The accelerator, as we know it today, has been commoditized.
It all started 10 years ago as a small, exclusive opportunity for top founders with raw ideas to take a little money and get a lot of help in a really short period of time, famously spawning the likes of DropBox, Reddit, and Airbnb. Y Combinator’s early success spawned Techstars and a host of other models. Now, cities that barely have a startup scene at all certainly have one, and likely more, accelerators ready and willing to serve the entrepreneurial population.
When we founded Uproar Labs a year ago, our team also wanted to find a way to support other early stage entrepreneurs, but we wanted to do that in ultimately a different, and more direct way. We decided to help be a founder, or early major contributor of a small group of entrepreneurs and ideas that we believed in to help use our experiences to get them off the ground quickly. Now, we are sharing more details about the model that we have been using to gain feedback as well as inspire more experimentation with models for accelerators in the future.
Full disclosure: my team and I completed the Rock Health accelerator with Beam back in 2012-2013 (great experience). I have seen the development of the modern accelerator as an insider, as a mentor for multiple accelerators in the midwest, and from attending demo days for multiple other accelerators.
Funding model. Uproar wants to stay as far away from being a financier as possible, because we have no interest in being ‘investors'; we are founders and builders. Our funding model aims to work individually with each company to mutually agree on what the business needs to be successful, whether it is a new piece of equipment, a prototype run of product, or a down payment on a mold. When we make a decision to deploy capital, we do it. Quickly. Some companies will take more capital than others to get to a stage where other private investors can come in, which is fine. The important thing is execution of product related milestones and business model discovery.
Where does the capital come from? Our team, not being interested in raising a fund in which to invest in companies, decided to take a very different approach to raising funds. Uproar engages in R&D contracts with companies large and small, and uses the profits from these projects to invest in the companies we have selected to support. This also speaks to our interest in being technology focused and oriented fundamentally as a company.
What about equity? There is no set ‘X capital for Y equity’ model at Uproar. There also won’t be 30 or 40 companies ‘graduating’ from the program. We believe in making a long term commitment to the companies we help, and investing meaningful time into providing services for a highly selective group of companies that fit our themes. The entrepreneur and Uproar openly negotiate the relative ownership, and we are happy to be flexible as the entrepreneur becomes more independent and capable as a stand alone entity. As we see the founder or founding team immersing themselves into the business and hitting product milestones, we understand the diminishing rate of value our time, expertise, mentorship, and capital has in the company’s equation, which we reflect in our ownership. The point is to help build great companies, and that is all that matters.
Themes. We are focused on really being able to serve our ‘portfolio companies’ in the most useful way possible. Our team’s expertise and interest revolves mostly around hardware, the internet of things, and manufactured goods, so every company we support (with potential exceptions), will fit this mold in some way with their business model or product. In particular, we like consumer IoT, energy/clean tech, and drones. And maybe a dash of healthcare.
Resources. We don’t do ‘programming’, as plenty of startup networking and education events already exist in most markets. All of our resources concentrate on building product, and maturing a super early stage entrepreneur into a stand alone founder or founding team. We believe that founders need, want, and deserve long term focus and attention, simultaneously providing high level strategic help, while also getting down in the weeds to help execute on product/engineering related tasks. This means building apps, pounding out CAD models for mechanics, writing FCC documentation, planning an IP strategy, designing a circuit board and doing component selection. These are the skills really missing from many founding teams, and progress here can add incredible value directly to the business in a scalable way.
The goal at Uproar is to help create an environment where our team can best support entrepreneurs and ideas where we believe a great company can be built. As we continue to experiment on our end, we hope to see new ideas emerge that challenge our model and improve what it means to be an ‘accelerator’.