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October, 2012

Some more good ink for Excelerate in Elite Daily

“Incubators are to Startups as Steroids are to Baseball. They are not necessary to succeed, but they sure as hell help. In this third installation to Elite Daily’s Incubator Series, we lay out the best startup accelerators for entrepreneurs in the North and Midwest regions of the United States: from Pittsburg to Chicago. ”

Chicago

 

Excelerate Labs – ranked 3rd best incubator worldwide – is an intensive summer accelerator for startups driven by proven entrepreneurs and investors. Led by world-class entrepreneurs Sam Yagan (OKCupid, Sparknotes) and Troy Henikoff (SurePayroll), the program is unique in attracting scores of mentors from around the country to work with the teams in direct 1-on-1 meetings. The catch: they only accept ten applicants each session. But if you are accepted, Excelerate Labs may provide the best trade out of any startup: $25,000, resources, connections and press for only a 6% stake in the company.

Read the entire story on Elite Daily…

Filed under: Status Updates — Tags: , , — October 27, 2012

BuiltInChicago’s CEO Spotlight on Troy Henikoff

This was produced as part of the CEO Spotlight series that BuiltInChicago does in conjunction with NBC Chicago each week.  It gives a great overview of Excelerate, check it out…

Filed under: Status Updates — Tags: , — October 14, 2012

What does it mean to be a “coachable” entrepreneur?

I spent this summer as a CEO leading a startup through Excelerate Labs. We underwent a pretty major pivot during the summer, a pivot that probably saved our business.

I think people misunderstand what happens inside this program. They hear its leaders say that entrepreneurs must be “coachable.” And when they hear me explain how we changed our business model, they put these two facts together and say things like “Oh, so did Excelerate tell you to make that change?”

Uh, no. They didn’t. Nobody inside Excelerate Labs tells you what to do. Truly, sometimes I wish they did. It would have been a lot easier.

But in fact what happens is that they ask questions, they provide tools, and they point out problems and force you to confront holes in your business model or your pitch. Then you have to find a way forward by listening to your customers, interpreting a mess of data and making intuitive decisions.

When we found a way through to a successful and more scalable business model, I learned to tell the story of our decision-making in a way that seems logical, linear and even obvious. But this is hindsight talking.

And with the same wisdom of that hindsight, what I think they really mean by “coachable” is a difficult balance between “sticking to your core identity” and “humble and open to other perspectives, ideas and criticisms that can make your company better.”

Because there will be mentors and investors who just don’t get what you are about. For us, it was those who suggested that we change our business from re-using gently used kids’ clothing to just shipping cheaply-produced new clothing straight from the manufacturer. I learned to say to those folks “I’m certain that would be a very successful business, but that’s not the business I am trying to build.” I was determined to stick to my guns on the core values of reducing parents’ consumption and helping them reuse great kids’ clothes.

And then there will be those who get the core but still challenge the execution of your idea: how you are marketing it; how you are defining your customer; what those customers really want from you. One mentor from IDEO said to me “Is your approach really the best way to solve this mother’s problem of constantly replacing her kids’ wardrobe?” I was too scared at first to seriously entertain the question, because it had the potential to blow up our whole business model. But it was exactly this question that led us to the changes we needed to improve and survive. People who can frame those tough questions are incredibly valuable, and being coachable means listening to them.

“Coachable” doesn’t mean young, it doesn’t mean inexperienced and it doesn’t mean easily influenced. It means being open-minded–but not so open-minded that your brains fall out.

Filed under: Company Blog Post,Status Updates — Tags: , , , , — October 12, 2012

Crain’s feature on Excelerate Labs

John Pletz and Crain’s Chicago Business did a nice job highlighting some of the back story on Excelerate Labs this week.

“The main stage at the House of Blues is 40 by 20 feet, the centerpiece of a dark vaudevillian space that holds 1,300. It’s where you go to cash in.

The conference room at Excelerate Labs in 1871 at the Merchandise Mart is just 10 by 15 feet, stark, bright and white, with room for about a dozen. It’s where you go to pay your dues.

The entrepreneurs who come to Excelerate hoping to launch their companies as the next big thing don’t get their 10 minutes in the spotlight at the House of Blues in front of venture capitalists without spending hours polishing their pitches before Troy Henikoff and Sam Yagan, who lead the 90-day boot camp where startup dreams get reinforced, realized and sometimes ripped to shreds…”  Read entire article on Crain’s site

Filed under: Status Updates — Tags: , , — October 8, 2012

Food Genius Helps Food Industry Understand Trends with Big Data Tools

Food Genius entered the crowded market of dish recommendation apps last year, using big data to revolutionize the way people discover restaurants and dishes. At the time, the startup’s focus was on getting (scraping) as much menu-level data as possible, which they parsed by ingredients, preparation methods, spices and other aspects of a dish, and then combined with a user’s personal preferences and reviews shared on other websites. The company was still exploring business models, but knew that collecting and combining data about what, when and where their users were eating could offer invaluable insights to anyone from consumer packaged goods companies (CPG) to mom-and-pop restaurants, CEO Justin Massa told me in an interview last year. And now, they’re releasing their first related product for businesses…

Read entire article on Forbes.com

Filed under: Excelerate in the News — Tags: , — October 5, 2012