I’ve personally learned so much since launching NewME Accelerator in June 2011. Initially we, like most other accelerators, operated very similar to some of the most popular programs around. Our only exceptions starting out were:
- Not investing seed capital. Aside from launching NewME as an experiment (we had no idea if it would work merely a dream and intuition) we decided it didn’t make sense for us to try to raise a fund for the program starting out. We wanted it to be more focused on product, and later, plugging people into the right networks so that they could compete for the same funding as everyone else. We believed, and still do, that the creme rises to the top. Luckily, our assumptions were correct. NewME Founders have raised a little over $7.9MM on their own since we launched 25 months ago.
- Co-Live/Co-Work. Part of my learnings from my prior work doing the NewME Conference (and Wayne Sutton’s idea at the time… Startup Houses were a hot idea then) was that minority entrepreneurs felt disconnected from Silicon Valley on many levels. One of which started to make a whole lot of sense once we started to look at how expensive it is to live in Silicon Valley! From a cost perspective it made sense to co-habitat entrepreneurs. What we ended up learning was that it also accelerated their learnings above and beyond the typical accelerator programming we had scheduled. Plus it was fun.
- Vertical Agnostic, Minority Focused. At the time you’d be hard pressed to find someone of African descent, Hispanic descent, or a female in the most popular accelerator programs. So we simply decided to change that. All of our early buy-in (from mentors, speakers, and entrepreneurs) came from this reality. It was absurd and we had like a 99.9% success rate from people we reached out to that wanted a hand in changing that. It also created a lot of media attention on the matter and we quickly realized, after getting hundreds of emails from people around the world, that there were tons of people who had ideas yet felt excluded due to the inaccessibility of the technology industry’s epicenter, Silicon Valley. It opened my eyes to the reality of the Valley being inaccessible in a different light outside of race or location and more inline with access to the networks that exist here that a certain socio-economic class affords you.
All else was actually very similar to many of the other programs that existed. We had mentor open office hours, speaker dinners, demo days, and an application process if you wanted to try your hand at getting accepted. Operationally, everything was going pretty smoothly except for the hundreds of applications we had to go through during the off-season, many of which were too early for even our program. Also, and after a few 12-week cycles, we noticed that this small idea had really become a brand of its own. It was important to me to keep the essence of how we started (and of what I wanted NewME to become). In addition, changes in the team; dealing with more entrepreneurs (most we loved but some we didn’t); and dealing with a slew of partners and acquaintances with their own agenda of how to leverage the success we had acquired had become hard to manage and honestly a little scary. It became very real that the people we associated ourselves with, good or bad, had and impact on the work that we were doing with the best of intentions. We had to become okay with not being able to help everyone, especially when their intentions didn’t align with the spirit of what we were doing. Mitch and Freada Kapor gave me really good advice, and that was to develop core values to operate against. It’s been one of the most important pieces of advice that I have gotten in my career. Though it took some soul searching on the type of company I wanted to build, it help me get a clearer vision of what aligned with my personal values and mission. And it made many of the decisions I had to make so much easier.
That said we still had this BIG mission of accelerating minority and woman entrepreneurs around the world! We had to figure out how to do a couple of things:
- How to find the diamonds in the rough. These are the people that other programs pass on but we see potential in. They don’t come from traditional backgrounds for running a tech company.
- How to make sure those diamonds in the rough are the best, the real deal, and are going to succeed with or without you. And more importantly are honest and authentic about their product, it’s progress, and the traction they have received.
- Have a great working relationship with those diamonds in the rough. Our 12-week program is intense and it helps if we generally like each other and have some of the same values.
It was extremely hard to find those 3 simple things through an application process. We had a pretty intense application review process that included the written application, phone/video interviews, reference checks, and an application review board made up of some of the best investors in the industry. Even with all that it was hard to find those 3 simple things. Thats when we realized we can stay core to our mission of accelerating entrepreneurs around the world by actually meeting them in person. We launched a national tour earlier this year (we are halfway done) where we provide 1-on-1 coaching, a 2 part workshop, and a demo day for entrepreneurs. It allows us to dig deeper and learn more about the individual, the business, and if our values align. Additionally, your can get referred by someone we trust in our network; a mentor, speaker, current founder, or alum. We’ve done a great job of establishing the type of culture we wanted for NewME early on so now most, if not all, aspects of our network reflect it. Lastly, it’s also fostered a sense of pride, community, and family among the people that are apart of it.
We’re learning so much from this process and are consistently amazed on the range of startups we see. It’s proven to be a great way to see what the world is working on outside of the bubble here and a great source for fresh ideas and entrepreneurial talent. We still have about 5 more cities to hit this year where we’ll be looking for good fits for our 2014 cycles. If you are interested in participating in NewME in San Francisco I encourage you to join us in a city near you.
We’re buzzing and excited to announce the new additions to NewME tomorrow. They’ve come from many of the cities we’ve been to over the past 8 months and will join our 5th cycle which starts on Monday August 5th.