Earlier this year, international entrepreneur catalyst program Endeavor entered Atlanta with a bang, backed by some of the foremost tech leaders and startup veterans in the city including co-chairs Jeff Arnold of Sharecare and Boland T. Jones of PGi. The fourth U.S. city to host an Endeavor chapter, the program seeks to provide its global network and resources to bolster scaling companies — with the mission of creating jobs and fueling companies.
It’s a space that no one in Atlanta — despite the over a dozen accelerator and incubators operating in the city at any one time — has yet to take on. Though our startup programs range from the industry-specific (Cyberlaunch) to the university-run (ATDC) to the international (Techstars), they tend to be focused on earlier-stage startups.
And this may be hurting economic and job growth overall — though the number of startups in Atlanta grew by over 50 percent between 2000 and 2012, the number of high-growth companies, which employ the most amount of people, declined by 25 percent.
Aaron Hurst, the new Managing Director for Endeavor Atlanta, intends to tackle this challenge.
“One of the key differences for Endeavor is that we’re looking for already-scaling entrepreneurs,” says Hurst. “We talk to startups to get to know them early on, but we’re really looking for companies that are scaling. The definition of scaling can vary, but you’ve certainly found product-market fit, you have a team of more than you and a co-founder, and you’re posted for significant growth. You’re looking to really scale your business.”
Though Endeavor doesn’t set a revenue minimum, Hurst says the ideal company for the program would be above a million in revenue or have a clear path to that number.
Hurst’s background prior to his appointment at Endeavor parallels what his mission will be now: scaling and growing companies. On the corporate front he served as VP of global solutions at Ceridian, a $1B HR, payroll, and talent management software provider. He helped launch an Atlanta-based B2C startup, shared butler service Thanks Geoffrey. And he knows the VC world from his work at a North Carolina-based early stage technology venture firm.
It’s a combination of experience few have, and Hurst says his diverse experience has been paramount in launching a program that is, essentially, its own form of a startup.
“We are a growing business that requires general management skills, but we’re also a startup in many way since Endeavor is a new brand in the Atlanta market. We enjoy the same opportunities and challenges as the entrepreneurs we support, from trying to find product-market fit to finding and delighting our customers, the entrepreneurs,” says Hurst.
Hurst spends his days meeting with local entrepreneurs, learning about their company, and identifying who might be a fit to move to the next step in the Endeavor selection process. That next stage is a series of second opinion reviews with Endeavor board members or mentors, followed by a local selection panel made up of members of Endeavor Atlanta’s board and local mentors.
If the entrepreneur makes it past the local selection panel, they move onto the final stage – an international selection panel.
This process is underway right now, says Hurst, because it is rigorous: about 2.5 percent of the companies initially screened for Endeavor get selected. He’s looking to send Atlanta candidates to two or three international selection panels in 2017 — New York City in September, Bulgaria in October, and Miami in December – although the other locations are not out of the question.
Following those panels, Hurst hopes to announce between two to four Endeavor Atlanta members who will now be lifetime members of the Endeavor network.
That membership means quite a bit more than just a title on a piece of paper.
“The full-blown Endeavor service model kicks in immediately upon selection, and that goes until the company exits — so until it gets acquired or goes public,” says Hurst. He added that some public companies even stay in the network to continue access to Endeavor resources — the program has even had already-public companies apply and be accepted to join.
“The network really goes on forever, for the duration of the company’s existence,” Hurst says.
So what do you get? The Endeavor model has four main pillars: access to markets (Endeavor has offices, mentors, and local boards in 27 countries and 52 cities), access to capital, the Endeavor network, and access to talent.
On the capital side, Endeavor not only provides pitch practices, connections to over 50 of the top venture firms in the world, and direct connections to investors, they also have a matching venture fund. Called Catalyst, the fund is able to serve as a co-investor; assuming companies are raising at least a $5 million round from other investors, Catalyst is able to match with up to 10 percent of a round capped at $1 million. Hurst called this “frictionless capital”.
“We don’t take a board seat, we have a streamlined approval process. We’re helping the entrepreneur to make their fundraising process easier,” says Hurst.
To help entrepreneurs find the best talent, Endeavor has a network-only job board. They partner with the two leading consulting firms, Ernst and Young and Bain & Company, who provide consultants pro bono to entrepreneurs for large-scale, short-term projects. And members of Endeavor are able to enroll in specially-designed, one-week MBA programs designed by the Harvard and Stanford Business Schools.
“We sat down with professors in both schools so they could build us a super-accelerated program focused on scaling companies,” says Hurst. “So for example, if you’re a technical founder, these teach you about financials, how to lead people, how to scale.”
It’s a combination of resources that can be customized to any entrepreneur’s needs.
“We’re kind of like a power grid that our entrepreneurs can plug into, that you get access to all these tools you didn’t have before, but in many ways we’re also like a swiss army knife. We offer these different services, completely tailored to each entrepreneur,” says Hurst.
Finally, Endeavor includes a give-back component to support the next generation of Atlanta entrepreneurs. “We hope to create a long-term multiplier effect in the local entrepreneurial ecosystem by teaching entrepreneurs to give their time, expertise and financial gains back to the next generation,” adds Hurst.
Hurst says he isn’t looking only at Atlanta’s traditionally-successful industries (think FinTech B2B software, health IT) either. Endeavor is industry-agnostic, with resources for verticals including agriculture, food and beverage, and education.
For example, one of the most recent Endeavor companies is Detroit-based McClure’s Pickles. As their name implies, they make pickles, along with relish, Bloody Mary mix, and more. So Hurst is searching Atlanta high and low for entrepreneurs in every field.
“On a personal level, I truly enjoy working with entrepreneurs and believe they can positively transform industries, economies, and cultures. Launching Endeavor Atlanta offered a unique opportunity to support the best high-impact entrepreneurs in our market while furthering the success of Atlanta’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.”