The growth in entrepreneurially-minded founders developing new companies in San Antonio is driving demand for early-stage startup programs. In response, downtown San Antonio co-working space Geekdom launched its Pre-Accelerator program in April with six startups in its first cohort. The program is designed to prepare San Antonio startups for an accelerator or seed investment while learning from expert mentorship.
Read more: Geekdom’s New Pre-Accelerator Program to Mentor 6 Startups
The six teams will present at the Geekdom Pre-Accelerator Demo Day May 31 at the Aztec Theater. Register at the event link for a free ticket. Each team will pitch for three to five minutes, answer questions, and receive feedback. The Alamo Angels have committed a $25,000 minimum early-stage financing equity investment at the end of the program, according to Chris Burney, Alamo Angels executive director.
“In the weeks following the presentations, Alamo Angels will review the company proposals and decide where funds will be invested,” Burney said. “Alamo Angels is excited to leverage the strengths of our 100+ members as we help the companies through this program.”
Why did Geekdom call the program a pre-accelerator and not an incubator?
The accelerator experience is typically a process of intense, rapid, immersive education aimed at accelerating the life cycle of young innovative companies, compressing years’ worth of experience into months. Accelerators and pre-accelerators also provide founders access to a network of mentors, investors, and other experts crucial to a startup’s success. Such access is essential for a startup to gain traction—that measurable set of customers or users that serves to prove to a potential investor the startup is viable.
Incubators, on the other hand, support startups entering the beginning stages of building their company. A startup possesses an idea for a market but has no business model or direction to transition from innovative idea to reality. The Geekdom program is designed as a pre-accelerator to give startups the option to prepare for more intense accelerator programs, Geekdom pre-accelerator program co-director Luke Owen said.
Owen explained accelerators such as YCombinator and Techstars use the term “pre-accelerator,” but it is not as widely understood outside of the startup community.
“Certain expectations exist for companies that participate in an incubator or accelerator and could potentially send negative signals if they decide to apply to an incubator or accelerator in the future,” Owen said. “Companies usually don’t participate in an incubator or accelerator twice.”
Designing a Startup-Friendly Pre-Accelerator Program
Geekdom’s Owen co-directs the new program with Burney, executive director of the Alamo Angels investor network based in the San Antonio area. Geekdom and Alamo Angels have underwritten the cost of the program and do not take an equity stake in the participating companies.
While the teams have made considerable progress over the program’s six weeks, Owen thinks the program could expand to anywhere from 8 to 12 weeks in the future.
“There is so much more we could introduce from the depth of mentors and entrepreneurs in our community,” Owen said. “Members from Geekdom and Alamo Angels worked hard to provide valuable content and mentorship for the program.”
Geekdom’s program is startup-friendly, as each week’s session is scheduled Thursday evenings. Founders receive weekly assignments and stay connected with mentors via regular emails.
“It’s an accelerator at our pace to help get us ready for the first round of financing as we scale,” program participant Alberto Piña from Braustin Mobile Homes said.
One of the biggest benefits for the teams according to longtime investor and serial entrepreneur Pat Matthews will be the relationships built among the founders of participating teams in each cohort.
“It becomes a support network that they will each have for the life of their startup,” Matthews said. “With each new startup program in San Antonio, we grow the entrepreneurial community with more founders who have built their companies while learning from one another.”
San Antonio native and program participant Ryan Ward, founder of Scraffic, was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the mentors and advisors and has discovered the additional benefit of belonging to a founder network from this first cohort.
“Every company in this program was from a different industry,” Ward said. “Their different opinions provided valuable input, especially since everyone is focused on making a company successful.”
Startups Share Experiences from the Pre-Accelerator Program
Startups San Antonio surveyed three of the six startups in the program’s first cohort on their experiences from participating in Geekdom’s Pre-Accelerator program. Ractive develops interactive virtual reality virtual training content using “gamification” for game-like training scenarios that teach and test lifesaving skills. Scraffic partners with retail software providers to offer retailers valuable foot traffic in stores of all sizes. Braustin Mobile Homes has developed the Braustin Docs app enabling a customer to navigate the home buying process using their cellphone to scan and upload photos and documents easily and complete the home buying process.
Founders Alberto Piña from Braustin, Scraffic’s Ryan Ward, and Jonathan Perry from Ractive shared insights from their pre-accelerator experience.
How did the Geekdom pre-accelerator experience improve your company?
“It’s been phenomenal; we didn’t go to business school, so there’s lots we didn’t know and didn’t realize we lacked in business knowledge,” Piña said. “We especially learned about pitching and how it can turn into an investment in your startup. Even if we don’t pursue the financing rounds, this experience has certainly made our company a better one as a result.”
“The overall experience helped get us organized and made us think about our messaging to our potential customers, partners, and investors,” Ward said. “We had no prior experience, so this will make a big difference moving forward.”
“Ractive is pretty early stage so developing our pitch deck was important,” Perry said. “Mentors gave us a better sense of what investors look for in a pitch deck, and we focused on our strengths and how we’re different because they asked us challenging questions.”
What did you learn that will be crucial to your startup’s success?
“The most valuable things we learned were about the finances and using data-driven methods to make operational decisions,” Piña said. “Flightpath Financial taught us about using metrics from Quickbooks, our website analytics, and insights from social media and integrating them into a comprehensive spreadsheet to help us make informed data-driven decisions.”
“We learned about different investment options and what will work best for us,” Ward said. “That information about the investor landscape will be critical as we look to grow our company.”
“The biggest thing I learned was about customer development,” Perry said. “I get carried away developing a product, but you need to get out of the office and make sure your customer wants what your company is selling. I realized most of my customers were going to be younger people, not just career professionals, so we are now working on both a professional and a consumer version of our training modules for a line of training products and larger training platform.”
How did the program help your startup gain more traction?
“The mentorship and networking are helping us turn introductions into traction,” Piña said. “We also learned how much traction we needed to be considered investment-ready. Many in our industry think what we’re doing is crazy, so getting that validation from experienced business owners like Alamo Angels partner Louis Wood means so much.”
“It exposed us more to the Geekdom community and potential new customers who didn’t know much about Scraffic,” Ward said. “We’ve had more traffic to the website as people are starting to take notice.”
“Because we learned to shift our focus to a consumer version, we plan to upload our product to an app store so anyone can buy it, not just professionals (interested in virtual training), Perry said. “That will help us get more traction for our line of virtual reality training.”
Featured image is of Alberto Piña showing the Braustin Docs App to Geekdom Pre-Accelerator co-director Luke Owen. Photo credit: White Cloud Drones.