory pathway.

EPIcenter is the convening agent of the collaboration, and, for the first time, all seven accelerators will be supported by Start Co.’s core accelerator programming. This core accelerator programming will take place among all accelerators at Start Co., and the partnering accelerator operator will handle the industry-specific programming. Logistics expertise will be coordinated and provided by EPIcenter for its innovation accelerator. Start Co. will provide B2B IT and social innovation expertise, as well as customized support for female founders, for its Seed Hatchery, Sky High, and Upstart accelerator cohorts. The Consortium MMT will provide music-industry specific programming for the Start MMT program. Memphis Bioworks will provide medical device expertise for the ZeroTo510 cohort. While ImagineU does not have a specific sector focus, students will be matched with subject matter experts and mentors based on the focus of their business.

“With the increased density of teams, investors, partners, and mentors, startup founders will experience dramatically improved idea velocity and enhanced value creation. The individual accelerator programs would find it hard to attain this in isolation,” said Eric Mathews, founder and CEO of Start Co. “All the participants will reap the benefits that occur with the increased creative collisions with teams from varied industry verticals, as well as the assembled technology and creative community in the area.”

Both Start Co. and EPIcenter have the experience and expertise to deliver world-class startup support. EPIcenter, led by Leslie Smith, formerly CEO of TechTown in Detroit, Mich., is supporting the rapid increase of local entrepreneurial activity and serves a common voice for change in the Memphis community. Start Co. is one of the most experienced venture development organizations in the Southeast, having operated 11 accelerator cohorts and co-built another four accelerator programs within the last five years.

Investment partners include Innova, a Memphis-based venture capital fund that is leading the co-investment into the accelerator teams participating in ZeroTo510, Seed Hatchery, Upstart, and EPIcenter Logistics, as well as MB Venture Partners, The JumpFund, and Wolf River Angels. Program partners include Launch Tennessee, the Chairman’s Circle of the Greater Memphis Chamber, Memphis Bioworks, Baker Donelson, American Airlines, IBM, Amazon, Paypal, Archer Malmo, Mosaik Solutions, The Marston Group, Waller, and many more.

About EPIcenter:
EPIcenter is the hub of the Greater Memphis entrepreneurship movement. With its network of partners, EPIcenter is the enabler of unified strategies to increase support to new and existing entrepreneurs for business growth. Serving as the broader voice of the partner network and a single point of accountability, EPIcenter measures and celebrates the impact of entrepreneurial support to create a just, inclusive, and growing economy that accrues to all Memphians. More information is at epimemphis.com.

About Start Co.:
Start Co. is a nationally recognized nonprofit 501(c)(3) venture development organization based in Memphis, Tennessee, that relentlessly builds founders and companies, promoting entrepreneurship for everyone with a focus on digital startups. Start Co. is a member of the Global Accelerator Network and aims to advance Memphis’ economic growth through entrepreneurship. The organization is supported by partners including American Airlines, Archer Malmo, Baker Donelson, The Marston Group, Mosaik Solutions and Softlayer (an IBM company). More information can be found at neverstop.co.

About ZeroTo510
ZeroTo510 is unique among accelerator programs in that it focuses on medical devices, leveraging the regional strengths of the Memphis area. The goal of the three-month, mentor-driven program is to help medical device entrepreneurs navigate the start-up process, refine their business models and achieve the Food and Drug Administration’s 510(k) pre-market notification filing. ZeroTo510 has been named as one of the top 25 business accelerators in the United States by the Seed Accelerator Rankings Project for the past two years and is operated by Memphis Bioworks Foundation. More information is at zeroto510.com.

Embracing Startups as the Key to Our Future

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We often hear that startups are the key to future economic growth. That is mainly because all net new jobs in the last 30 years have come from high growth entrepreneurial companies five years in age or less.  I think many times people don’t believe this because our country was established in agriculture, followed by an industrial revolution that we, in my opinion, still cling on to.  With information technology leading the way, startup companies are so intangible, it is hard for brick and mortar cities to embrace the risk.  Memphis is such a city and we are not alone, as most fly over cities are in the same boat.The next time you are approached by a startup, don’t roll your eyes, but rather thank them at bare minimum.  They are doing what everyone talks about doing in terms of economic development and progressing this city forward.  How many times do we hear that we need to advance our talent; secure more capital, invest more capital, create new technologies, give back to the community, be more socially inclusive, and so much more.  A startup company is the perfect intersection of all those things.

The Memphis Chamber brought in Jim Clifton last year, who spoke on his book “The Coming Jobs War”. One of the things I carried away with me was his delivery on why startups are the key to the future of communities.  He talked about how each startup company is a center of action that is building a small village of business and community activity around them. He went further to have us imagine 500 of these working and growing in our community; how much better would things be.

I began to think this through and started laying out how Memphis’ startups are doing what most are not and realized that we need to do a better job embracing and advocating for them.  Consider this: each true startup is building an innovative product or service that has the opportunity to scale, which is vitally important for Memphis growth.  Even in failure our community should be taking notes on how to leverage this innovation, from the private sector buying the technology, to the social sector using it to advance our community, to the fact that the entrepreneur himself has acquired a skill-set that makes them more employable when re-entering the workforce.

A startup founder has taken a leap of faith to pursue their dream, and by quitting their job they are opening space for new talent to step in.  They then start a quest of testing their concepts, talking to hundreds of customers, validating their concept, and in the process, educating Memphians of innovations being built in their own city.  They are surrounding themselves with mentors for further expertise, and they are starting to build relationships with potential investors for support down the road. This is not just happening in Memphis, but entrepreneurs from Memphis are traveling all over the country – each a walking billboard for our city. They have no money, just some savings (if that), but they move forward regardless.

Startups have to be resourceful, and as a result they are great at bartering services to get by.  One may help another with financials and the other may help with backend design.  The thing many don’t realize is their spending power as they are all in on their business and any money they raise goes 100% right back into our local economy.

The startup community is also like the arts community, there is a common bond amongst the players and there is no time for social and racial discrimination.  All are at the verge of becoming successful or going out of business at any given time so no one can afford to alienate others.

Startups are great volunteers because they understand the need to give back because of their struggles; paying it forward is the unwritten rule.  In the end they create our jobs, intersect networks, break down long lasting barriers, educate our population, rally capital off the sidelines, are equal opportunists, they hire people, they are disruptors, and they are the ones in your coffee shops, restaurants, and local businesses just as much as others in our community; now just imagine having 500 startups activated in Memphis.  In the end they are doing what most Memphians are afraid to do or too proud to support.  So they next time a startup comes up to you asking for some time; don’t turn away but shake their hand.


Andre Fowlkes is co-president of Start Co. He can be reached at info@neverstop.co.

Community Leadership Succession Planning Should Begin Today

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Andre FowlkesWe should begin asking ourselves where we want to be in 20 years as a community, and who will be the leaders at the helm.  The leaders of today will be retired and we do not have a succession plan to ensure the vibrance and growth of the Memphis community.

 

The Memphis succession plan should increase the availability of experienced and capable leaders in both the public and private sectors. Further, we should certainly look at macro level leadership replacement in key positions as well as managing pools of talent for a feeder system for the community. There are great organizations that work in this space every day, although they may call it something different like talent or leadership development. Organizations like the New Memphis Institute, Leadership Memphis, Memphis Urban League of Young Professionals, Memphis Institute of Leadership Education, and so many more are managing investments in leadership development in our community. However, I believe our community can do a lot more and that we cannot afford to let one opportunity slip through our fingers. We need to identify, cultivate, lead, place, and show talent what the next stage of their careers could be.  The ownership falls on us to reach back and move tomorrow’s leaders along whether that be one-on-one or through support groups.

At all times we must be grooming talent for political leadership, social leadership, business leadership, community leadership, innovation leadership, and so much more.  We must be careful to not let the status quo get in the way.  What may be working today will not work tomorrow.  We cannot groom people as if things will be the same when we know they won’t.

While cultivation of new leaders and succession planning is necessary, it is not sufficient. Current leaders will need to be intellectually honest and introspective to determine if they should remain in leadership positions today.  If we cannot think outside the status quo, then we must remove ourselves from leadership positions.

There are many in this community that do not believe this is necessary because they feel that leaders of a community cannot be groomed; either they will step up or they will not.  This attitude accepts defeat while our community remains the most poor, underemployed, and undereducated cities in the US.  We have latent leadership talent in our community — those who do not know that it is possible for them to lead — we need to teach them otherwise.

Theodore Roosevelt said, “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Taking from this speech: The Man in the Arena, it is up to our current leaders to make sure that we at minimum create the opportunity for more Memphians to get into the arena while providing space for those in the arena to grow and succeed.  In the startup world we build founders with a similar philosophy.  We give founders the space to take real actions and learn from them — we allow them to fail in small ways while prevent them from fatally wounding their startups.  Leaders are made if not forged through trials — successes and failures — when provided such opportunities.

Sure, not all will become our next Mayor, City Council Member, the next Fred Smith, the next Lucius Burch, or Robert Church; however, they will have the qualities of leadership in whatever they pursue.  It starts with current leaders reaching back to bring tomorrow’s leaders along.  At Start Co. we say to our growing founders that “they must lift as they climb” — that is to give back to the next generation of founders while continuing to grow their own businesses — a continuum of founders all at various stages reaching back to help.  Current and growing leaders in all aspects of our community have the same obligation.

Think about whom you want to lead our city 20 years from now and what type of city you want them to lead.  Laying out our community succession plan today may be the missing ingredient to moving our community forward.

Andre Fowlkes is co-president of Start Co. He can be reached at info@neverstop.co.

Get Your Learn on with a Startup Mentor

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BritIn December of 2012, I joined the Memphis startup ecosystem as a first-time founder. I pitched my startup idea, “an eHarmony for mentoring,” at Upstart’s 48 Hour Launch in a room full of strangers with nothing but a bundle of nerves and an idea written on a sheet of paper. This was a huge step for me. Up until that point, I had suffered from a horrible case of “ugly baby syndrome” – the fear of sharing one’s idea with others at the risk of rejection that keeps many individuals from taking the risk necessary to succeed in entrepreneurship.

For me, taking that risk has provided me with priceless experiences – most of all strong connections to mentors who have undoubtedly been my most valuable asset in navigating the challenges of building a startup. Having a culture of mentorship is important for any startup ecosystem, and in Memphis, the strong mentorship that exists is certainly a reflection of the larger “lift as you climb” culture.

Full disclosure, as someone who is building technology to manage mentoring programs, I did have a pre-existing affinity for mentorship prior to founding my startup. I am a product of mentoring programs, such as the Boys & Girls Club, and I truly would not be where I am today had I not had great mentors throughout my life. However, my belief in the power of mentorship has only grown as I have embarked on the entrepreneur’s journey. The journey of building a startup can feel isolating and overwhelming. It can be difficult at times for your friends and family to understand your irrationally optimistic belief in your billion-dollar idea and the concurrent reality of your ramen-noodle diet. Often behind the nods and smiles lies true bewilderment. Most people just don’t get it. Mentors do. They’ve been there, and they can see past your Oodles of Noodles and give you the encouragement and resources you need to stay driven while you navigate obstacles.

There are a couple of things that mentors provide that I have found truly invaluable as a founder. First, they provide an objective point of view. Building a startup is a fast-paced endeavor. You need to figure out quickly whether your idea has legs. That means you need someone other than your next-door neighbor and your Granny to validate your idea. Mentors can be an objective sounding board while challenging your ideas and providing you with new insights. As Bob Godlasky, a mentor and counselor with SCORE OC in Santa Ana, California pointed out, “It’s amazing what we can’t see until someone with no particular bias reviews the same picture or the same data.”

Second, good mentors provide connections. If I were to break down my current sales pipeline by referral source, more than a quarter of my leads would be from mentors. Mentors can help you break through the sales cycle by helping you cut through the red tape. Mentors can even become customers themselves. In my opinion, this is especially important for founders relying primarily on direct sales. Time is money.

If you are a founder with a great idea who could use a push in the right direction, I’d encourage you to get into the spirit of National Mentoring Month and get plugged in to a mentorship program in your community, such as Start Co.’s Start Mentoring Platform.

According to the Startup Genome Report from Blackboxstartups that have helpful mentors, track metrics effectively, and learn from startup thought leaders raise 7x more money and have 3.5x better user growth. Simply put, founders that learn are more successful. So as my imaginary best friend Kid President would say “get your learn on” and get connected to a mentor.


Brit Fitzpatrick is the CEO and Founder of MentorMe. Contact her at brit@getmentorme.com.

Kickstart that business heart: Start Co. finds itself fostering a booming startup scene

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Calvin CarterThey listen to him as if a quiz will follow. As he speaks with his hands, attempting to project an imaginary graph on something about “money flow” and “potential costumers,” two women sit across from him. Their yellow notebooks are tattooed with information he’s shared.

“…And this is when you’ll want your company to look at other ways of revenue,” their teacher, Start Co. Co-President Andre Fowlkes said, as he continued his lesson.

It looked like a college lecture. But the two listening to him aren’t students. They’re entrepreneurs.

And this type of scenario isn’t uncommon. In fact, given what Start Co. offers local startups and entrepreneurs, it’s one of many.

Think of Start Co., as a Swiss-Army Knife of resources to Memphis’ startup and entrepreneur scene. They offer mentorships, workshops, and pitch practices. Their workspace, which includes Wi-Fi and coffee, is also open. And if speed is key, the company offers accelerator programs, which Start Co. Community Manager Hillary Quirk described as “three-month long boot camps that cram a lot of business development and entrepreneurship skills.”

Located in the same building as Playhouse On The Square in Midtown, Start Co. started in 2008 to help a growing entrepreneur ecosystem. “If you looked at the growth from 2006 to today, then yeah.” Start Co. CEO/Co-President Eric Matthews said. “It is growing, and it seems to be growing dramatically. Every week, it’s three to five new entrepreneurs that reach out to us and are looking for support or assistance. That’s a pretty large number. “

Growth also includes variety.

For instance, the organization has seen a boom of women-led startups in the area recently. “That number has gone from zero to ten in a year,” Quirk noted. But with unemployment high, why are some residents trading in the alleged stability of a job for the high risk or high gain entrepreneur path? “People aren’t going into traditional jobs, where you work for 40 years but then retire, because jobs have changed. Technology has changed a lot,” University Of Memphis Entrepreneur Journalism Professor Dr. Carrie Brown said. “People have to be adaptable.”

“…Part of that is what the great recession has done, and it has had people reconsider what job security really means,” Matthews said. “And a lot of people believe that systems have shifted to betting on themselves as opposed to betting on employers.”

For Commercial Appeal Business Reporter, James Dowd, a rough economy is often the perfect soil for entrepreneurial growth. “In many of the programs I’ve been to that deal with entrepreneurs, they’ll say that often in the most dire economy, you’ll see more innovative startups,” Dowd said. “People will find that their career is shaky, or graduates will see the job market isn’t so great. People are not comfortable in jobs and careers.”

Whatever the motivations for being an entrepreneur in Memphis, it’s not the ultimate guaranteed fix to the city’s economic woes. In fact, it’s a path that can include a lot of rejection and failure. Last month, Work for Pie, a local startup that tried to find work for developers, shut down. It started through Start Co.’s accelerator Seed Hatchery. While Dowd praises the resources of Start Co. he expresses “We need more wins.” “I’m excited. I see so much talent here, but we have to do more to attract and keep talent here. There’s always more to be done,” Dowd said.

Yet more is definitely being done.

Recently five startups graduated from the UpStart Memphis accelerator. These are wedding shopping platform Wedding Worthy, art-leasing startup Artwardly, the jewelry and earphone combo business GemPhones, discount social shopping site, Stylecrook, and Kids360 which makes accessibility easier between daycares and parents. And all of them are women-led.

In addition, Start Co. has joined forces with the Cleveland Ohio-based JumpStart, a company like Start Co. that has aimed to provide resources to entrepreneurs and startups in their area. JumpStart’s success has meant their companies raising $580 million with $180 million to women and minority based entrepreneurs and startups, Matthews said. The White House’s Start Up America Initiative— an attempt to accelerate high-growth entrepreneurship throughout the nation—took notice, eventually asking JumpStart to help other cities in the nation. Today, JumpStart has been in 15 cities before Memphis.

For Start Co. this means more growth, from getting more capital to also focusing more on post-accelerator work. And that’s just the tip of what they have planned.

More wins could definitely be on the horizon.

“There’s just so much going on with Start Co.,” Brown said. “There seems to be a lot of movement going on in the startup scene in Memphis too. Sort of like a boom.”


Calvin Carter is a former entrepreneurial journalism student at the University of Memphis. Contact him at ccarter567@yahoo.com

A personal letter from Andre Fowlkes on the Jumpstart Partnership

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Two and a half years ago, Start Co. (LaunchMemphis at the time) was having difficulty raising social, political and financial capital in the Memphis area.  Actually, most of its support was coming from outside the region, from Nashville, with the exception of a few gracious sponsors here locally.  We were a 100% volunteer organization with a few hundred dollars in the bank who knew that if we could not get the local community involved in our efforts to never stop building founders and their companies, our organization would go away.

At that same time another organization based in Cleveland, OH was making some noise in terms of building the infrastructure for high growth entrepreneurial companies in Northeast Ohio.  This got the attention of the Obama Administration, and they were asked to take their successes into other regions of the country.  Jumpstart Inc. agreed and began the Jumpstart America initiative which was supported by the Knight and Surdna Foundations to expand into 6 regions.

Start Co. noticed this group in Ohio who has now invested directly in over 70 companies and has accelerated another 400 companies, whereby these companies have now secured over $550MM in risk capital. We considered them one of the lead venture development organizations in the country, not just because they are teaching startups how to fish, but because they are teaching startup organizations how to fish, and this is what we believe we need here in Memphis. It was at the beginning of 2011 that we cold called Jumpstart to begin selling Memphis; we did not have the resources to secure them, but fast forward 2.5 years later and we are happy to announce that they have begun work here in Memphis to help us build the right public private partnerships to grow our ecosystem.

A lot of progress has been made since we first began talking with Jumpstart, and they have identified great efforts and programs to build on.  These efforts come in the form of not just what Start Co. is building, but others in the region such as Memphis Bioworks, EmergeMemphis, University of Memphis and much more.

The problem is that we in Memphis are leaving too much talent on the sidelines in terms of participation in the building of high growth entrepreneurial companies.  Our minorities and women are on the outside looking in, our students are on the outside looking in, and sectors like logistics are on the outside looking in when it comes to idea cultivation and the acceleration of those ideas into companies ready for investment.  Jumpstart is here to help us work hard to change this.

We will embark on laying out a project scope that has a short term and long term emphasis. The short term will take the form of a PILOT program where we will raise resources to focus on the acceleration of four crucial areas IT, Medical Devices, Minorities & Women and Logistics; better bridges to higher education will be a feeder for this effort.  This PILOT will give us more results to iterate and expand laying a foundation for Memphis as a city taking a real bet on itself where we will attract more capital and resources to our community.

Based on current deal flow in our entrepreneurial ecosystem we believe we are leaving too many entrepreneurs on the vine to dry, so many that they are moving away to other parts of the country; there are quality companies who need more technical assistance and more capital so much so that if we looked over a 5 year period we would need as a community $15MM in technical assistance and operational support and $50MM in investment.  We will set our goals to start here.  However this current deal flow is based on a broken system, one without the incorporation of minorities and women, students and their ideas, and sectors as large as logistics.  Imagine what we could do if we did tap all of this that Memphis has to offer.

We have an opportunity to stop imagining and finally come together to begin.  Please support our efforts with Jumpstart America.  All in the community can help this effort to bring strong resources to the community. If you would like to be a part of this effort, we encourage you to please donate HERE. Your contribution is greatly appreciated.

Start Co. and Jumpstart, Inc. Announce New Partnership and Vision for Memphis

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Start Co. and JumpStart Inc. announce new partnership and vision for Memphis entrepreneurial ecosystem

MEMPHIS, TN (Aug. 6, 2013) – Start Co. announces their partnership with JumpStart Inc., a nationally recognized nonprofit venture development organization, on a project aimed at enhancing the existing efforts to connect Memphis startup businesses with the resources they need to succeed. This partnership is the first step in developing a sustainable five-year plan to put Memphis on the map as a center for venture development and innovation.

The project aims to increase the pipeline of quality entrepreneurs and companies across sectors, provide relevant technical assistance pre- and post- accelerator, increase seed and follow-on funding available to high potential startups, and generate more entrepreneurial ideas from all members of the community.

“After two years of discussions, we’re excited to kick off this collaboration with JumpStart,” says Andre Fowlkes, co-president of Start Co. “Working with JumpStart further supports our mission of relentlessly building companies and founders for the advancement of Memphis’ entrepreneurial ecosystem. We’re excited to leverage JumpStart’s expertise, resources and track record.”

The project will capture critical data related to the creation and development of high growth ventures, inform the enhancement of entrepreneurial support resources and identify productive partnerships. “We choose to work with Start Co. because of their track record in supporting high growth technology startups in the Memphis market,” says Mike Mozenter, President of JumpStart’s regional consulting arm. “Our organizations have complimentary missions, and I have been impressed with the resources and support that Start Co. offers startups.”

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

Start Co. is a nationally recognized non-profit (501c3) serving as the nexus of public-private efforts to accelerate the success of diverse entrepreneurs and their high growth companies while enhancing the Memphis startup ecosystem that supports them. More information can be found at www.neverstop.co.

JumpStart Inc. accelerates the successes of diverse entrepreneurs, their companies, and the ecosystems supporting them. Since 2004, JumpStart has committed nearly $29 million to 76 pre-seed technology companies and provided thousands of hours of human capital to more than 400 similar companies. Together, these companies have created 3,000 jobs. From 2010 to 2012, JumpStart client companies created more than $688 million in economic benefits for the state of Ohio. To learn more, visit www.jumpstartinc.org or follow @JumpStartInc on Twitter.

Introducing Start Co.: our new name and growing vision

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Start Co. Launches New Name and Visual Identity Tied to Advancing High-Growth Startups: Growing Venture Organization Promotes Memphis as Startup Destination
Start Co. - Never Stop

LaunchYourCity, Inc., an economic development organization that focuses on building startup companies and their founders, today announced the transformation of its organizational identity to Start Co.  The new name and identity better reflects the organization’s service offerings and values under a unified platform and mission to advance the economic future of Memphis through supporting technology entrepreneurs and startup ecosystems.

“The rebrand is a result of the amazing growth our organization has encountered over the past few years, and speaks to Start Co.’s forward-looking values, as well as the growing demand for building start ups here in Memphis,” said Eric Mathews, the founder and CEO of Start Co., formerly LaunchYourCity. “It more clearly defines who we serve and what we are about – which is to relentlessly build start up founders and their companies with methodical discipline and boundless optimism.”

The unveiling of the new brand and identity is a key step in the organization’s transformation, and will be fully realized in coming months through the roll-out of a completely redesigned website and rebranded service offerings.  In addition to these programs, Start Co. will continue to operate accelerator programs including Seed Hatchery, the 90-day mentor program focused on technology startups and Upstart, an accelerator program specifically geared toward building women-led and owned startups.

“Our new name better represents our brand,” said co-president Andre Fowkles. “Start Co. aligns with our mission to provide a comprehensive platform that brings together local and national stakeholders, founders and investors through founder development and company creation.”

The new name, brand and identity was developed by archer>malmo, one of the largest marketing communication agencies in the Southeast serving national and regional clients and its venture partner, a>m ventures, which is dedicated to helping early-stage companies by providing expertise and execution.

About Start Co.
Start Co. is a nationally recognized non-profit (501c3) serving as the nexus of public-private efforts to accelerate the success of diverse entrepreneurs and their high growth companies while enhancing the Memphis’ startup ecosystem that supports them.  More information can be found at www.neverstop.co.