By Joe Procopio
It’s always good to get a second chance.
Ask anyone involved in the startup game and they’ll tell you: Part of the makeup of a great entrepreneur is the ability to deal with failure. This ability usually comes, oddly enough, with actually having failed, at least once, on the way to success. It’s a conundrum of the game.
The North Carolina Research Triangle had an accelerator, very recently, and it was successful, and it closed up shop, which caused a lot of disappointment and heartbreak within the startup community. But it’s important to note that while Groundwork Labs will fill the void left by Launchbox in the American Underground in Durham, it’s not a replacement.
It’s something new, with new players, a new mission, and a new vision.
And the fact that the RTP gets another shot with the acceleration concept, that’s, well, lucky, to say the least.
How It Works
Groundwork Labs, much like your traditional accelerator, will select promising startups for a three month session and load them up with the standard foundational elements: space, advice, connections, mentoring, and the all-important $20,000 in walking around money.
They’re starting quickly out of the gate, Spring 2012, which means you should get your application in yesterday. They expect to work with between five and seven startups per session and run at least one and hopefully two sessions per year.
I actually got wind of the Groundwork Labs news about a week ago, but I had been sworn to secrecy. I’m not sure why they were so worried. I’m not that kind of journalist. I’m the other kind. The lazy kind.
Official word broke yesterday afternoon, which happened to be just hours before the monthly ExitEvent social I host for area entrepreneurs, which happened to coincide with the TechJournal Deck Party, in Raleigh, which happened to fall on the eve of Internet Summit 2011 at the Raleigh Convention Center, resulting in a Catalina Wine Mixer of startup tech marketing investor type people in one place. So I had access to a lot of opinion. Others I got to via emails. Disclaimer: There was no free beer involved in the solicitation of opinion.
And overall the opinion is very, very hopeful.
What Do You Think?
“Love it,” says iContact’s Aaron Houghton, “Durham deserves it and many passionate entrepreneurs will benefit from it.”
“Launchbox proved that having a local incubator is important to the entrepreneurial ecosystem,” says Robbie Allen, CEO of Automated Insights. “It really helps raise the profile of all startups in the area.”
James Avery, founder of Adzerk and a very passionate voice when Launchbox closed up shop is, well, excited again. “I am thrilled to see that Durham will once again host an accelerator. I love that John Austin is involved as I think he has done a great job with Joystick so far.”
John Austin, Director of Joystick Labs, will also head the Groundwork effort. Before any of the gamers freak out, nothing is going to happen to Joystick. It will continue to operate independently, though it does get a boost in efficiency of shared resources. Joystick will get its next semester underway this summer, and the two efforts will continue to operate in leapfrog fashion.
I got a chance to sit down with John again yesterday. We hadn’t really caught up since he took the helm of Joystick right before this year’s East Coast Game Conference.
The two players in Groundwork Labs, Capitol Broadcasting and NC IDEA are very excited about it, according to Austin. There will be synergy between the entities with resources obviously coming from the Underground, as well as the possibility that some of the startups chosen for Groundwork will come from NC IDEA – even though there will be separation in the process, with two separate application programs, etc.
NC IDEA, the grant program that has a symbiotic relationship with VC firm Idea Fund Partners, and another organization I got to dig down into recently, is another positive. Beyond being the region’s best kept secret for early stage entrepreneurs, they’re entire mission is to aid the area in terms of building up a successful, thriving, early-stage ecosystem.
“I think this is an important piece of the puzzle for building a stronger entrepreneurial ecosystem in North Carolina,” says Lister Delgado, Founder and General Partner at Idea Fund Partners.
“It is another way to help attract entrepreneurial talent to the state, and to keep the resident talent here. Besides the money and the assistance that an accelerator can provide to the entrepreneurs participating, an accelerator is a great marketing tool for the community. That is why we are excited to be involved.”
Two Types of Investment
Austin backs this up, and notes that NC IDEA and Capitol Broadcasting, who owns and operates the American Tobacco Campus, have split the infrastructure costs from the investment in the companies. This model is much like how Joystick operates. The investors see the investment in the infrastructure of Joystick as an investment in the entrepreneurial community. Not a donation, per se, but with an expectation for a different kind of return.
This is the critical factor in the potential success of Groundwork. Capitol Broadcasting has a business interest in seeing it succeed, through the American Underground and several other initiatives they have operating in the startup ecosystem. As for NC IDEA, early-stage success here is what their mission is built upon. Groundwork is almost like an expansion of their program, a runway off of the grant money, or even just the runway when the money isn’t a critical factor.
This vested interest, skin in the game, if you will, from the funding parties, is designed to give Groundwork enough time to decide whether or not the accelerator will work. That, of course, is up to the companies selected, and in some sense the rest of here in the area already hard at work at making the region stick as an entrepreneurial hub.
So in that sense, Groundwork Labs is another good sign. Second chances are hard to come by, so you’ve got to jump on the opportunity when they do.
Zack Mansfield, VP at Square 1 Bank and manager of their startup assistance program Square Roots, sums it up nicely. “It’s exciting to see a new accelerator for a lot of reasons but the most significant is that if this region is serious about becoming a top hub for startups, we need more of just about everything – more capital, more entrepreneurs, and more people in the ecosystem supporting new ventures to help them grow.”
Joe Procopio heads up product engineering for tech media startup Automated Insights (formerly StatSheet). He also owns consulting firm Intrepid Company and creative network Intrepid Media and runs the startup social ExitEvent. Joe can be reached via Twitter @jprocoand read at joeprocopio.com.
- Summer accelerator program seeks NC university student entrepreneurs
- NC-based Joystick Labs funds Buckle Up Game Studios
- Lab Rats Studio, first Joystick Labs accerlator firm, lands publishing deal
- In the RTP: Why Aren’t You an Entrepreneur?
- LA-based game developer wefiends added to Joystick Labs 2011 underground program
© 2011, TechJournal. All rights reserved.
Tags: Aaron Houghton, Adzerk, American Underground, Automated Insights, Capitol Broadcasting, Deck Party, Durham, East Coast Game Conference, Exit Event, Groundwork Labs, icontact, Internet Summit, Joe Procopio, John Austin, Joystick Labs, LaunchBox, NC, NC IDEA, Raleigh, Research Triangle, StatSheet