A new generation of accelerator programs is emphasizing finances to help entrepreneurs launch successful businesses.
Last winter, Aidan Chopra was standing in line for dinner at Five Guys in Boulder with his wife and 3-year-old son when his phone started beeping furiously. It was Kickstarter sending him alerts. In the few minutes it took the 39-year-old to order his bacon cheeseburger and sit down to eat, he and Scott Lininger, his business partner, had raised $12,000 for their startup Bitsbox.
“Bitsbox started because my 7-year-old daughter asked me how to code,” says Lininger, who taught himself to code at age 7 and sold his company to Google in 2007. “It was a really emotional moment as I thought back on what got me on this path. I’ve been all over the world, and it’s because I know how to code.”
Today, kids can learn how to code through a Bitsbox subscription. Every month a yellow box arrives through the mail with code activities, stickers and other fun giveaways.
But these yellow boxes might not exist if it weren’t for Boomtown, a 12-week-long Boulder startup accelerator program that launched in 2014. Offered twice a year, Boomtown provides participants like Chopra and Lininger with $20,000, shared office space in downtown Boulder, a tailored curriculum and more. It also matches them with top-notch mentors. The intensive program culminates in Demo Day at Boulder Theater, where participants pitch their companies to investors and the larger startup community.
In exchange, Boomtown’s four founders and the investors in their Boomtown Fund receive a 6-percent stake in each company. Founders include Alex Bogusky, former principal of Crispin Porter + Bogusky; startup veteran Toby Krout; former Google interface designer Jose Vieitez; and media and accelerator veteran Stephen Groth.
“I’ve been a big fan of TechStars and the Foundry Group, both of which have been such great forces here,” Krout says. “But I started thinking there was so much more demand. I wanted to create the next viable tech accelerator.”
Part of that meant providing participants with something not found at most top accelerators: an emphasis on educating the entrepreneur on everything from business design to target audience to raising money. Conversely, most top accelerators focus on contacts, connecting investors with entrepreneurs.
“The entrepreneur is the most important thing to us, not the investor,” says 43-year-old Krout, also co-director of Boomtown. “In the modern accelerator, it can be confusing who the primary customer is. For most accelerators the primary customer is actually the investor.”
To his left sits co-director Vieitez, a 26-year-old who moved to Boulder from Silicon Valley two years ago. He leans in and finishes Krout’s train of thought: “We love investors, but we serve them best by serving the entrepreneurs.”