New companies. New ideas. New format.
Change seems to be a theme this month for HYPERDRIVE, Communitech's startup accelerator, as it welcomes its third cohort of startups. But it isn’t just the people, products and pitches that account for the difference in HYPERDRIVE.
The program itself sports a refined look heading into its second year. HYPERDRIVE based the changes on feedback from the 18 startups that formed the first two cohorts.
"We try to operate HYPERDRIVE just like a startup," says Doug Cooper, HYPERDRIVE's Managing Director. "There are some things that will continue on because they work well, and there will be some things that we have to tweak."
The big news is that HYPERDRIVE is lengthening the program to six months. The first three months continue to be the intensive validation "sprint" supported by great community mentors and coaches. The next three months shifts the emphasis to sales and marketing growth and raising capital.
As an added bonus, companies now have the option of staying longer in the HYPERDRIVE space. As part of the program, HYPERDRIVE companies continue to have access to the great programming Communitech has developed.
Communitech has built a strong set of programs over the past 15 years and this provides HYPERDRIVE cohorts with a unique one-of-a-kind advantage. After six months, cohort companies “graduate” into a vibrant ecosystem, complete with Communitech programming and services.
Among other changes:
Two key activities have been moved on the calendar for cohort companies.
- HYPERDRIVE is adding a Toronto Demo Day which will take place in November. The Waterloo Region Demo Day is Oct. 18.
- The New York trip to meet potential investors and customers will now occur in the second half of the six-month period. It’s set for Dec. 3rd
The creation of a HYPERDRIVE advisory board to keep a critical eye on the program and suggest improvements.
Cooper filled in the details in an interview:
What's the thinking behind extending the validation/efficiency period to six months?
We have realized for a while that traditional seed-accelerators don’t go far enough. Companies need to transition into a sales and marketing mindset as soon as they have validated their business model – which is why we are extending the program to six months.
Series A money doesn't come in until you have a proven business model. In order to do that, you really have to demonstrate that you can go from a few pilot customers to many paying customers, and you can do that predictably.
How are the changes being made?
We have increased the use of best-of-breed tools such as Steve Blank’s business-model canvas and Startup Genome to increase the effectiveness of the program and allow ourselves to be more data-driven.
We have also realized that companies need more opportunity to meet, build a dialogue and get feedback on their businesses from the investment community -- right from the beginning of the sprint.
How are you strengthening the relationship with investors?
We want to engage with investors much earlier. In the process of seeking investment, it's important to understand the kinds of companies investors look for, and get feedback. The feedback process over the course of six months, we believe, will help companies get to a much better investment network and much higher likelihood of getting the right investment.
So we'll do things like have an investor event where companies from all the cohorts are brought in contact with the investment community in an informal manner.
They can talk about their company, talk about what investors have invested in in the past, the kinds of things investors like. It's not an I-need-money-now sort of discussion, more of a getting to know each other.
Why have the New York trip follow Demo Day?
The trip to New York used to happen right before our local Demo Day, but it was becoming troublesome because it took the focus off their investment pitches. Now we’ve moved New York so that it sits in the efficiency phase, which is good because a lot of companies use the trip to New York to find clientele and test their value propositions.
Will there be other changes in the future?
At the end of every cohort, we will interview the companies to get a sense of what things worked -- and what didn't work so well for them -- and review that with our advisory board, as well as among ourselves. I don't think you can make this a static program. I think it will be naturally different with each cohort, and hopefully much better with each cohort.