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Although there is some debate on whether or not startup accelerators really turn out the success stories they promise, new accelerators are popping up all over, and startup entrepreneurs are clamoring to get in to one.
So, just how hard is it to get accepted by an accelerator? Is the application process onerous? Is it even worth the effort?
To find out, I talked to a few startup entrepreneurs about their accelerator experiences.
RecoVend, in August 2011 after seeing how inefficient, offline and non-collaborative the buying process was at colleges and universities. They created a streamlined platform for collaborative purchases for products and services for post-secondary schools.Kyle Judah and his partner Jason Woodward started their online venture,
As first-time entrepreneurs, the RecoVend founders knew they would need lots of mentoring to avoid the pitfalls in the early stages of a startup. “Applying to a startup accelerator helped us gain access to incredible mentors — entrepreneurs, investors, community members — who had all been there and done that before us, and helped us realize what we need to do to build and grow a successful company,” says Judah.
Judah and Woodward applied to the Betaspring startup accelerator in Providence, Rhode Island, after meeting the accelerator’s partners while participating in a startup pitch contest held at Babson College. “The application was fairly straightforward, just a Web application where you answer some questions about the founders, the company, the idea and your progress to date,” explains Judah. “They asked us to include some short videos talking about [ourselves] and the product. Once we applied, we were asked to come to the Betaspring Experience Day event, where we got to hear talks from some incredible Betaspring mentors.”
At the event, the founders had their first interview with a Betaspring partner and discussed the changes they were making to their product. They were asked back for a second, more in-depth interview with the other partners. Then came a final round of interviews where “they spent an hour doing a really deep dive into our product, vision and progress,” recalls Judah. “We were informed of our selection for the spring class the day before Christmas – the perfect gift!”
If you live near St. Louis, Missouri, you might take a look at Arch Grants, a startup accelerator that hopes to create a vibrant startup culture in the city, and also offers startup funding in the form of grants. Through a business plan competition, Arch Grants selects promising startups to receive $50,000. Many startup entrepreneurs are curious about what the judges at these competitions look for.
Brad Pittenger, the CEO of IT solutions provider XIOLINK, reviewed more than a dozen business plans as a recent Arch Grants judge. He says he focused his review primarily on the management team (Did the team members have experience that made them appropriate for the venture?); the concept (Does it make sense? Is it innovative?); and the presentation of ideas (Were they organized? Succinct? Did they understand the marketplace?). Of the 420 applicants from 11 different countries, 15 winners were chosen and awarded $50,000 each.
i/o Ventures, located in San Francisco, is an early stage startup program that focuses heavily on mentorship, and works closely with startup entrepreneurs from product launch to the next stage of company development. Participants get a chance to work alongside high-profile entrepreneurs and investors in Silicon Valley. i/o has two classes per year and accepts five companies per class; applications for the fall sessions can be found at ventures.io/apply.
Once a startup is accepted, the first step is moving the team to the Bay Area. “We require our teams to be in or near San Francisco to take full advantage of all the program has to offer,” says i/o’s Cory Mikell. After an orientation, where the startups hear a very candid look at what it’s really like to run a startup from industry veterans, “the next three months will be a whirlwind of building the product, constantly iterating and weekly office hours,” says Mikell. “Mentors work one-on-one with all of the teams throughout the program, onsite and offsite.”
Is it worthwhile to join an accelerator? “Hands down, Betaspring was the best thing we could have done for our company,” says RecoVend’s Judah. “We have come so far, both personally and professionally, in such a short time, and the progress we made while in the program has put RecoVend on a totally different trajectory. We’re now working with over 10 colleges, including some of the most elite in the country. We’ve met our investors, advisors and mentors all through the Betaspring network.”
Judah believes one of the greatest benefits of an accelerator program is the sense of community you gain from being around intelligent, ambitious peers who are at the same stage of their business as you are.
That’s not to say it’s easy.
“It is a full-time commitment over three months – we were probably working 80 to 100 hours a week – so if you aren’t willing to do what it takes and make the investment of time and energy, then it isn’t an experience for you,” cautions Judah. “If you can commit to it, do it! You’ll see huge returns on your investment of time and energy.”
If you’re missing email messages, don’t blame Facebook: the social network says you are simply “confused.”
Facebook spent a second straight weekend dealing with complaints from users about a switch in the default user email addresses, this time with users complaining that the change was resulting in lost messages and contacts.
Several bloggers and users raised complaints late last week and over the weekend about missing messages. But a Facebook spokesperson said the missing messages may stem from confusion over how Facebook’s mail system categorizes messages, and that engineers were looking into complaints about a phone syncing issue that made it appear if users were losing information about their contacts.
“By default, messages from friends or friends of friends go into your Inbox. Everything else goes to your Other folder,” Facebook spokesperson Meredith Chin said in an email. “That is likely where the messages are being sent from other people’s emails. Even if that person is friends with them on Facebook, if the friend doesn’t have that email on their Facebook account, the message could end up in the Other folder.”
The problems first came to light on several blogs. Adobe employee Rachel Luxemburg, for example, noted that a co-worker had noticed his contact info for her had been updated with the @facebook.com address that was widely discussed early last week. But messages did not appear to be going through to her – perhaps, as Chin suggested, because they were being filed in the “Other” email folder.
“They’ve vanished into the ether,” Luxemburg wrote. “For all I know, I could be missing a lot more e-mails from friends, colleagues, or family members, and never even know it.”
But the overwriting of contact information in people’s mobile devices may prove to be a bigger problem for Facebook. The company faced a backlash last week when it switched the default email address in people’s profiles to @facebook.com in an effort to jumpstart use of its email service, which has failed to live up to the “Gmail killer” status it had when it was first launched in 2010.
Facebook did not back down, but simply told users how they could switch their default contact info back to the email address of their choice. It was not clear if the fix for the updated contact info is a manual fix for each address in your device.
“Regarding the phone syncing issue, I’m having the engineers look into it and will get back to you as soon as I can with more details,” Chin said in an email early Monday morning.
The new Google Now feature unveiled this week at the Google I/O developers conference is designed to automatically present the information you need – even before you ask for it. The impressive results cover everything from helping you get to work to which sports teams you like – but they are possible only because Google knows so much about you. The vast extent of that knowledge is raising big red flags about privacy issues.
Google Now automatically creates and presents a series of “cards” that try to organize your life by presenting information Google thinks you’ll need at that particular moment – based on the information it’s collected via how you use various Google services – in a context that it hopes you’ll find useful.
Google Now aggregates the information Google already collects about you on a daily basis: accessing your email, your calendar, your contacts, your text messages, your location, your shopping habits, your payment history, as well as your choices in music, movies and books. It can even scan your photos and automatically identify them based on their subject, not just the file name (in the Google I/O demo, Google Now correctly found a picture of the Great Pyramid). About the only aspect of your online life that Google hasn’t apparently assimilated yet is your opinions expressed on Google+. But that’s undoubtedly coming.
Google already knows where you live, for example, and constantly plots out the time it will take to return home. Google even knows your favorite routes to work and can suggest alternatives based on congestion. And it will figure out your favorite sports teams by the number of times you ask about them, without you ever having to explicitly identify them. Google’s recommendation engine, meanwhile, uses the information to suggest new content to purchase.
“Wait a second,” you might say. “Google knows that much about me?”
It sure does.
Six months ago, Google announced that it was unifying its privacy policies, informing users that it planned to share data it collected among its services in the future. Google Now has made those policies a reality.
Consider Whitten’s original example: “We can provide reminders that you’re going to be late for a meeting based on your location, your calendar and an understanding of what the traffic is like that day.”
That’s exactly what Google Now does. For those of you that find that useful, Google Now is for you. But for those that consider that to be a creepy, if not offensive, invasion of privacy, Google Now may be the new privacy boogeyman.
The first time you click on the Google search box within Jelly Bean, Google pops up an introductory screen to provide more information about Google Now. Users can then explore the topic further. To use Now, users must explicitly opt in. (Of course, none of Google’s examples reference the feature’s privacy implications.)
Once you sign in, Google Now tries to proactively provide information via “cards,” or vertical tabs, that present information it thinks you might want. For example, if you’ve entered a home location via Google Maps, a card will constantly update with the estimated time to drive home.
At present, Google Now’s cards are actually quite limited, covering only:
Of course, Google promises more cards in the future.
Users can turn each card category on or off, although that requires finding the options menu in the lower right corner of the screen, clicking each card, and then flipping the “switch” in the upper right portion of the screen.
When Google first announced its new privacy policies, the post by Alma Whitten, Google’s vice president of privacy and engineering, provoked a storm of controversy. More than 30 U.S. state attorneys general protested, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) sued, and Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) both criticized the new policy. (A federal judge later dismissed the EPIC suit, claiming that only the Federal Trade Commission had the oversight to decide whether Google’s new policy is anti-competitive.)
But now that the issue has become real in the form of Google Now, the privacy hawks have been relatively quiet. That leaves it up to users to decide whether to participate.
The advantages of the Google ecosystem boil down to one term: convenience. Are the results and help you get from Google Now worth sharing the deeply personal information involved? That’s a personal question for each user of devices with Android 4.1, but it’s important to remember that Google still collects all this information whether or not you use Google Now. It’s just that the new service makes it impossible to ignore just how much the company knows about you.
So if ignorance is bliss, realizing how much Google knows about you may make a lot of people very unhappy.