Conquer Accelerator – Thoughts from the First Day
Yesterday, May 23rd, we kicked off MSU – and East Lansing’s – inaugural startup accelerator, Conquer.
Conquer has been a long time coming – and a long time needed.
I am privileged to get to play a role as their “Entrepreneur-in-Residence.”
To that end, I am sharing my perspective on Conquer wearing my “StartupLansing”/”civilian” hat and not in any official capacity.
That said, I am really excited to see how these teams do over the course of the next 10 weeks.
The Conquer Accelerator
For those of you unaware of what Conquer – or an accelerator, in general, is – here’s the skinny:
- Over the course of the next 10 weeks,
- We will work with _6 teams_
- To go from _idea or early stage_ to market,
- By providing _resources_, *capital*, and *educational support* in order to help them.
These 6 teams were chosen out of dozens of applicants and most were provided $20,000 in seed funding for 5% of their companies.
Conquer is modeled after several of the accelerators that already exist in the marketplace, including Flashpoint, which is the accelerator I participated in a few years ago.
The success of Conquer will be largely determined by the success of the teams. So, here’s a brief introduction to the 6 teams we chose (in no particular order):
With two sharp women at the helm, Zoe & Brittany are building a social app to help form human connections. Their app facilitates interpersonal interactions through events and ad-hoc get togethers in university settings.
(Though, whether that’s the right target is one of the things they’ll be working to figure out.)
They launched the first version of their app this spring and already have > 1,000 users at MSU alone. I’m excited to see where they go in the next 10 weeks.
Dallas Chase, a student from Western is the founder of AIM – a company that builds a machine to automate the creation of machined enclosures for production-line robots.
Currently, this work is outsourced to machine shops and done manually.
Based on his experience at Tesla, and other manufacturing companies, he believes that he can build a machine that will reduce the amount of time it takes to order – and receive – these enclosures from weeks and months to days.
Founded by a team near Detroit, Golfler is an app that allows golfers to order food and beverage service from their phones. With GPS tracking, the course servers can quickly and easily route food from clubhouse to golfer.
The app also allows for course managers to track ‘pace of play,’ which allows them to anticipate and relieve pressure that backs up the courses.
They’ve already signed up several customers and are negotiating several more customers both across the United States and abroad, and are sure to be a good growth company to watch.
Patrick & Usman who worked together previously on TechTwurl have pivoted into “Protection,” which provides extended warranties for your iOS/Apple devices.
With backgrounds in math and computer science, they think that they can offer plans that help consumers to mitigate against the risk of expensive phone damage through the use of one of their warranties. The plans they’re batting around would be cheaper than similar “Geek Squad” plans and also sellable beyond that immediate point-of-sale, when you’ve begun to realize that maybe you should have bought protection.
And so, how you can.
(See what I did there?).
5. York Apparel
We’ve featured York Apparel before on this site.
Now that he’s graduated, Josh is focused full-time on growing this company – AND clothing the homeless.
In fact, this summer, he intends to hire a homeless person to help with some of the manufacturing of their new summer/fall line (currently in development). Josh has also picked up a partner, Will, who has some e-commerce expertise that will help them take York to the next level.
Mario was a neuroscience major at MSU who taught himself electrical engineering in his spare time.
Because he could.
And, in doing so, created Aerbots, a DIY drone kit that is stabler and more durable than other drones on the market.
His intention is to target kids (and their parents) ages 10-14 to sell these modular drones, as well as accessories and components. He’s also looking to work with children’s museums (like Impression 5) to have “Drone Days,” where he teaches kids how to build their own drones.
All I know is I want one. And my nephew would too.
My Thoughts on the Cohort
Yesterday, Tom Stewart (of the Neo Center and Quantum Medical) and I met with each of the teams to discover their concrete goals for the accelerator and start to uncover some of the assumptions that underlie their business models.
As with many startups, many are making a lot of assumptions about their value propositions and customer segments.
But, on balance, they’re sharp, hard-working, and eager to succeed.
In order to help both them – and us, frankly – keep a clear head about their progress, goals, and outcomes, we’ve taken to choosing a few key KPIs for each team to monitor over the next few weeks.
These KPIs are largely customer-centered (user/customer acquisition, conversion rates, etc) in order to make sure that the focus is on learning and customer acquisition and not purely on arbitrary product development.
In addition to defining key metrics, we’re also helping to identify risks, opportunities, and blind spots that the teams might not see.
To give the teams the ability to learn and adapt quickly, as things inevitably change, we’ve implemented weekly tactical meetings & daily scrums.
And finally, there’s a contest we’re running that provides additional funding for hitting certain milestones. It could add up to as much as an additional $5,000 “free” money for teams.
As with many things, I am optimistic for our inaugural cohort. It will undoubtedly be challenging and there will be tests, frustrations, and pivots. But, this is something that has been sorely needed here and I have no doubt that these teams will make us proud.
Want to Learn More?
- Check out the [Conquer website](http://conqueraccelerator.com) to get more details on the accelerator.
- Visit us on Wednesday evenings at 5:30PM for the “Update Nights.”
- Reach out on [Slack](http://msuconquer.slack.com) (will require us to let you in).
- [Follow StartupLansing](http://twitter.com/startuplansing) or [Like Us on Facebook](http://facebook.com/startuplansing), where we’ll be checking in over the summer.