startups

Silicon Valley Startup Accelerators: An International Innovation Resource

Steve Hoffman, Co-Founder & CEO of San Francisco-based startup accelerator Founders Space, understands business, understands startups and understands innovation.  He recently returned from a visit to Asia that included meeting with Taiwan’s Prime Minister Mao Chi-kuo.  “Innovation isn’t confined to Silicon Valley,” Hoffman said when discussing international opportunities.  “There are talented people and a high concentration of capital here, but there is a critical mass of creativity and capital in Beijing, Taipei, Seoul and other tech hubs,” he explained.

Silicon Valley is an international innovation resource.  Governments, businesses, and research institutions throughout the world are acutely aware of and interested in the innovation that occurs in and enters global markets from Silicon Valley.  Entrepreneurs are also aware and come from all over the world to establish businesses in Silicon Valley.

Because of the nature of the connected world, entrepreneurs do not have to always be in Silicon Valley to benefit from its influence.  Entrepreneurs can come to Silicon Valley, build relationships with the local startup ecosystem, including Silicon Valley venture capitalists, and then return to their home states or countries bringing Silicon Valley influence and capital back to their teams.  Startup accelerators and incubators in Silicon Valley are becoming the common path to success for startup CEOs to accomplish these objectives.  When coming to Silicon Valley is not an option, entrepreneurs can connect to Silicon Valley startup accelerators that are expanding globally or connect to local startup ecosystems with connections to Silicon Valley.

Startup Accelerator Differentiation

Startup accelerators are beginning to differentiate in various ways.  In addition to attending events at several Silicon Valley startup accelerators, I’ve had the opportunity to work with startups in three startup accelerators, Plug and Play Technology Center, Wearable World and Founders Space.  Through those experiences it is clear each accelerator is different and has something unique to offer.

For example, most startup accelerators have a program that typically runs for around twelve weeks with events and official mentoring sessions one to three times a week and a pitch day at the end of the program.  Founders Space, in contrast, has an accelerated accelerator accomplishing the same objectives in a shorter period of time.  “Every weekday for an entire month we have people coming in to coach our entrepreneurs, to provide mentoring and to empower entrepreneurs,” said Hoffman.  “They are able to come, network, learn and accomplish their objectives in a shorter period of time, which is critical if you’re coming from overseas and only have a 3-month visa.”

Advice for Entrepreneurs

Because of the many differences between startup accelerators, the best thing an entrepreneur can do is to first determine objectives that need to be accomplished for their company while in an accelerator. This means a bit of footwork is required outlining objectives.  Spend more time deciding what you want from a startup accelerator than on what you want from your next car.

After determining objectives, find the startup accelerator that will provide the best match to those objectives.  In the search for the appropriate accelerator the decision process should extend far beyond comparing web pages.  Make time to connect either with the startup accelerator or with entrepreneurs who have participated in their programs before making a decision.

Once in Silicon Valley, review your objectives often to remain focused.  It is your responsibility to get the most out of your accelerator experience.

55 Startup Pitches + 900 Attendees + Great Food = Success at Plug and Play Expo March 27, 2014

A well-known fact about the current US financial recovery is that without the Silicon Valley’s tech industry, the lackluster recovery wouldn’t be a recovery. One thing is for sure, there is anything but lackluster opportunity in the Silicon Valley, especially if the pitches of 55 startup companies at Plug and Play’s Expo on March 27, 2014 indicate where things are going.

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The 55 companies that presented deserve congratulations for the guts to do all that entrepreneurs do to turn ideas into value propositions worthy of presenting to an audience of venture capitalists, media, industry peers, competitors, fellow entrepreneurs and supportive friends, family and fools. The judges voted and selected winners from the sessions of the day, two from Brand & Retail (Tulip Retail and runner up Mashgin) and three from Startup Camp, Portfolio & International (Shippo, Goji and Altitude). Ultimately, the real winners are those that secured funding sufficient to take their ideas to market and perhaps become the next eBay, Facebook, Twitter or Amazon.

I leave it to others to focus on the successes of the winners and share here some thoughts for those who did not win in votes or dollars. Among other things, you face the challenges of demonstrating value to entice investment, of pivoting to new opportunities or of running to insolvency to start again at some future time on a new idea.

Demonstrate Value

Did you present a true value proposition? Whatever you are engaged in, remember the primal objective is to create value, value for your customers, value for your investors and value for yourselves; this isn’t just about the experience culminating with drinks and tasty BBQ chicken strips. Reasons abound for why investors do not understand a value proposition, the most obvious being you have not figured out or understood what a value proposition really is. Another less obvious reason involves some introspection. The idea may not have presented well due to incomplete information on slides, poor presentation skills, language barriers and even holding the microphone too far away so the audience cannot hear. These things and others get in the way of people understanding your results.

Pivot

If at first you don’t succeed, pivot! A shout out to Redtroops who, in the six weeks since I first met them, has pivoted to their pitch at the event and is now positioned as an eBay for in app advertising. For those not familiar with pivoting, take a look at the book The Lean Startup by Eric Ries and get ready for exciting changes of direction based on insight gained from hypothesis testing.

Insolvency

Value propositions cannot be found and presented well, hypothesis testing on pivot options yields no better options, all other efforts are expended and the cash runs out. Battle wounds result and every successful entrepreneur has them. Even the entrepreneurs that appear to strike gold on their first attempt made some mistakes. Enjoy the failure.  Look internally for what went wrong.  Learn from what you discover.  Continue to find ways to use technology to solve the world’s problems.