Johnson, David, and Jamie. Photo by my main man, Byron Small
Last week was exciting for the Village and for Atlanta. On Friday we announced the Atlanta Ventures Accelerator in this article in the Atlanta Business Chronicle and David’s blog post here. I’m super excited to be bringing this to life in partnership with Jamie Hamilton and Buckhead Investment Partners
It has been a 7-month process of reviewing our options for an accelerator and I wanted to share some of the thoughts, ideas, observations, and common questions that went into our thinking.
Does the world need another accelerator?
This was the question we kept asking ourselves as we considered whether or not to do this. The answer: The “world” definitely has too many accelerators. However, I’m not concerned with the world… I’m concerned with Atlanta. Atlanta does not have too many accelerators. Atlanta has far too few accelerators, incubators, investors, and startup support organizations. There are too few faces and names. It only takes a few weeks to get to know most people. That shouldn’t be the case. Atlanta needs more of everything in the ecosystem. More full time entrepreneurs, more angel investors, more angel funding organizations, more VCs focused on early stage tech, and of course more exits and big success stories. The Atlanta Tech Village is a great platform, but it’s not the answer to all our needs. The Village is *a* leader (not “the” leader) in a regional thirst to bring more programs and platforms like it to this already high-energy ecosystem.
Why are we non-cohort based?
The biggest reason is that we don’t want to be pressured by a scheduled start date to accept a specified number of companies. We plan to be extremely selective in the companies accepted and by not placing any pressure to get X startups in the same cohort, we can take our time and be sure there is a total fit of the teams we accept.
Additionally, many of the benefits of a cohort driven program are the peer interactions. Because we are building this program into a Village where there are already over 100 startups and 300 people working on startups, we have no shortage of peer collaboration. We can leverage the existing community to bring that critical peer sharing and accountability aspect to the program. Most other accelerators don’t have this existing community on which to build. We are fortunate.
Every startup needs different things. After speaking with several hundred startup entrepreneurs, we find a broad spectrum of domain expertise, customer understanding, product value proposition, and business model understanding. We weren’t able to identify a program that would be a one-size-fits all value proposition for startups. Instead, we decided that the investment terms of TechStars ($20k for 6% of the equity at a financing of $500k or more, plus a $100k convertible note) is the main common element that we felt appropriate to embrace. More of a hand crafted approach than a factory production line (for now).
A Lean Accelerator
We aren’t seasoned accelerator directors, if there is such a thing. Admittedly, we are new at this approach compared to the YC’s and TechStars leadership. If we’re going to learn how to run an accelerator, we want to do it the same way we would start a company. One customer at a time. Lots of conversations. Lots of build -> measure -> learn. We’ll figure out the best structure as we go. Of course we’re paying attention and learning from those that have gone before us, but we also want to learn our own lessons. Scrappy.
A single and simple KPI
Everybody gets on base. It’s a money ball approach to accelerator. The seed round is the goal for each of these companies. How they get there will be different for each company. Some will have a product and need customers, some will need to spend many weeks on customer discovery. Others may have product, customers and revenue, but just need the contacts to raise the money. Our goal is to do whatever it takes to get each and every company to that next step. Again, this is why we’ll be really selective on the front end.
What are you looking for in companies?
It’s nothing new. The right team. The scrappiest hustlers who know their space have focused energy, the gumption to put things together and make them work, and the polish to present themselves as adults (when called for)… but who don’t take themselves too seriously. Nice people, who are dreamers, who pay it forward and know how to work hard and play hard.
It’s an exciting time for Atlanta and we hope the Atlanta Ventures Accelerator will be more fuel to the flame. To learn more and apply: atlantaventures.com/accelerator