This Friday, ten startups will pitch for the first time to a room of investors, potential customers and community leaders for the first time. Half of the companies, which cover a range of industries, are local Atlanta startups and the other half have traveled from the West Coast, Canada and Asia to live and work in Atlanta for the last few months.
They came to Atlanta to join the inaugural cohort of The Farm accelerator, sponsored by Comcast NBCUniversal, a 12-week early-stage startup education and growth program based at The Battery Atlanta. The Farm is managed by Boomtown, a Boulder-Colorado-headquartered accelerator with a long track record.
However, The Farm’s Managing Director Burunda Prince-Jones says that the Atlanta program had to refine its process based on the nuances of the local Atlanta startup ecosystem.
“We definitely had a sketchbook and a playbook from Boulder, but we wanted to bring the Atlanta secret sauce to it,” Prince-Jones says. “So we worked really hard in making sure that was the case.”
Prince-Jones says much of the team’s time was also spent connecting with other local accelerators and incubators, and “building our street cred here in town.”
But, naturally, most of the team’s time was spent with the companies, starting with sourcing. They traveled across the country to connect with founders and interviewed dozens of teams. Prince-Jones says that, because the companies were so early-stage, they weren’t looking at metrics like customers or revenue.
Instead, they evaluated the team: what was their backgrounds? Why were they qualified to solve the problem they were addressing? Who were they surrounding themselves with?
They also looked at the actual pain point the businesses sought to solve. Is the market large enough? How crowded is the space already? Is anyone else doing something like this?
The one thing Prince-Jones emphasizes they weren’t looking for? Relation or future viability for Comcast NBCUniversal.
“It certainly was a benefit to have the Comcast NBCUniversal name as part of The Farm — it opens a lot of doors, it garners a lot of attention, it gives us credibility,” says Prince-Jones. “On the other hand, sometimes people might question, what’s the real motivation here? We were not necessarily looking at these startups to whether they can fill Comcast pipeline.”
They ended up with a diverse group — five local teams, three from elsewhere in the U.S., one from Canada and one from Seoul, South Korea. Aside geographic diversity, the industries the teams are tackling are far-reaching: political advocacy, sustainable textiles, amateur sports and music creation, among them.
The technologies these startups are working with are also varied, including blockchain, SaaS, biometrics and ad tech. For Prince-Jones and her team, that meant extra work identifying the very best subject matter experts that could help their teams.
“We spent a lot of time those first few weeks doing mentor outreach based on who was in the cohort and the subject matter expertise they needed,” she explains.
Once the program got started, The Farm team also instituted programs like Walk-Off Wednesdays, where the founders could tell an audience what they had learned that week, what customer discovery they had done or what assumptions they had proved or disproved. About halfway through the program, they transitioned to practicing their pitches.
Prince-Jones recalls a few teams that really stood out to her, for different reasons, throughout the program. Civic Eagle, a Minneapolis, MN-based startup, inspired her with their idea: their platform helps political advocacy organizations increase the effectiveness of campaigns.
“They are so driven by their idea and committed to making the world a better place by getting us more involved in the democratic process, to make it easier for our voices to be heard,” says Prince-Jones.
She also noted the work ethic of Rapid Replay, a content crowdsourcing platform for youth and amateur sports. Though younger than many of the other teams and first-time founders, Prince-Jones says the West Coast-based team showed remarkable dedication and commitment.
“They are the ones who are here early in the morning, and when I’m here at 9, 10, 11 at night, they are here. To see the sacrifices they have made, and for them to come here and have this hyper-focus on their business, you can just see the progress that they’ve made.”
The Farm’s Demo Day will also be customized based on the cohort and the location, tweaking some of the playbook of Boulder’s Boomtown. For example, some startups will have dual founders pitching, something never done before in Colorado’s Boomtown.
Following Demo Day, these startups will continue to work with the team on fundraising and connecting with investors, as well as scaling. And The Farm team looks forward to continuing to refine their process as they look towards the next cohort.
“I think as we continue getting ingrained into the Atlanta ecosystem, we are figuring out where we can be most helpful toward that ecosystem,” says Prince-Jones.