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Posts Tagged ‘Joe Procopio’

Automated Insights now offers plain English web analytics

Thursday, June 6th, 2013

By Allan Maurer

Automated InsightsIf you’ve ever spent hours digging through Google Analytics trying to find the stats that are meaningful to you, you’ll appreciate the new offering from Durham, NC-based Automated Insights called SiteAi.

The first-of-its-kind service helps website owners find the hidden insights buried in web analytics by providing daily and plain English actionable reports in email.

It’s the latest use of the Automated Insights sophisticated AI engine, which sifts through large data sets looking for patterns and trends. Previously the company sold Yahoo a product that automatically produces recaps of Fantasy Football games, cranking out 500-1,000 word articles for millions of players at the rate of more than 1,000 per second.

Automated Insights started life as the StatSheet network in 2007, a very popular college basketball stats site, and soon expanded coverage to MLB, NFL, NBA, and college football. It was founded by CEO Robbie Allen.

Expanding off its first base

Using no human writers whatsoever, it published tens of thousands of articles for over 400 team-based web sites, over 450 team-based mobile apps, and thousands of Facebook and twitter feeds. The websites and apps are data and visual rich, with articles, charts, lists, and feeds.

AI’s Joe Procopio tells us, “When we became Automated Insights, our goal was to expand off our sports base.” The company’s mantra is to automate everything. “We’re still working on automating our ping pong games,” Procopio quipped in an earlier interview.

The goal of the new product, he says, “Is to help website owners maximize whatever their goals may be, not just report the statistics. But it does save you from needing to click through all those charts on Google Analytics.”

Viral pricing

Joe Procopio at a TechMedia event. If you're in the Research Triangle and involved in startups, you've probably run into him. He gets around.

Joe Procopio at a TechMedia event. If you’re in the Research Triangle and involved in startups, you’ve probably run into him. He gets around.

The company is “Eating its own dogfood,” says Procopio. “We have hundreds of websites and its a huge time-saver for us, helping us maximize impact from how and where we run our ads.”

The company is also using something Procopio calls “viral pricing.” He explains, “The product is free for 60 days, then we start charging a fee based on the number of people we’ve signed up.” The fee will range from $4 to $10 a month, he says.

Just a start

“The more people who sign up, the less the price will be, so it encourages users to tell others about it.”

Analytics is a sweet spot for the company, Procopio adds. “There is so much data and much of it is difficult to access. We automate reports and do it quickly.”

The new product, though is just “a first shot,” at product development outside the sports arena. “We’ve only scratched the surface of what we can do with AI,” Procopio says.

Entrepreneurs, investors agree: great talent always gets money

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

By Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio

Two weeks ago, I moderated a panel on Internet Entrepreneurship at Raleigh’s Internet Summit. It was an intimidating experience as, although I’ve been on panels of all kinds, this was my first time moderating.

My panel was comprised of two founders – CEO Andy Beal from Trackur, a social media monitoring solution company in Raleigh, and COO Alexandre Douzet from The Ladders, the well-known online job matching service.

There were also two investors – Co-Founder/General Partner Brian Rich from New York-based Calatyst Investors and Co-Founder/General Partner Jason Caplain from Raleigh’s Southern Capitol Ventures.

Not to say that entrepreneurs and investors disagree all the time, but this panel agreed on quite a lot. Now, if you’ve ever seen a conference panel where all the panelists agree on everything, you know that can be the dead boring. But in this case it was actually helpful, because some really smart advice came out of it.

Regardless, I know what you want. Here’s where they disagreed

VC investment is down. Is this a hiccup or a trend?

Jason Caplain

Jason Caplain

The disagreement here was over the underlying causes of the downturn. Rich pointed to the ever-declining return on venture capital. Douzet noted the emergence of super angels, entrepreneurs who successfully exit their startup and use the proceeds to begin investing, have begun to replace early-stage, first-round VC money. Caplain offered that his firm has always made two new investments every year and is still doing that.

“Regardless of the overall trends,” Caplain said, “Great entrepreneurs always get capital.”

Everyone agreed with that. Aggressively.

Bootstrap or raise money?

Mostly there was agreement on why a startup should raise venture investment. Big, game-changing ideas in capital-intensive markets are obviously better candidates for VC money. Also, everyone agreed that an entrepreneur shouldn’t seek outside investment until they’ve determined that it’s absolutely necessary.

Andy Beal

Andy Beal, a successful serial entrepreneur.

Andy Beal has built several companies without funding. He’s a big fan of keeping equity and control in his pocket, and noted that without investor backing, he’s been able to take on big ideas, work with new sciences and technologies, and make quicker decisions that he would have been able to otherwise.

Douzet stated that The Ladders raised its only outside money early on, and has been running on revenues for eight years. He didn’t see any negatives to using that initial funding as a launch pad.

Everyone agreed that it all depends on the investor. Choose wisely.

What sectors are hot in entrepreneurship?

Different investors have different theses – methodologies they use to determine which markets and which types of companies to invest in. Overall however, Rich noted that any company that can automate manual processes and compete on price was going to get attention.

Douzet spoke to his interest lying not so much in new sectors, but in applying new technologies to The Ladders, namely by making a big push into mobile.

Caplain and Beal felt that the sector didn’t matter much if the product and the company were solid. Talented entrepreneurs with great ideas who can execute on those ideas were the most important aspects of determining a successful company.

Everyone agreed with that. Including me.

Joe Procopio (@jproco) is a serial entrepreneur who currently heads up product engineering for startup Automated Insights. He also founded and runs startup network ExitEvent. You can read him at http://joeprocopio.com.

 

Don’t put all your eggs in one startup basket

Monday, November 5th, 2012

By Allan Maurer

Aaron Houghton

Aaron Houghton of Boostsuite is among the serial entrepreneurs, venture captialists, angel investors and digital marketing experts participating in the Internet Summit in Raleigh, NC, Tuesday through Thursday (Nov. 6-8).

One of the major mistakes many first-time entrepreneurs make, says Aaron Houghton, who is now on his 15th startup, is investing everything you have in your first company.

“Lots of times,” Houghton says, “entrepreneurs put everything they have in their first company. If that fails, it is financially devastating and can ruin personal relationships.”

Instead, he says, “The right way to start is so that you can recover if it is not an immediate or longterm success. You have to be comfortable with failure and understand how to embrace it and recover.”

Houghton, currently founder and CEO of Boostsuite, was previously with Preation and email marketing firm iContact, which he co-founded with Ryan Allis while both were students at the University of North Carolina in 2003. It sold to Vocus for $169 million.

“I never put all my net worth into any of my companies so I could always recover, although I’ve definitely taken a good amount of risk along the way. Until iContact, I never had a big exit.”

Houghton gets high marks from other Research Triangle area entrepreneurs we talk to for his latest startup, Boostsuite, which  is a web marketing optimization product for small business owners and entrepreneurs. It takes about a minute to set up and use.

Houghton joins 120 other digital marketing experts, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and executives from top digital brands at the Internet Summit in Raleigh, NC, Tuesday through Thursday this week (Nov. 6-8). He’ll be discussing “The Art of the Startup” at the new event this year, the Startup Summit on Tuesday.

Startup survival tips

Making sure you can recover from a failed startup is number one on Houghton’s top three pieces of advice to other entrepreneurs.

Next, he says, is that “It’s all about the people. There are not that many people in the entrepreneurial space with the talent you need, so treat your people well.”

Startups entail risks for staff, not just founders and CEOs. They often pay less than regular positions with major firms, and job security is not one of their job benefits. “Not that many people are willing to work in the startup space,” says Houghton.

Those software engineers and marketing pros who do like that startup juice tend to be in a limited talent pool.

So, says Houghton, “Don’t treat them as a short term resource. You’ll need them again in your next startup.”

Test, test, test

Finally, he says, “Get as much feedback about your product as you can as early as possible. I’m a strong believer in the lean startup model. You build a set of assumptions then test each as soon as possible. Eight of ten may be wrong.”

He adds, “It has gotten so easy to test with users now. You can throw a site up on social media and tell people you’re doing pre-enrollment for a beta test. You can get feedback via email or tools in the product.”

You can also use online tools such as usertesting.com. It will let you watch a video of a real user trying your product features.

Joe Procopio, another serial entrepreneur, founder of Triangle-based Exitevent.com, will also participate in the Startup Summit. He offers some advice for riding the startup roller coaster.

Where can you get the latest on mobile and digital marketing?

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012
Internet Summit crowd

The 2012 Internet Summit in Raleigh, NC, Nov. 6-8 offers unparalleled networking opportunities and speakers from top digital brands such as Google, Twitter, AOL, Klout, Pando Daily, comScore, Mashable and IBM among many others.

Want to know how to make sure your business is mobile ready without spending a fortune? Concerned about how social media can be a legal landmine? Need insight into the science of Facebook engagement? Those are just a few of the topics on the agenda at next week’s Internet Summit in Raleigh, NC, which is quickly filling available seats.

The 2012 Internet Summit, this year including the Startup Summit, brings more than 120 technology and digital marketing thought-leaders to the Raleigh, NC, Convention Center next week (Nov. 6-8) but fewer than 150 seats remain if you want to join them.

This year the Internet Summit features speakers from brands that include Google, Twitter, Adobe, The Weather Channel, AOL, Cisco, IBM, Forrester, PBS, Klout, Mashable, bing, and many others.

Here at the TechJournal, we’ve interviewed a number of speakers participating in the event, which draws up to 2,000 attendees annually.

CIO challenges, mobile app development, riding the startup roller coaster

From past experience we know these previews offer only a taste of the banquet of take-away insights offered each year:

CIO challenges include several balancing acts – From Chad Smith at 3 Birds Marketing, who was named this year’s CIO of the Year by the North Carolina Technology Association. He’s on the CIO/CTO challenges panel.

How You Can Get More Results from Your Business Website (first of several articles from Boostsuite with great tips on creating, optimizing, and promoting your business website. Successful serial entrepreneur Aaron Houghton, CEO and founder of Boostsuite will discuss how to drastically lower the risk you take when you launch your new startup.

 

Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio

Fasten Your seatbelt: three tips on riding the startup roller coaster. Serial entrepreneur Joe Procopio, a networking expert and software developer who runs Triangle-based Exit Event, on keeping your eye on the ball.

Get your ground game down with mobile before you try trick plays – Bill Leake, CEO of Apogeeresults, has a wealth of practical advice on how to tackle what a business really needs in the mobile arena.

Vince Baskerville of Atlanta’s Trip Lingo on Tracking the mobile wild west: engagement is key.

 

Elizabeth Johnson

Elizabeth Johnson, Attorney with Poyner Spruill, is among the 120 digital media experts participating in the Internet Summit, Raleigh, NC, Nov. 6-8.

You’ll also learn that Social Media Can be a landmine for businesses,” from Poyner Spruillattorney Elizabeth Johnson, who discusses legal issues of concern.

Robert Hancock of Smart Online, which has reinvented itself as a mobile app firm, will offer some best practices for mobile app development.

Randy Brown, director of the Virtual Heroes division of Applied Research Associates, will talk about “Serious games now invading the military, medical and corporate worlds.

Matt Peters, co-founder & creative director, Pandemic Labs, during his presentation at the Internet Summit in November. His company has done significant research since then on how brands can increase their Facebook engagement.

Matt Peters, co-founder and director of Pandemic Labs, a Boston-based firm that sells social media marketing and analytics services. Peters will present his “Science of Facebook engagement,” and tell you about Two changes that will boost your Facebook numbers, among other inside information based on data. (Peter’s will also speak at the Dallas Digital Summit in December.

Stephen Wellman, editor in chief at Geek Media, which publishes Slashdot, will discuss how to engage with online communities.

Stephen-Wellman

Stephen-Wellman, editor-in-chief at Slashdot and other Geeknet sites.

Other top speakers slated for the event include:

  • Jodi Kahn – President, iVillage
  • Duane Forrester – Sr. Product Manager, Bing
  • Scott Calise – Director of Digital Research, MTV Networks
  • Don Hoang – Director of Business Development, Klout
  • Liz Thorington – VP, Ad Sales, The Weather Channel
  • David Perry – Biz Development Executive, Google
And that’s just a sample.

This year’s event includes a new new mini-conference — the Startup Summit – focusing exclusively on digital entrepreneurship.

  • Over 120 top thought leaders & industry innovators sharing insights on topics that matter to you
  • More than 60 presentations & panels covering topics like Customer Engagement, Social Media Trends, Mobile Apps, Analytics, User Experience, Big Data, Gamification, Cloud, Search Marketing and much, much more!
  • Network and connect with around 2,000 of your peers
  • Dedicated Tech Track for IT Professionals, from the cubicle to the C-suite
  • IS Rocks – our new Music Festival at the conclusion of the conference featuring more than a dozen bands to close down IS12 in style!
  • 16 in-depth workshop sessions in our Pre-Conference led by expert interactive and marketing pros.

Register now.

 

Fasten your seatbelt: Three tips on riding the startup roller coaster

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

By Allan Maurer

roller coasterIt’s much easier to launch a startup company these days, but not nearly so easy to get venture or angel financing, says Joe Procopio.

New technologies such as cloud computing infrastructure, fairly easy to use website development and content management systems, and other advances make it a much simpler matter to get a company launched with very little capital.

But getting seed or venture funding these days is a different matter.

“It started with the Facebook hangover,” says Procopio. The number of financing deals and the dollars invested are down compared to last year. I think we’ll be seeing smaller deals with less game-changing technology behind them and a greater emphasis on revenues.”

In fact, he adds, “It’s not just about the idea any more. Financials are king. You really have to have customers and show good financials — or have a very clear path to them – to get funded these days.”

Get into the startup ecosystem

On the other hand, he says, “Often, getting funding is not the way to go.” Instead, he says, entrepreneurs should take advantage of the startup ecosystems popping up in many cities and regions.

Those include accelerators, incubators, competitions, universities, and crowd-sourced funding (such as Kickstarter).

Carolina ChallengeFor instance, he notes, via the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Carolina Challenge, “Students are getting into entrepreneurship while completing a bachelor’s degree. They’re coming out of school starting their own companies and get cashflow positive very quickly. It’s a trend that will continue.”

While there will still be some “home-run hitters” among startups and some great ideas that get tons of funding, most startups are probably better off “Letting customers fund them,” he says.

Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio

Procopio, a serial entrepreneur familiar to TechJournal readers for his columns about the startup scene in the Research Triangle in NC, where he is a familiar face at conferences and networking events for entrepreneurs, will participate in the upcoming Startup Summit in Raleigh, NC, Nov. 6-7.

Speakers from top brands

The Startup Summit is a new addition to the 2012 Internet Summit, which brings 120 thought-leaders to the Raleigh, NC, Convention Center Nov. 6-8, featuring speakers from AOL, Bing, Google, Klout, Mashable, comScore and many other top digital brands.

He’ll join speakers such as Angus Davis, founder and CEO at Swipely, Paul Singh, partner and “Master of the Hustle,” at 500 Startups, Sarah Lacy, founder and editor of Pando Daily, and venture capitalists from NextView Ventures, ABS Capital, True Ventures, Baltimore Angles and Nucleus Venture, Southern Capitol Ventures, Contender Capital,  and North Bridge Venture Partners.

Among the other startup CEOs on the agenda is Procopio’s boss at Automated Insights, Robbie Allen, a former distinguished engineer at Cisco and author of ten books on a variety of technical topics.

Automated InsightsAllen founded Automated Insights, which began by developing automated sports reporting, an idea that got a lot of press for its robot journalism angle. The firm landed a NC IDEA grant and raised a $4.3 million round of funding in October last year.

Automate everything

Procopio, who has been with the firm since 2010, says, “Our slogan is automate everything. “We joke that we want to automate our ping pong games,” he quips. Automated Insights has moved on from automated sports reporting – for which there is a limited market – to such things as recapping Fantasy Football games in a deal with Yahoo. Personally, here at the TechJournal, we think that is one clever idea.

Procopio, who also started and runs the ExitEvent startup network, has this advice for entrepreneurs:

First, “Chase sales and think customers first. Prove your idea before you seek money and consider whether you really need outside capital.”

Second, “Reach out to the startup ecosystem and get involved early. You’ll get so much return on very little investment connecting at educational events or just going out with other entrepreneurs for a beer. Later stage guys are open, helpful and willing to make connections for you.”

Ride the roller coaster

Finally: “Ride the roller coaster. If you’re having days with awesome highs followed by terrible lows, you’re doing it right.”

He sees a lot of entrepreneurs who go a month or two without gaining traction and get the 20th no, then quit.

But, he says, “That’s one of the best and worst things about being a startup. You’ll have days that are phenomenal and the next be crashing down and fighting fires. Doing that, you’re in the right place.”

On the other hand, he says, if you’re not having those highs and lows on the roller coaster, you may be growing complacent and “need to pivot.”

The easiest way to lose, he says, “Take your eye off the ball and get complacent.”

 

 

Startup movie night offers documentary look at Durham

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

DurhamDVDBy Joe Procopio

Tonight (Oct. 17) at 7:00 p.m., Argyle Social founder and CEO Eric Boggs will present Startup Movie Night at Motorco in Durham. The film, Durham: A Self-Portrait, is a documentary by Emmy-winning filmmaker Steven Channing and covers over 100 years of Durham History, from the birth of the tobacco era and “Black Wall Street,” right up to the Duke Lacrosse case.

Channing will also provide remarks.

The film ends its story a few years ago, and that’s right about the time Durham began its evolution into an up-and-coming and much-hyped startup hub. So it makes sense that over 100 people from in and around the entrepreneurial community here have already signed up for tonight’s screening.

But why a movie night?

Well. You’ve got to know the guy. It’s not just a movie for entrepreneurs anywhere. It’s this movie, for these entrepreneurs, in this city.

Funny story:

Right around ten years ago when I was at startup number eight, someone in HR there got the wacky idea to take everyone out on a field trip to see Startup.com, the independent film that chronicled the rise and subsequent spectacular fall of new media company govWorks.

startup.com

The documentary Startup.com traced the rise and fall of a dot com in the heady early years of Internet commerce.

HR never talked to me about things like this. I pushed out the product, they did the teambuilding. But having already seen Startup.com, I made the case that this was probably not a good idea. In fact, it was an awful idea. It was akin to showing Pop-Warner football players 90 minutes of The NFL’s Most Horrible Injuries Hosted by Joe Theisman.

Needless to say, at the end of 90-minutes, morale at that startup hit an all time low.

This is not that.

Boggs is all about Durham, and he’s also about documentaries. He sits on the board of the Southern Documentary Fund, which provides financing, workshops, feedback, and distribution to independent filmmakers in the region. Much like an incubator.

A little while ago, he screened Durham: A Self-Portrait for his Argyle employees and investors.  The response was so positive (and motivating) that he decided to do it again and expand.

The result was the organization of Startup Movie Night, sponsored by The Southern Documentary Fund, American Underground,Triangle Tech Talk,
Synergy Commercial Advisors,
BoostSuite, Argyle Social,Appia,
PMC Commercial Interiors, and
Haworth Office Furniture.

Knowing Boggs’ appreciation for docs and Durham, the film is somewhat an obvious choice, but it’s also the right film for the audience. The vibe that permeates startup culture is the same one that has built the name for Durham over the last several years. So in charting where you’re going, it helps to know where you came from, and this film, for these people, does just that.

That’s the plan, anyway.

If you’re not already registered, you can RSVP via the Eventbrite.

For a review of Startup.com by TechJournal editor Allan Maurer see:

Startup.com review.

Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio (@jproco) is a serial entrepreneur who currently heads up product engineering for startup Automated Insights, which is also StatSheet. He also founded and runs startup network ExitEvent. You can read him at http://joeprocopio.com.

 

Automated Insights powers millions of Fantasy Football recaps for Yahoo!

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

By Joe Procopio

The first week of the 2012 NFL Football Season is in the books and at 4:30 a.m. this morning, me and the crew at Automated Insights began creating and delivering individual Fantasy Football matchup recaps to Yahoo! Fantasy Football.

By 7:30 a.m. this morning, Yahoo! had published several million of these recaps across their league pages and we were seeing tweets like these:

Dear Yahoo! Fantasy Football people. You have earned some serious respect with this awesome “Recap” feature for previous week matchups

By the end of the 2012 season, it will be the largest implementation of fully personalized automated content ever produced.

Each team got a unique, professional-sounding paragraph narrative plus four sets of game notes recapping their individual matchup. The recap is highly relevant and hyper-personalized, even entertaining, highlighting not only what did happen, but how it happened, what could have happened, and even what should have happened.

The recaps were created at a rate of 500 articles per second, all machine-written, unmistakably human, and completely customized. The algorithms take into account all of the custom settings and scoring rules that the league commissioners can create.

The following is an actual (but condensed) Automated Insights generated recap using last year’s actual data from our own in-house league. The winning team in this example may have been mine. It’s hard to remember plus that’s not the point. OK, it’s mine.

Staats Battle Rallies to Beat Greased Up Deaf Guy for Fourth Consecutive Win

Staats Battle crushed Greased Up Deaf Guy, 154.44 – 117.50, for a second win in as many head-to-head matchups this season. Drew Brees was the difference, putting up 42.32 points this week, an upgrade on his 34.06 points the last time these teams met. To make matters worse, Greased Up Deaf Guy had a starter score zero points (Mario Manningham). This is the smallest margin of victory for Staats Battle in the series, as they defeated Greased Up Deaf Guy 121.18 – 69.66 back in Week 1. Finally, even with the loss, Greased Up Deaf Guy earned a spot in the playoffs.

Staats Battle Smooth Moves

  • Drew Brees scored the most points of any player on Staats Battle this season.
  • Benched RB Jackie Battle, who scored fewer points than any RB in the starting lineup with 2.00.
  • Picked up Toby Gerhart, who beat his scoring projection by 46.6%, with 12.30 points against a projected 8.39.

Greased Up Deaf Guy Regret Tracker

  • Left Jermaine Gresham on the bench, where he scored 12.80 points and surpassed his scoring projection by 179.5%, the highest percentage of any player on the team.
  • With 1.00 point, the San Francisco 49ers Defense had their lowest output of the season and tallied just 8.9% of their 11.28 projected points, their lowest percentage of the year.
  • Tony Gonzalez could not reach his projected point total, scoring only 72.9% of his 9.47-point projection with 6.90 points.

What If

  • Greased Up Deaf Guy would be 6-4 if they played the same schedule as Staats Battle.
  • Staats Battle would have beaten eight other teams besides Greased Up Deaf Guy this week.
  • If Staats Battle played Greased Up Deaf Guy every week, they would be 8-4 this season.

Game Notes

  • Staats Battle has won four straight games, the longest current winning streak in the league.
  • Greased Up Deaf Guy could not extend their six-game win streak.
  • With the win, Staats Battle remains undefeated in comeback games this season, improving to 2-0.

This isn’t just a new toy for Fantasy Football nerds, it’s a huge step for automated content. Fantasy Football, at last count in 2008, included 29-million players, many who managed several teams, and those players spent an average of 5-6 hours a week and $493 a year on fantasy sports.

The only solution

This is an area where automated content is not just the best solution, it’s the only solution – a scenario that calls for millions of articles delivered immediately and frequently, something no amount of writers could ever accomplish. The audience is also very niche, but they’re passionate about the content, and in most cases that content is actionable, which makes it extremely valuable.

And that’s something that always gets misunderstood about what we’re doing at Automated Insights. Automated content isn’t designed to replace human writers (at least the good ones). Machine-driven content is best used in situations where human-driven content is impossible or the expense outweighs the benefit.

In this case, it’s a huge value-add for Yahoo’s Fantasy Football offering. In other cases, it has powered our StatSheet network of team sites, allowing us to cover every major college basketball and football program and the NFL, MLB, and NBA — with all of 14 people.

And it doesn’t end there – it’s also producing thousands of individual neighborhood market reports for real estate company startup Sawbuck, as well as niche content in finance and other verticals.

So instead of reading a customized article about which running back would best fit into your specific fantasy lineup, imagine reading a customized article about which stock and how much of it would best fit your specific portfolio.

Now imagine we can do that for millions of people at once. That’s what automated content is designed to do, and that’s what we’re doing with it.

Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio (@jproco) heads up product engineering for automated content startup Automated Insights, which is also StatSheet. He also founded and runs startup network ExitEvent,. You can read him at http://joeprocopio.com.

 

Epic Hack Day: an open to all code fest in the NC Triangle

Thursday, September 6th, 2012

By Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio

What do you get when you put 100 geeks in a room with computers and tell them to create whatever they want? I’d go with a Weird Science reference, but today’s geek hadn’t been born when that movie hit the theaters.

Durham startups Adzerk and Shoeboxed have joined forces with the American Underground startup hub and the Durham Chamber of Commerce to put on Epic Hack Day, a full day of no-rules creative coding with no stated goal other than to build something cool.

It’s Saturday, September 8th in the American Underground, and will run from 10:00 a.m. until early the next morning. All the essential fuel will be provided, including beer from local startup-friendly brewery Fullsteam.

This Needs to Happen

The lead organizer is Adzerk founder and CEO James Avery, who has been an entrepreneur-fixture in the booming Durham startup ecosystem over the last few years. Participating in almost every value-add event in the Triangle (and some non-value-add, I mean, the guy has a life) from Tech Jobs Under the Big Top to Southern Capitol Venture’s eSeries, Avery decided this event needed to happen, and quickly put the foundation together.

The concept of the company Hackathon is not new. You’ll find it everywhere from local startups — Automated Insights and Shoeboxed were two that got some mention — to Fortune 500 corporations looking to gain a technical and creative edge by letting their employees improvise and innovate and then rewarding the best concept.

But this is a first for the Triangle. Epic Hack Day is not limited to a single entity like a company hackathon, it’s not centralized around a specific language like a user-group hackathon, nor is the ultimate goal to create a viable company like a Startup Weekend.

“The idea is simple,” says Avery. “Let’s get 100 coders and designers together for 12 hours of work on fun and interesting projects. Think of it like a Startup Weekend but without any of the structure or pressure to ‘create a company.’”

All of the Tech, Twice the Fun

I know Avery, and I know he likes to push the edges of a concept enough to make it fun. At the aforementioned Tech Jobs under the Big Top, his recruiting video was the only other one I considered funnier that our own, and at the second version, he went with a straightforward approach that combined technology with showmanship.

He also delivered one of the best lines of advice at eSeries when he told an entrepreneur who had been banging her head against the wall trying to find affordable tech talent to get online and learn enough code to get through her prototype.

He knows why it’s fun to be a startup employee, why it’s cool to be a coder, and why it’s important to embrace technology beyond the standard development lifecycle.

For Coders By Coders

Shoeboxed is also a player in the startup ecosystem, contributing to and being a part of several of the local community-building events. Their last hackathon was a multi-company affair, and they plan on staging another in the not-too-distant future.

Make no mistake, though, this is technology-based. Everyone will be there to get their hands dirty – well, as dirty as you can get on a keyboard. There will be snacks, so there you go.

If this sounds like your kind of thing and you have Saturday free, you can register for Epic Hack Day here.  I’ll be super curious to see what comes out of this, how it can be used, and who will run with it.

Joe Procopio (@jproco) heads up product engineering for automated content startup Automated Insights, which is also StatSheet. He also founded and runs startup network ExitEvent,. You can read him at http://joeprocopio.com.

 

Smartphone Deathmatch: iPhone 4s vs. Samsung Galaxy S3 vs. HTC Incredible 4G LTE

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

By Joe Procopio

HTC Incredible

The HTC Incredible

Make no mistake. This is not your everyday, run-of-the-mill, spec-heavy mobile handset review. Furthermore, this isn’t about slapping down 1000 words to earn geek cred.

Not that I don’t do that. On occasion.

This is about the phone that is going into my pocket for the next two years. That’s huge. I love my phone. I mean, I LOVE MY PHONE. So read every word with weight, because this decision wasn’t handled lightly.

We’re in a convergence period

We happen to be in a convergence period in which there are two distinct handsets vying for the title of Best Smartphone in the World. Apple’s iPhone 4s is nearing the end of its run, which has allowed Android’s Ice Cream Sandwich (and even more so Jellybean) on the Samsung S3 a window of opportunity in which to catch up and pass iOS.

And I know what you’re thinking, but the HTC Incredible is the only recent entry into the Android ICS market that isn’t bigger than my head. This is key and I’ll get to it.

In any case, I spent way more time with these three devices than any socially-adjusted person should. You get the fruits of that labor. Plus you get a nice story.

See, I was on vacation a couple weeks ago when I was reminded that I had 48 hours in which to upgrade my phone and my wife’s phone without losing unlimited data on Verizon. The pros and cons of that deadline are best left to another column that I don’t want to write, the point is I had to get to the closest Verizon store and drop some cash.

Quite honestly, it was time. My wife and I were both way out of contract and she was still rocking a feature phone.

So while I had the opportunity to experiment, knowing that I was going to get my hands on the S3 and the Incredible within the next two weeks, I opted for two gorgeous iPhones and walked out of the door with a newfound smugness.

Who Needs the iPhone 4s?

iPhone 4SThe iPhone performed exceptionally well for both of us in terms of routine use. Within about half-a-day of setting preferences, creating accounts, and downloading apps, we were pretty much back to normal.

But here’s the funny part. Initially, I couldn’t get home.

Remember, I was on vacation, and had used my old Android phone, which was now a brick, to get to the Verizon store in the first place. So walking out of the new store (still smug), I discovered that the iPhone was more than happy to tell me how to get back to the hotel, it just couldn’t navigate me there.

Yeah, I found MapQuest and eventually got back, but that was a microcosm of my issues with the iPhone. As a long-term Android user, I expected certain things to be there and some were (Bluetooth connectivity to the car), and some weren’t (turn-by-turn).

My wife kept the iPhone. She loves it. And she should. It’s an awesome phone.

Who Needs the Samsung S3?

If the iPhone was the only 5-star phone, it isn’t anymore, because the S3 is probably the first 5-star Android. For every plus Apple has packed into the design, Samsung has crafted the same into the power and usefulness.

It’s sleek and big. The screen looks great and it’s big. It’s easy to use and intuitive. And big.

Samsung S#

Samsung S3 – the first 5-star Android phone?

The S3 and Android easily matched or surpassed the iPhone in terms of the screen, the user interface, the flexibility, the camera, and the speed. Further, Ice Cream Sandwich has come a long way in terms of making the mobile experience more mobile and less computer-on-a-phone, which was the main hang-up with Android.

Within 45 minutes, I was able to get the Samsung S3 exactly the way I needed it, everything from contacts to apps to preferences. It was the same experience I was used to, only better.

But it’s so damn big.

I’ve ranted about this before in previous reviews, but this time it really hit home. I just couldn’t USE the S3, not “use comfortably,” but use at all. I dropped it several times trying to manipulate my way around the interface with one hand (sorry Samsung!). I found I kept it out of my pocket because, while it is incredibly thin, it’s a lot of real estate in the pants.

Come on, you know I was going there eventually.

Who Needs the HTC Incredible 4G LTE?

HTC incredible

The HTC Incredible 4G LTE phone.

Me.

This is the phone I ended up keeping. And it all comes down to the size. The Incredible was always implied as an iPhone copy, and this version, while packing almost all of the power of the S3, is just slightly bigger than the iPhone.

I love my phone. I’m that guy. But I’m giving up screen resolution. I’m giving up the great camera. I’m giving up some battery life. I’m giving up a lot of style and design.

But technology-wise, the playing field is nearly level, for now.  So when it comes to the S3 vs. the Incredible, I’m not giving up a great camera for a crappy camera, I’m giving up a great camera for an average camera, so there’s a value-based decision to make.

Average camera vs. uncomfortable pants.

And it’s not that the iPhone is bad at the things that the S3 is good at, but there is a new user type to contend with. Apple had a huge advantage converting feature phone users, Blackberry users, and I’d even argue early Android users — but take a die-hard Android current and give him or her an iPhone and there are things they are going to miss.

Like the keyboard. Or widgets. And not that these are game-changers but they are things that we are already used to, and that, I believe, is going to be the determining factor is choosing a handset.

For the foreseeable future, these are the parameters of the decision-making process, not how awesome the streamed preview of 21 Jump Street looks or the quality vs. quantity argument of the apps. Or Siri. Or G-Noise or whatever the Android version is.

The Best Smartphone in the World is going to be the one that works for you.

Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio (@jproco) heads up product engineering for automated content startup Automated Insights, which is also StatSheet. He founded and runs startup network ExitEvent, consulting marketplace Intrepid Company, and writers network Intrepid Media. You can read him at http://joeprocopio.com.

 

Triangle Startup Factory launches six startups at Pitch Day

Thursday, June 7th, 2012

By Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio

Back in March, when I wrote about the five companies that had been selected for the first class of Triangle Startup Factory, my theme was that in the startup world, nothing happens overnight. It took a long three years and some pivoting to get TSF to the place it is now, and each of the companies, for the most part, had been in the trenches for a while.

Today, those five — Archive Social, RxAnalyticsArcametricsRuzukuBerst, plus late arrival Entasso will hop on stage in Bay 7 of American Tobacco and show you, and a number of potential investors, what they’ve created. Five of the six will ask for money (not from you, you’re cool).

Half of the Factory

I sat down with half of the TSF management team this week — serial CEO, board member, advisor, and mentor Dave Neal — to talk about the class, the semester, and what everyone learned.

Dave sees the pros and cons of the Triangle as a startup hub. The pros are many, and they start with the ideas, which are big, and extend to the talent pool, which is vast. The cons are few and, played right, can be strengths.

The Who and Where

We talked about the class. It’s a class with lots of potential. Having known Anil from Archive Social and Rick and Abe from Ruzuku for a while, and having met Alison from Entasso and Deepak from RxAnalytics shortly before they were selected, I can honestly and definitely say that they started with a great group of entrepreneurs.

We talked about the geography. TSF got a very diverse group of applicants for their first run, and even so, the strength of the RTP led to five of the six being local, with Berst coming down from Chicago.

The Other Side

Dave had a blast, and from what I’ve heard, everyone involved got a lot out of the time they spent at the Factory, from the speakers to the advisors and so on. Dave has been involved in angel-backed, VC-backed, and bootstrapped startups, as well as advising some 18-24 companies over the last two years, so for him, being on the other side of the table was eye-opening

Lessons Learned

I asked him if he’d do anything differently the next time around. He mentioned the application process and changing a few things there. Some of that is already in place – for example, there was no early application process last cycle, so when this cycle’s early application period ended on May 31, TSF found they had a healthy amount of startups already. The final deadline is June 30th, so there will be several more, if not many.

He also talked about amping up the feedback. Like the process any god startup goes through, there’s usually a great deal of feedback and learning and testing and adapting up front, then a heads down period for execution. TSF startups went through much the same process Dave sees feedback being applied to the teams more strongly and through the entire session for the next run.

What’s Next

Obviously, today’s festivities are big, and there will be a lot of follow up for the teams, but they aren’t getting tossed out of the nest tomorrow. All six plan to stay in the TSF space in the Underground until the next cycle begins on August 27th, as the TSF directors provide more connections, more mentoring, and more advisement to the teams in their next crucial fund-raising stage.

TSF has established itself now with two programs per year and a financial offering that ranks in the top four nationwide, but Dave and Chris know they’re not done, not by a long shot. What happens with these startups over the next three months, even the next three years, will reflect on TSF and the validity of its program.

Dave knows this, and he’s tweaking while he extends that runway, even as they ramp up for the next class.

Joe Procopio (@jproco) heads up product engineering for automated content startup Automated Insights, which is also StatSheet. He founded and runs startup network ExitEvent, consulting marketplace Intrepid Company, and writers network Intrepid Media. You can read him at http://joeprocopio.com

Triangle Startup Factory names inaugural class

Monday, March 19th, 2012

By Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio

There really is no such thing as overnight success in the startup universe.

Just as it’s been a long road for Triangle Startup Factory, going back to the conversations I first had with Chris Heivly some three years ago, when the idea of an accelerator in the Triangle seemed so crazy that it just might work, it’s been a haul for the five companies that make up its inaugural class.

ExactByte makes Archive Social, a software-as-a-service solution for automatically keeping business-compliant records of an organization’s social communication (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn). I first started following CEO Anil Chawla’s entrepreneurial exploits while he was still with IBM a couple years ago, and finally wound up covering him, ExactByte, and Archive Social when he presented at Launch Days back in January.

As I mention in that column, Anil has been on the startup scene for years, he’s been a fixture at ExitEvent since the first one (he even let me beat him at ping pong back in December), and he was at Startup Happy Hour Wednesday night looking all smiley and what not.

Ruzuku has been at it just as long if not longer. They allow creation of online courses and learning communities for instructors – anyone from bloggers to coaches to speakers who want to put structured instructional material online. I first met Rick Cecil over a decade ago when he was building UX for clients at hesketh.com (almost before anyone knew what web UX was). Abe Crystal first told me about Ruzuku early in 2010, and they also presented at Launch Days in May of that year.

Making athletic training more productive

RxAnalytics uses machine learning algorithms and data analysis to make athletic training more productive, resulting in maximized performance. When I last saw Deepak Gopalakrishna, it was via Skype in February when he pitched to the Carolina Challenge from a coffee shop somewhere in DC. He was in DC because he had been pitching in person earlier that day. RxAnalytics was also a Startup Stampede company in mid-2011.

Arcametrics has created a data engine that allows financial and healthcare marketing professionals to pool relevant customer data across from multiple sources without compromising privacy. Admittedly, this is the company I know the least about and there is little information online, but I found some stuff on them dating back to 2008, which is exactly two forevers ago in startup time.

Berst is an app that lets you communicate with groups of people at specific locations where you share a common context. Matthew Ramsden and Caleb Foster developed the app as a side project and then took it to Chicago’s bi-monthly Technori Pitch event in October where they demoed the app to 500 people.

Yes, they are the youngest company of the bunch, but remember, this is an accelerator, not an exit.

I caught up with Heivly on Wednesday (surprisingly, not at any of the three startup events that took place that night) and he was genuinely excited about the class. It also means good things for the region, with TSF having pulled a much greater pool of applicants from the area, 55% local as opposed to 25% local during the late 2010 LaunchBox Digital application process.

The class is mostly local too, and it’s that way on merit, with absolutely no preconceived desire to pull local startups into the accelerator.

It bodes well.

 Joe Procopio heads up product engineering for automated content startup Automated Insights. He also founded and runs startup network ExitEvent, consulting marketplace Intrepid Company, and the Intrepid Media writers network. You can read him at http://joeprocopio.com and follow him at http://twitter.com/jproco.

 

Startups: introduce yourself

Thursday, March 15th, 2012

By Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio

Not every startup gets the lottery ticket launch. For every accelerator or grant program with a five-figure pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, there are hundreds of hungry startups vying for that same prize. Many of them will be better positioned and more savvy than you, and let’s face it, at least a few of them are more deserving.

You can’t win, but there are alternatives to fighting.

Last night, I attended three local events that allowed startups to make noise, get seen, and get introduced to people who can help them. Actually I attended two. They were all on the same night and even though I have thinking robots at my disposal, none of them are good conversationalists and, frankly, they’re all kind of lazy.

But if you have time and intestinal fortitude, here are three ways to get noticed.

1. The Public Introduction

Startup Madness was a day-long competition in Durham featuring students from all the schools in the ACC, from Boston College to Miami. Timed to kick off March Madness, the event culminated in a public pitch with one $5,000 check to the winner of the overall and another to the winner among the North Carolina schools.

Chalk.

Said overall winner was Miami’s Cohealo, with 2nd place going to Clemson’s Mushroom Mountain , 3rd place handed out to Mekong Greentech from Georgia Tech, and 4th going to TeeGee from Virginia .

Locally, Duke’s Neurospire edged UNC’s Gift Boogle. But that’s not the end of the story. I had seen Gift Boogle when I judged the Carolina Challenge last month, and I liked the team quite a bit. I introduced them to Scott Kelly and his Startup Madness program, which they applied for and obviously got into. During the Madness, I introduced them to a couple more people who might be able to open a couple more doors.

My point is, a loss isn’t always a loss (the Carolina Challenge is ongoing, by the way). Sometimes, even a loss is a win. These types of public introductions are becoming more and more popular and, even though the public pitch isn’t my favorite means of startup expression, it can’t hurt a fledgling company in their quest for connections.

2. The Private Introduction

When the madness had ended, a whole bunch of people joined a whole bunch of other people a few miles away at Fullsteam Brewery to partake in Startup Happy Hour, hosted by Zach Mansfield from Square Roots, the startup-focused program at Square 1 Bank.

I have some bias here, of course, but this is the best way to interface with the startup community and these types of socials aren’t hard to get into and aren’t hard to attend. If you’re willing to spend a couple hours with a beer in your hand and have the guts to walk up to a stranger or group of strangers, you have the opportunity to pitch without pitching.

You’re not going to land any seed money doing this. You’re probably not even going to land a meeting, but you will make connections, and there’s a time and a place to activate those connections.

Pro tip: That time and place is not at the social. It’s later.

3. The Online Introduction

The one I missed was the Innovate Raleigh meetup to introduce the TriangleWiki. This is another step in the waking up of the Raleigh area to entrepreneurial energy, and while it’s still very early, there are already pages dedicated to entrepreneurial efforts.

Again, bias here as I run ExitEvent, an online resource dedicated to startups, but this is a must for getting your startup into the public consciousness. This type of program is growing too. TechCrunch has had CrunchBase forever, and yesterday (another example of the West Coast following our lead), competitor PandoDaily announced a partnership with AngelList to create another database of startups.

If you’re not actively pursuing these kinds of introductions, then you can’t complain about a lack of attention. Yes, it would be hyper-awesome-wonderful to win a $50K grant or land in a $50K accelerator program, but the odds are long, and even then there is no guarantee of success.

I’m not saying it’s about the money, but it’s about the money. Just keep in mind it doesn’t happen overnight, but it will never happen if nobody knows who you are or what you do.

Joe Procopio heads up product engineering for automated content startup Automated Insights. He also founded and runs startup network ExitEvent, consulting marketplace Intrepid Company, and the Intrepid Media writers network. You can read him at http://joeprocopio.com and follow him at http://twitter.com/jproco.

Durham to stuff the next big thing in a tiny little office

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

By Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio

Sometime in May, you’re going to be walking down Main street in Downtown Durham and pass by a glass-encased habitat at the front of a well-known coffee shop where a single entrepreneur or team of entrepreneurs will be feverishly working for your enjoyment.

You may stop in for a delicious coffee, you may just watch for a few minutes while lines of code are slung at some business problem that needs fixing. But when you walk away and go about the rest of your day, you’ll be thinking, “I should have thought of that.”

The Smoffice

You’ll be peering through the glass at The Smoffice, a so-crazy-it-has-to-work partnership between the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Durham Inc., Beyu Caffe, and a host of other local sponsors.

The idea is to give a single startup six months of free space in “the worlds smallest office” in downtown Durham, driving home the point that a startup doesn’t necessarily need big or fancy or cash or backing, but simply a great idea fostered in a stimulating and supportive environment.

smoffice

It’s a rather artful statement on Durham as an up-and-coming startup ecosystem.

Of course, there are other bells and whistles, but these are grass roots bells and whistles, most importantly a nearby condo for potential out-of-town candidates, and also free custom office furniture, a tablet, assistance from experts in legal, accounting, and marketing, and finally connections to over 70 of the startups in downtown Durham.

The application process starts Wednesday, 2/29 (Leap Day, just to drive the quirkiness home), and more info can be found on http://www.thesmoffice.com

I’ll wait while you turn your world back rightside up.

So Who Did Think of That?

When people ask me how Durham has come from seemingly nowhere to emerge overnight as the most hypeworthy startup hub of the east coast, I give a varying array of reasons: The establishment of the American Tobacco Complex downtown, the low cost of space, the growing number of privately run support organizations, elves, etc. But usually I include one specific thing.

Or rather dude. Adam Klein at the Durham Chamber.

Klein is one of those guys you see at all the startup-related events in the area, from the smaller, street-level meetups to the big fancy conferences. Because he’s so much better looking than me, I tend to stay away from him, but I have gotten to know him, and I’m floored by the things he’s done, and the things he didn’t do, to contribute to the growth of Durham’s startup scene.

When people think of the Durham Chamber, which admittedly isn’t very often because of the fact that 90% of what they do is support behind the curtain, they think of things like Startup Stampede, a program that put a handful of budding startups into a downtown Durham space with infrastructure and mentoring – like an accelerator, but without the cash and investment components, although said investment was in Durham itself.

See? Sneaky.

How to Start a Startup Stampede: Step 1 = Don’t Start a Startup Stampede

Klein now advises other chambers and government organizations from locals to regionals to the National Chamber on how to build a localized startup culture into a Stampede. His primary advice: Don’t do it, or rather, don’t start with the event, there’s a lot of prep work to do first.

For all the out-of-the-box thinking and risk taking that produced the Stampede, it was the months behind the scenes he and others spent talking to the local startup community and the greater business community.

This meant countless meetings with individual entrepreneurs and potential entrepreneurs, selling the benefits of Durham and listening, intently, to their needs and desires. This is not easy to do, since most of those lists of needs and desires usually start, ill-advisedly so, with “a boatload of working capital,” which of course the Durham Chamber does not have or have access to.

It also meant countless meetings with Durham companies, from giant corporations like HTC to establishments you wouldn’t expect to be a part of the ecosystem at all, like downtown’s Beyu Caffe. In these sessions, he’d sell the benefits of a sprouting startup community back to them, an equally difficult proposition when you’re talking about propping up a tax/customer base known for being broke and desperately seeking “a boatload of working capital.”

And finally, it meant getting out of the way — knowing what to provide, what to support, making it happen, and then letting it grow on its own, grass-roots, live or die.

I’m Looking at You, Every Other Startup Support Group

It took ages for all that to pay off in the form of Startup Stampede, and that, along with multiple other initiatives from both the public and private sectors, a metric ton of hard work from the startups themselves, a parsec of good press, and a half-dozen elves, is how the Durham startup ecosystem sprang up from “nowhere.”

With a couple of successful Startup Stampedes under their belt, Klein and frequent collaborator Matthew Coppedge from Downtown Durham Inc. knew that they had to evolve. They realized that in order to keep up with and properly serve Durham’s fledgling startup environment, they needed something new, something unique, and something bigger.

And because the Raleigh-Durham area has a reputation for being so vanilla that you can literally flavor your coffee with a few blades of grass taken from the finely manicured lawns of Cary, they knew it should push the boundaries a bit.

A bit.

So they went small.

A Tiny Window Into Durham

Klein and Coppedge know that there isn’t nearly enough attention on Durham as a startup hub, certainly within the area and definitely outside of it. So they hope that there are several marketing aspects that can be ramped up through the lifecycle of The Smoffice.

It will start with the application process, which will be worldwide and centered around the uniqueness of the space. This is not only meant to attract outside entrepreneurs to the program, but also serve as an introduction to the location and the culture, a huge and very important task in keeping the Durham startup ecosystem growing.

The marketing will continue with the live nature of The Smoffice itself, offering locals and non-locals alike a peek into how entrepreneurs can succeed in Durham, with or without a Smoffice and all the sponsors and connections, but because of a culture that promotes risk, acceptance, help, sharing, and support. At one point there was talk of a documentary, but I don’t know where that went. It’s a great idea though

Wish I’d thought of it.

Joe’s last column offered “Five Reasons why you need to be at SEVC”

Joe Procopio heads up product engineering for automated content startup Automated Insights. He also founded and runs startup network ExitEvent, consulting marketplace Intrepid Company, and the Intrepid Media writers network. You can read him at http://joeprocopio.com and follow him at http://twitter.com/jproco.

Five reasons you should be at SEVC

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

By Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio

A week from today, I’ll be waking up with a hangover in a fabulously appointed room at the Ritz Carlton in Tyson’s Corner, wondering if I have enough time for a shower before the pre-networking-breakfast networking.

And I’ll view that as a success.

There are conferences and there are conferences. As someone who invented a social event based upon removing everything from a conference except the reception at the end (and lay off, I’ve got the patent), I can tell you that every conference has its place and time, but it’s usually what happens around the conference that’s worth the price of admission.

If you’re an entrepreneur or want to invest in, support, or provide services for entrepreneurs, next week’s Southeast Venture Conference is the one you’ll want to be around.

This year’s installment will be my fifth. Each time I’ve gone for a different reason, and usually, it winds up being a combination of the following:

Reason #1: Networking

sevc

People network in groups large and small at SEVC.

There are hundreds of ways to land investment in your startup but they all really come down to this: Find someone with a lot of money who believes in your idea and your team. This doesn’t come overnight. There isn’t a single introductory letter, business plan summary, elevator pitch, or quirky attached trinket that is going to produce a term sheet.

Although, while judging a startup competition last week, I was handed beef jerky, and let me tell you, that’s as close to a guaranteed vote as you’re going to get. Still, unless you’re starting a beef jerky company, that won’t get you seed money.

Relationships, or rather, previously cultivated relationships garnered through hustling, hard work, and a boatload of rejection, are the stepping-stones to getting funded. SEVC is one opportunity to create new relationships, nurture existing relationships, or evolve relationships into interest and eventual investment.

And yeah, there’s something to be said for being in the right place at the right time. But without the proper context, how the hell are you supposed to figure out where and when that is?

Reason #2: Networking

The phenomenon of startups helping startups in mutual partnership, or even as paying customers, is just starting to take hold as common practice. In other words, Startup A uses the eCommerce platform from Startup B, who uses the ad engine of Startup C, who uses the marketing services of Startup A.  The symbiotic inclusion of other startups into a beta adds to the robustness of said beta, and usually the pricing is beneficial to both sides.

For every investor at SEVC there are probably three people who can also help you in other ways. And it’s not just the entrepreneurs that are good to know. I’ve made a hosting deal at a venture conference, a funding deal at a gaming conference, and hired a guy at a technology conference.

Wait, that last one totally made sense. My bad.

Reason #3: Networking

SEVC

SEVC draws a sellout crowd every year.

Yeah, you’ve been to pitch parties and pitch contests and hopefully not pitch seminars, but maybe you’ve even pitched one or a hundred times privately.

This is the major leagues of pitching. And what I mean is it’s rampant with steroid use.

Of the 60 startups that will be publicly pitching at SEVC, all of them are asking for big time money and all of them are deserving of big time money (sure, at various levels of deserving, but you get the idea). Your time will not be wasted taking in as many of these pitches as possible and learning from them.

Even the bad ones.

Especially the bad ones.

But entrepreneurs are also usually very open to answering questions from other entrepreneurs. It’s one thing to watch a pitch, it’s another to have a conversation based around where that pitch came from, especially if you get them to remove the elevator-speak.

“Hockey-stick.”

Reason #4: Networking

Startups remain on the cutting edge of technology, not just in terms of which technologies are in vogue, but also where the business of technology is heading. A lot of last year’s presentations and panels focused on discussing these possibilities, but it’s in the trenches, so to speak, where you’ll find the real conversations about adoption.

Example: No one had a Pinterest strategy last year, but everyone knew about them, and more than a few were talking about them. Now, under a year later, they’re old like Microsoft.

Just kidding.

Maybe.

Reason#5: Networking

Sevc 2012Yeah, the running Networking gag probably wasn’t an awesome joke.

But at the end of the day, literally, there’s a lot to be said for just meeting new people who share the same vision and passion as you. It may seem like these opportunities are out there all the time, but let’s face it, this is the Lollapalooza of startups. There’s an energy around the open bar that you’re not going to find at a meetup.

So on Thursday morning when I wake up in my suit on top of the blankets, I’ll know I got a lot done. And I’ll have a pocket full of business cards and a handful of new friends to prove it.

 Joe Procopio heads up product engineering for automated content startup Automated Insights. He also founded and runs startup network ExitEvent, consulting marketplace Intrepid Company, and the Intrepid Media writers network (http://IntrepidMedia.com). You can read him athttp://joeprocopio.com and follow him at http://twitter.com/jproco.

 

In the RTP: Why Aren’t You an Entrepreneur?

Friday, January 27th, 2012

By Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio

In my last installment of this 2011 review of the RTP startup ecosystem, I went back over some of the companies I hung out with last year. Some. Just a few. Mostly the ones who did big, huge, extraordinary things. But of course that leaves out the hundreds (and yes, there are hundreds) of equally likeable and viable companies who did not do big, huge, extraordinary things last year.

I hung out with them too, just in groups and a lot of times with drinks.

And there were groups everywhere.  If 2011 was the year the RTP startup ecosystem organized, it got most of that organization done at meetups, events, users groups, conferences, and galas. If it seemed like there was something startup-related going on every single week that’s because there was, and 2012 looks to be no different, just better.

There’s been no better time to be an entrepreneur in the RTP. Here’s why:

Foot on the Accelerator

2011 started off and ended with announcements from two completely different accelerators.

American Underground

Artist's rendering of the American Underground space

LaunchBox Digital graduated its first class to come out of Durham in January 2011, with a big event at Bay 7 at American Tobacco (http://www.techjournal.org/2011/01/90-days-work-in-eight-minutes-launchbox-digital-2010-demo-day/) (where it’s falsely rumored that I keep a secret sleeping quarters – I actually just sleep in Square 1 Bank’s conference room… don’t tell them).  Seven companies held court for eight minutes apiece in front of brave ice-conquering crowd of hundreds.

Then in November, rumor turned into reality when Capitol Broadcasting and NC IDEA announced that new accelerator Groundwork Labs would be taking applications, well, now (http://www.techjournal.org/2011/11/new-startup-accelerator-groundwork-labs-launching-in-durham/).

Groundwork will be run by John Austin, and if that name sounds familiar, it’s because he’s also running Joystick Labs, the gaming accelerator (http://www.techjournal.org/2011/04/gaming-for-everyone-john-austin-joystick-labs-the-east-coast-game-conference/). They held their first successful session in the summer of 2011, and will be ramping up again in 2012.

And it should be noted that while LaunchBox closed up shop in 2011, out of the ashes rose the homegrown Triangle Startup Factory (http://www.techjournal.org/2012/01/return-of-the-triangle-startup-factory-and-why-its-huge-for-the-rtp/). Also taking applications. Also now.

That means there are three “new” programs in the RTP for aspiring entrepreneurs to get their product from concept to reality with more help than should be legal. If you don’t apply to at least one of them, you have no one to blame.

Out of the Garage

Beyond the proliferation of accelerators in the area (and honestly, how often do you get to read a sentence like that), there were literally dozens of events in 2011 that highlighted, supported, or celebrated startups. And if you know me, you know I’m all about the grass roots.

In March, I wrote about Startup Madness, the second in a series of homegrown events from Scott Kelly that announce and market the launch of local tech startups (http://www.techjournal.org/2011/03/startup-madness-it%E2%80%99s-not-as-crazy-as-you-might-think/).  Kelly just held another Launch Days very early this year, and has two startup events on the calendar for Spring and Summer that focus on high school and college entrepreneurs.

In June, Triangle Startup Weekend (http://www.techjournal.org/2011/06/try-before-you-buy-triangle-startup-weekend/) made a welcome return to the area with over 100 entrepreneurs spending three straight, sleepless days and nights building a company from scratch. TSW makes a repeat engagement in April this year, and will be very interesting as some of those folks ran with their companies and likely still haven’t slept.

Not to be outdone, the gamers put on their own party, Raleigh Game On (http://www.techjournal.org/2011/08/game-on-rtp-indie-game-companies-take-matters-into-their-own-hands/) packed 150 game developers and gaming enthusiasts into the Hive in downtown Raleigh in August. I, for one, have always felt like the gamers should and could be more visible in the RTP startup ecosystem. Between Joystick, Game On, and other recurring events like the TGI Social, 2011 was a big step in the right direction.

Even if you didn’t have a startup or even an idea in 2011, Tech Jobs Under the Big Top (http://www.techjournal.org/2011/05/tech-jobs-under-the-big-top-hot-dogs-beer-jugglers-jobs/) provided a real opportunity for getting in on the ground floor of a startup just by going to work for one.

And let’s just pretend I already talked about ExitEvent.

Oh, Yeah, There are VCs Too

I’ve always been amazed at how accessible the local VCs are and how few startups and wanna-be startups take advantage of that accessibility. Here are two ends of the spectrum I talked about in 2011.

Jason Caplain

Jason Caplain

Jason Caplain from Southern Capitol Ventures is involved with a lot of events, meetings, get-togethers, and so on, probably more so than any single local investor.

In January, we sat down and talked about one of the more intriguing (at least to me) things he does. Once a month (maybe every other month when he’s busy), Jason hosts breakfast for any entrepreneur who wants to get or give advice (http://www.techjournal.org/2011/01/jason-caplain-builds-better-entrepreneurs-over-bagels/).

But maybe one-on-one isn’t your thing.

In April, I wrote about the, get this, 28th annual CED Venture Conference (http://www.techjournal.org/2011/04/ced-venture-2011-mission-accomplished-now-what/), where for a small price (in terms of value), you can catch up with a keg of VCs, angels, and dozens of funded and unfunded startups. Watching and learning from the public pitches alone is worth the price of admission.

And by the way, that was on the heels of the SouthEast Venture Conference and the East Coast Game Conference, both of which are coming up again in 2012.

If anything, 2012 is going to build on this strong support structure that sprung up in 2011. So if you ever, ever thought about ditching it all and starting a company, well, my friend, this is your year. Apply, attend, meet-up, discuss, engage and party. Of course, there’s all that hard work and risk, but at least you’ll have hundreds of others slogging it out with you.

Joe Procopio heads up product engineering for automated content startup Automated Insights. He also founded and runs startup network ExitEvent, consulting marketplace Intrepid Company, and the Intrepid Media writers network (http://IntrepidMedia.com). You can read him athttp://joeprocopio.com and follow him at http://twitter.com/jproco.

 

Return of the Triangle Startup Factory and why it’s huge for the RTP

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

By Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio

Go big or go home.

I hear this phrase a lot lately. In some circles, it could be seen as a bubblicious mantra of a bunch of crazy kids looking to hit home runs by selling their social network startup to Facebook. In others, namely here in the RTP, it’s a battle cry for survival against the long odds of starting a company in this talent-rich, cash-strapped area.

But those odds just got a whole lot better.

Last night, longtime RTP startup ecosystem guru, former LaunchBox Director, and current TriangleTechTalk and TechJobs Under the Big Top founder Chris Heivly announced that a nice big bow had been put on a reboot of Triangle Startup Factory, the accelerator he merged into LaunchBox Digital when that accelerator swung south from DC back in 2010.

TSF will now host between five and seven startups twice a year, starting this spring, for intensive three-month programs chock full of capital, mentoring, connections, infrastructure, and, most importantly, a sizeable post-program runway.

That last one is the big news.

The Long Tail

I first met Chris back in 2009, looking for synergies between ExitEvent (at the idea stage) and the original TSF (pre-LaunchBox). We were both trying to solve the same problem: Baking a startup for three months, no matter how high the heat or how closely you watch it, was awesome, but didn’t account for the abrupt exit out into the real world of sustainability and customers.  Especially not here, where the support structure was, at the time, non-existent, and even now, fledgling.

He had a much better handle on it, and talked about the creation of the long tail. In order for an accelerator to succeed here, there needs to be a much longer runway with a different-but-equal kind of support in place until the startup gets solidly onto its feet.

He’s still talking about it as of last night when we broke down the philosophy behind the new TSF. That long tail is what will differentiate the TSF program.

Going Big So They Don’t Go Home

Each startup gets the proper kickoff fuel: $50K in investment, access to a whole bunch of mentors and connections, space in Durham (TBD, by the way), and a big day at the end to show the world (and that’s the world, not just the RTP), what they’ve got.

But as a formal part of the program, TSF will offer a convertible note on the back end between $20K and $150K.

The sheer size of the initial investment figure and the convertible note puts TSF in the same stratosphere as TechStars and YCombinator. This will allow TSF to attract top-tier talent from around the country (maybe around the world) and, most importantly, keep them here.

And while the money is great, it’s up to us in the RTP to match that A-level program with the time, effort, and serious skills that make up the mentoring and the connections. In 2012, I believe we’re up for it. Finally.

Stay Hungry

Apart from the unique philosophy, another big difference will be the emphasis on a lean and agile methodology. In what Chris calls a 30% incremental difference from LaunchBox, the TSF program will run product focused, not business focused, and thus the messaging will be like very few accelerator programs as they are today.

Advice is what it is: Advice. I give it all the time, yet very few of my friends are rich enough to pay me back in Ferraris. Also, you don’t have to get too many mentors and entrepreneurs in a room before they start disagreeing about how to get to the next level. Usually these disagreements are solved on the ping pong table, but who has time for that?

The remedy for conflicting advice, repeats Heivly, is build, test, and iterate. It’s what the startup does with the advice that the startup can control and where TSF can assist. Chris feels like they did a good job of this with LaunchBox, but they need to do a great job of this with TSF.

Start Your Engines

Although there isn’t a focus on where the selected applicants will come from (although there is a limit on the type: no pharma, no medical devices, etc, we’re talking traditional tech plays), it’s certainly a boon for local entrepreneurs. It’s a huge incremental step forward for the area, and every single pre-funded startup should apply. It’s like you’re getting a head start on the rest of the country.

For once.

The application process is underway now at http://www.trianglestartupfactory.com and runs until they get their initial class, which begins on March 19th.

Joe Procopio heads up product engineering for automated content startup Automated Insights. He also founded and runs startup network ExitEvent, consulting marketplace Intrepid Company, and the Intrepid Media writers network (http://IntrepidMedia.com). You can read him athttp://joeprocopio.com and follow him at http://twitter.com/jproco.

 

 

 

 

Entrepreneurs aren’t born, they’re launched

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012

By Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio

I see Anil Chawla everywhere I go. And while my ego told me he was probably stalking me, it turns out he’s been an entrepreneur for a long time, even though it’s only been a year since he let everyone know.

That was the day Anil left his posh job pushing code at IBM, where he had been for over six years, to hop on the roller-coaster ride of full-time founder.  Anil had been working under wraps to polish his product, TweetyMail (yes, I’ve spoken to him about the name, but you’ll remember it when you’ve finished reading this column). It’s a framework for accessing Twitter via email.  He later expanded to TheFriendMail, which accomplishes the same for Facebook.

Anil Likes Email

But on Thursday, January 12th, Anil will be one of the five startups launching new products at the third version of Launch Day, which gets started at 5:00 p.m. in Bay 7 of the American Tobacco campus in Durham.

In fact, Launch Day will be a reunion of sorts for me. I’ve known co-host Jake Finkelstein for about 10 years since we worked at a startup together, and I met co-host Sarah Wechsberg at last year’s Triangle Entrepreneurship Week, where she is a co-founder.

Launch Day will also have music provided in part by Argyle Social’s Danny Olinsky, who was the winner at last year’s StatSheet Pongageddon .

Names… Dropped

But back to Anil. On Thursday he’ll roll out Archive Social, which helps companies that are under strict communication regulations (think financial and healthcare), monitor and capture social media activity and preserves the data in a way that those businesses need to remain in compliance.

But Archive Social isn’t just about compliance, the product will capture and store social media communication in an automated way for any company that needs that data stored.

This sets is up as potentially disruptive. We’re all using social media, we apparently can’t get enough of it, and we all know that there’s a social paper trail out there, but we’re not archiving it, even our own personal communication like we would with email.

All That Interest in Email Paid Off

Anil actually got the idea for Archive Social while working on another product during Durham Chamber’s Startup Stampede. And like the four other companies at Launch Day Thursday night, he’ll be on stage making his pitch to the public for their participation. In his case, the ask is for companies to participate in the pilot.

Why archive your social? Businesses have been largely cavalier about their social media usage, but ultimately they may find that they have to trust that said data will be there when they need it.

Those companies in Archive Social’s sweet spot, the ones that are under compliance, find the storage regulations far more stringent. But if we’re all going to start storing our social media communication, which we likely will soon, then won’t we want the same protection that the most stringent archivers are using? Like maybe something that will hold up as evidence in a court of law?

Some of you care about this more than others, and I think we both know who you are.

The Accidental Entrepreneur

Anil isn’t what you’d think of as your traditional entrepreneur. He wasn’t selling lemonade when he was four years old. In fact, he had very little entrepreneurial background at all. He went to school like all the other kids, knew he had to get grades, go to college, get a job, and kick ass at it.

But from day one he couldn’t escape feeling like he was not living up to his potential. He said to himself that if he spent the next year doing what he was doing, at the end he wouldn’t be fired up, he’d be disappointed.

Most people think that someday they’re going to leave their job and start their own business, and ultimately most people do not. When Anil left IBM, he wasn’t far enough along to live on the income from his startup, but he had gained the confidence that this would happen down the road.

Everyone Has to Jump

TweetyMail and TheFriendMail do well, continue to grow, and currently process about 1 million emails a month through the service. A chunk of his customers are paying, and it’s profitable.

Archive Social is a pivot. He’ll look to do a public launch in the middle of the year as a small/medium business play. The product will be his flagship… for now. If he finds something else that has the same kind of potential, he’ll build that, but like the other products that came before, he’ll continue to grow what he’s got.

Launch Day III: The Launchening

Like previous Launch Days (and most public pitch formats), each founder gets 3-5 minutes to drop knowledge followed by another 1-2 minutes to answer questions. It isn’t meant to be a contest, but rather a public request for help, whether that help comes in the form of pilot customers, testers, employees, or the old standby, investment, that’s up to each founder as they take the stage.

Launch Day founder Scott Kelly has also expanded, so to speak, and created a series of programs this year, including Startup High, a mentoring and educational program for local startup CEOs to show the ropes to high school students over two weeks this summer, and Startup Madness, an all-ACC program that pairs a local executive and a local student from each of the ACC schools. He’s even working on Pittsburgh and Syracuse, even though they aren’t official until 2013.

The four other presentations are Pruvop, who will be rebranding, INRFOOD, the latest from GoToAid maker Jaargon, Pengo  working on peer-to-business loans for emerging markets, and Pasplore , a browser extension grabs data and brings it into a workable format.

Joe Procopio heads up product engineering for automated content startup Automated Insights. He also founded and runs startup network ExitEvent, consulting marketplace Intrepid Company, and the Intrepid Media writers network (http://IntrepidMedia.com). You can read him athttp://joeprocopio.com and follow him at http://twitter.com/jproco.

2012: The Year the RTP Startup Ecosystem Explodes

Friday, January 6th, 2012

By Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio

I’ll start off 2012 with two disclaimers.

One: Apologies to you Mayan calendar believers, I didn’t mean to alarm you with the title. 2012 won’t be the year that random Durham entrepreneurs spontaneously combust – although that could happen, it’s highly unlikely. I’ll make it up to you by not making an easy joke at your expense.

Two: I’ll be honest with you. I don’t know what’s going to happen to the RTP Startup Ecosystem this year. I’ve seen some crazy stuff in my time here. For all I know, Durham could become the food truck capital of the world, pushing technology, bio, and gaming aside, and prompting food truck tourism and a Food Truck Alley along Jackie Robinson drive.

For all I know.

But I can tell you this. What happens in the oh-twelve is going to build off of what happened in 2011. And if you have to put a single word on what the RTP did to justify its position in the startup universe relative to Silicon Valley, New York, Boulder, etc., that word would be: Organization.

Note that it’s not: Money. That’s what 2012 needs to be about.

In 2011, the RTP startup ecosystem finally took it upon itself to connect its various garages, coffee shops, and secret evil lairs in an effort to combine strengths, learn from one another, and sort out who is who and who is working on what. It was 99% a grass roots effort, which is good, in that it was very inclusive, but not so good, in the sense that the movement is still pretty underpowered. All in all, it was a measurable jump-start, but there’s a lot left to do.

So let’s take a look back over the year that was and make some assumptions about the year that is.

Hey! I’ve got an idea! Let’s do this via a collection of 2011 highlights from my column.

At least it’s not a top 10 list. Happy New Year.

Doing It Right

Several RTP companies landed major funding in 2011. Having walked that walk as part of the management team of Automated Insights/StatSheet (another disclosure), I can tell you that raising money last year wasn’t easy. But that also means that the companies that did receive funds are solid.

In Rabid Wolverines: Why Argyle Social is the Test Case for Durham 2.0, I talked about the aggressive, confident approach of Argyle and Eric Boggs, a refreshing attitude as Durham 2.0 started to spring up.

The Underground Got Relevant

Then in July, I sat down with James Avery and came out the other side with Adzerk’s No-BS Approach Results in $650K. Adzerk was proving the Durham startup thesis, founded by pivoting an existing business in RTP, moving into American Underground, taking advantage of the support groups springing up throughout the area, and ultimately running the gauntlet of both local and national VC raises. Successfully, as it turned out.

Launch Party? How About Launch Festival

Later that same month, I told you about a product launch that turned into an old-school dot-com style party in Bringing Sexy Back: Why deja Fest Is More Than a Launch Party. deja mi’s founder Justin Miller organized (there’s that word again) a two-day, 26-band event to prove out his venue-based media sharing application before it got the live customer treatment at the Hopscotch Festival in September.

All Work and No Play

By the way, those three companies were in attendance, along with about a dozen others, at Pongageddon: The RTP Startup Ecosystem Goes Rogue in March, a day of pizza, beer, and local startups competing for a ping-pong trophy hosted by StatSheet. This was one of the first formal get-togethers of some of the local entrepreneurs, but it would definitely not be the last.

The Graduating Class

But 2011 wasn’t just about the established and funded. In December, I got the chance to judge a UNC-hosted startup event and wrote about Ten Promising Rookie Startups from the Carolina Challenge. This included $1000 winner (and established though not funded) YardSprout and 47 other startups, most of whom I had not heard of before that night but will keep an eye on this year.

So yeah, that was 2011, but that was just the stuff I wrote about startups, and those few companies I got to are just the tip of the iceberg that is the 200+ tech startups in RTP. In a future installment, I’ll reminisce about the explosion of support organizations and how even those organizations got more organized.

Joe Procopio heads up product engineering for automated content startup Automated Insights. He also founded and runs startup network ExitEvent, consulting marketplace Intrepid Company, and the Intrepid Media writers network (http://IntrepidMedia.com). You can read him at http://joeprocopio.com and follow him at http://twitter.com/jproco.

Ten promising rookie startups from the Carolina Challenge

Thursday, December 8th, 2011
Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio

By Joe Procopio

Last Thursday, December 1st, I got the chance to be a judge at the Carolina Challenge, a startup pitch event for UNC students, faculty, and staff to present their startup ideas to local startup community vets.

The Pitch Party, as it was monikered (and “Party” is probably the reason I got invited, although I was told to leave my entourage back at the ranch), was hosted and run by Patrick Vernon, Associate Director at UNC’s Center for Entrepreneurial Studies.

Carolina Challenge

The pitch party.

I’ve worked with Patrick a few times in the past, once at a startup, and once as a guest for a thoroughly enjoyable panel for one of his classes.

The judges were a diverse array. They included local VCs Jason Caplain from Southern Capitol Ventures and Lister Delgado from Idea Fund Partners, as well as other established entrepreneurs, mentors, startup-friendly service providers, and members of the faculty.

The startups themselves ranged from “we just thought of this a couple days ago” to full-blown active companies already dishing out a product or service to an established customer base. For example, YardSprout, the brainchild of former HomeTownRents.com founder and Triangle Startup Weekend winner Andrew Pearson, took home the grand prize of $1000. YardSprout is a service that connects growers with people who have land to grow on (like, your back yard), and thus promotes local food and urban farming.

I know Andrew because he’s a member of my startup network ExitEvent, and in fact, out of the 48 startup teams who presented at the Pitch Party, YardSprout is the only one in that network, which includes 150 startups from early companies like YardSprout all the way up to iContact, Appia, and Bronto.

Which means there were 47 companies at the event who aren’t even on my radar, which in turn means there is a healthy rookie league somewhere between MBA School (not everyone pitching was a student) and early-stage, waiting to feed the RTP startup ecosystem pipeline.

Yardsprout

Yardsprout checks in.

Congrats to YardSprout, they got one of my ten allowed votes for the evening. Of course, not everyone can win, and not every finalist got my vote. So, like a Monday Morning Startup Quarterback, here are the other nine companies I voted for and would like to see move forward, in alphabetical order:

ActionClassroom.com: Artificial Intelligence for education content tells teachers which concepts to reinforce. With my background, I was into this one right away. Robot teachers? Brilliant! It’s got limitations, mainly around data collection and delivery costs, but it’s a solid plan.

Champion Charity: The goal here is to give local charities a national voice, or reach, thereby increasing the flow of funds.  Currently still hashing out the business model, but I liked what I heard.

Eco Marker: A refillable and reusable dry erase marker. This one is appealing because of how far along they are. There’s a good chance they’ll land a major customer before they need to take any money.

iGuide: App for campus tours. Good team and the concept, if tweaked and expanded a little, could be viable.

Proximatas: App that uses a ranking algorithm to filter and connect patrons at large events. Sort of like a robot business matchmaker. How could I not like this?

Sanitation Creations: Environmentally-friendly, close-looped, odorless portable toilets. Boom. Porta-potties have “problem” written all over them, and the concept and team here have a very good chance of fixing a number of those issues.

Symbology: Fair trade clothing with a first world meets third world ethos. The team here is wildly enthusiastic and they’re also close to first customers. That alone should be enough to keep them viable.

Synco.tv: An app that allows multiple people in different locations to watch video content together and interact. There are bells and whistles with this one that make it intriguing.

Wallet Glucose: A solution for remembering and carrying glucose for people with diabetes. They’re far along in the patent process and an outstanding team.

Although I’ve highlighted teams where I was especially impressed with them, I should say that nearly every single team member I met was smart, passionate, and listened more than they talked. Very few questions went unanswered, even questions like “How are you different from the Envirolet, ‘the premium choice in composting toilets’, as endorsed by celebrity eco-warrior Ed Begley Jr.?”

The answer got my vote.

But the point is regardless of the idea or how far they are along, it’s exciting to see that there’s another wave behind the wave behind the wave of entrepreneurs who are very excited about getting their ideas off the ground and into reality.

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 @jproco (http://www.twitter.com/jproco) and read at joeprocopio.com.

New startup accelerator Groundwork Labs launching in Durham

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011
Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio

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 Who?

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.