Posts Tagged ‘

The Program’

3 Tips on How to Interpret Mentor Feedback at Your Startup

The first month of Excelerate is “mentor dating month”- a chance for startups to meet as many mentors as possible with the goal of forming meaningful long term relationships.

With only two weeks left in mentor dating month, we took time to catch up with some of the company founders and see how they’ve been dealing with all of the feedback they’ve received. We’ve already had hundreds of meetings take place inside the Excelerate office this month and expect still to have hundreds more by next Friday, so you can imagine the astronomical amount of advice shared in these past few weeks can get a bit overwhelming.

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Filed under: Excelerate Programming — Tags: — June 20, 2012

Top 3 Tips from Excelerate Alumni

During the first week of Excelerate, the alumni gather to share their sage words of wisdom to new companies. This year’s wisdom sharing was exceptional, with about twelve alumni from the last two classes sharing their successes and shortcomings frankly. Here’s what they advised (and what you can incorporate in your startup regardless of where you are):


1) Stay on Top of Relationship Building- The first month of Excelerate, companies meet with over 100 mentors. Some are potential investors, while others are industry experts and all of them offer their expertise openly. Justin Massa from Food Genius was infamously organized when dealing with so many relationships.

“I kept mentor month self contained. No matter how late I had to stay, I wrote every thank you note to that day’s mentors. It was imperative not to fall behind.”

This strategy can be applied to any new relationship you make. If you’re planning on writing a follow up, take notes during the meeting and follow up as quickly as you can.

2) Tap Into Your Community- Almost all alumni wished they had gotten to know each other sooner. I can attest to this: my Excelerate Class (’10) became exponentially closer AFTER the program than during it. There is always work to be done, but being close to so many amazing people is a short term phenomenon. Take advantage! If you work in a coworking or shared office space, are you friends with everyone around you? Make sure to reach out and make connections with the people you see every day…sometimes if we are not mindful of this, these relationships are the ones that are ignored.

“Make friends sooner. Take lunch away from the laptop and talk to someone new every day!” – Ethan Austin, GiveForward

3) Do Your Research- Before mentor meetings, alumni all agreed that doing research on each mentor truly optimized the interaction. It may seem like an obvious piece of advice, but it happens more frequently that one would imagine that entrepreneurs get caught up in work and forget to look up information on a contact before they meet. Avoid this by using Rapportive, or having a LinkedIn app on your phone.

“Mentors are exceptionally busy, accomplished people so assume they know nothing about you, but know everything you can about them.” -Seyi Fabode, Power2Switch

This summer’s teams are prepped and ready to take on whatever challenges this summer will bring. If you’re working on a startup, are you ready for Summer 2012?

Filed under: Excelerate Programming — Tags: — June 11, 2012

IDEO’s Secret to Quick User Feedback

When you put a lot of smart people in a room together, something awesome is bound to happen. I’d like to take this moment to mark one of many awesome occurrences at Excelerate Labs this summer: IDEO visit number 1.

Top designers from IDEO are here for the 2nd year to help our companies focus on what matters most: the users. It’s clear that we have to know how our users think, and, especially, why they think that way, but they aren’t just going to tell us. Even if they do tell us, they’re not always right.

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Filed under: Excelerate Programming — Tags: — June 7, 2012

First week for Excelerate 2012

What a great first week!  It was a short one due to the Memorial Day holiday.  Tuesday was “move in day” and thanks to New World Ventures, the companies got to enjoy a Cubs victory at the Friendly Confines (in a very nice private box, I might add…) after they got settled.  BONUS: the Cubs won!

Excelerate at Wrigley Field

Wednesday we started “hitting the books” and brought in the Excelerate alums from past years to share their wisdom on how to maximize the value of the experience.  There were a few consistent themes – build relationships, be efficient with your time and focus the mentors on the “big problems” that you are dealing with.  I hope to do another post expanding on these issues…  That afternoon Joe Dwyer, an entrepreneur and a venture partner at OCA Ventures, came in to talk about the process of ideation and told all the teams that “Your baby is ugly – get over it!”  Once you recognize that your business model is flawed, it opens you up to improving it and you become less emotionally attached to a particular solution as you search for the right solution.  More entrepreneurs should realize that they have ugly babies…  Wednesday evening was the first interaction with the mentors at the mentor open house.  Some libations and munchies and everyone was in a good mood and getting to know each other.

Thursday morning we let the companies know that they would be doing short, two minute pitches for the mentors at that evening’s event and so there was a fair amount of angst as everyone was scrambling to get prepared.  The pitches went extremely well with many of the mentors commenting on how solid the class of 2012 seems.  It was great to see them excel already and then with the stressful part over,  start engaging the mentors and building relationships.

Friday kicked off with IDEO coming in and doing a two hour presentation on user centered design and their process.  In spite of the lack of sleep, everyone was bright-eyed and attentive as they soaked it all up.  IDEO will be mentoring again as we build on last years program with them.  Around 5:00 there was beer and pizza out for happy hour at 1871, the companies were so focused that they ran over briefly, but were all back at their desks shortly following up with mentors and planning for the big week to come.

I knew it seemed like a good week and then I saw this tweet from the CEO of Lasso:

I’d venture to guess that i’ve learned more in the past week at @ExcelerateLabs than I did in an average semester in college.


Filed under: Status Updates — Tags: — June 3, 2012

Synergy Law Group as Excelerate Sponsor for 2012

Synergy Law Group Selected as Official Legal Sponsor of Excelerate Labs for 2012

Synergy Law Group is proud to announce its role as the official “law firm sponsor” for Excelerate Labs’ Class of 2012. Synergy will provide legal support and counsel to Excelerate’s ten start-up companies.

Says Troy Henikoff, CEO and Co-Founder of Excelerate Labs, “We are pleased to continue our relationship with Synergy Law Group and we are certain the firm will provide a high level of support to this year’s class, helping the entrepreneurs navigate the legal challenges they will face as they build towards growth.”

Excelerate Labs chooses ten start-ups, from hundreds of applicants, for a 3-month “mentor immersion” and “business acceleration” program that culminates with a “Demo Day” for would-be investors and partners. In less than 18 months, Excelerate Labs has launched 20 new companies–raising more than $15 Million in outside capital and creating more than 100 net new jobs.

“Excelerate is a fabulous platform for start-ups and a true asset to Chicago,” says Bart Loethen, a founding partner of Synergy Law Group. “We are thrilled to be chosen as Excelerate’s law partner and look forward to helping the incoming class of technology innovators and business leaders.”

For the official press release:


Filed under: Status Updates — Tags: — May 19, 2012