The Farm, the Atlanta-based startup accelerator backed by Comcast NBCUniversal and directed by Boulder-based startup program Boomtown, has announced Burunda Prince-Jones as its Managing Director. Prince-Jones is an management executive with an entrepreneurial background, who most recently operated a high-performance consulting firm. Now, she’ll lead entrepreneurs through a personalized, fast-paced program designed to help them succeed.
A native Atlantan, Prince-Jones left the city for a chemical engineering degree at MIT and an MBA at Harvard. She served as a Fortune 500 executive at multiple companies and started two consulting firms focused on education and leadership training.
Toby Krout, Boomtown’s co-founder and Executive Director, says Prince-Jones was selected from hundreds of applications after an intense hiring process that took over a year, because of her unique combination of corporate, academic, non-profit, and entrepreneurial experience.
“Boomtown does not really have a global expansion strategy; we actually are much more interested in the community and the ecosystem themselves — injecting what we know works well but at the same time letting the community drive the program,” says Krout. “So that Managing Director role for us was so incredibly important. Burunda will be responsible for finding the right people for our team, who really have to buy into the vision and understand how we’re different. And so she has to have that at her core.”
Boomtown was selected by Comcast to direct The Farm, based at Comcast’s southeast headquarters at The Battery Atlanta, because of the program’s unique approach to serving the entrepreneur first. The accelerator, currently in its 9th technology and 4th Healthtech cohort, evolves its curriculum based on feedback from participants. It has helped grow more than 75 companies in three years, 85 percent of which are currently in operation with 88 percent generating revenue.
Now, Prince-Jones will begin the process of recruiting the first startup cohort, which will begin in 2018, to learn, scale, and develop at The Farm. She shares with Hype what she’s going to bring to the Atlanta startup ecosystem, how her background has led her to this next chapter in her life, and — we know you want to know! — what The Farm is looking for in a startup.
What got you excited about the Boomtown program and The Farm accelerator?
Well the first thing that got me excited, to be honest, was simply the people. I heard about the opportunity by way of a close friend who knew about my background in terms of technology and management and leadership. And I have to be honest — I was a little unsure at first. But I met Toby and we sat down and just started talking — not really even about Boomtown per se, but just a philosophy of business in general, and how important it is to support entrepreneurs. Oftentimes entrepreneurs don’t succeed because they don’t have the tools: it’s not because they don’t have a great idea, but they don’t really know how to take that to market in a way to be successful, and he wanted to enable that.
And I was more and more intrigued, but also for me the lightbulb went off — I said to myself, wow now I see why my career path has been so varied and has incorporated so many different aspects, because this will enable me to better support entrepreneurs. I have the educational piece. I know how to work in a corporation. I know what it is to be an entrepreneur. I have a business management training and leadership piece. So I can bring all of those elements together to help entrepreneurs become more successful.
What is it like returning to Atlanta after a hiatus?
I’m so excited to be coming back home. I’m so excited to be re-engaging in the tech world in such a strong way — helping entrepreneurs who frankly are such a benefit to the society in so many ways, in terms of innovation but in terms of job creation and job growth as well.
What’s the next step for you now?
First of all, we are completing the rest of our team. Certainly Boomtown in Boulder has given us a strong foundation in terms of taking a lot of the learnings that Boomtown has gained over the last few years, but we also want to contextualize that for Atlanta. Atlanta has its own identity, its own ecosystem, and we want to be a driving force for entrepreneurs in the Atlanta area. I’ve been reaching out to the Atlanta tech community, meeting people who are influencers, who’ve been part of that ecosystem for a long time, really trying to understand the Atlanta ecosystem and then saying, how can we as The Farm best enable that ecosystem to grow and develop and be successful.
What will The Farm bring that Atlanta doesn’t already have?
The thing that we bring is a philosophy that, it’s really about the entrepreneur. This is a different model in that it’s focused on enabling the entrepreneur to be successful. So though there are other models that may be successful for other reasons, they don’t necessarily focus on the entrepreneur — that’s the hero of our story. Whatever we do we keep in mind: is this in the best interest of the entrepreneur? Part of that is we look at the entrepreneur as a whole; not only do we enable and provide the business tools that are necessary to succeed, we also grapple and deal with the challenges of being an entrepreneur — maybe the loneliness, maybe the stress of it, maybe the fact that you’re by yourself or that you’re away from your family. Those issues also play a big role in your success and how you handle things.
We also look at it in terms of which entrepreneurs do we think we’re in a better position to help. We realize that it’s not a one-size-fits-all. And so there are entrepreneurs out there that maybe a different model would fit better for them. We look for those entrepreneurs that we can really help; where it just is a fit and a match that will enable their long-term sustained success.
Are there any guidelines you want to share with entrepreneurs that might be reading this and are thinking about applying?
Certainly because of the relationship with Comcast, we are interested in those startups where there is an intersection between media and connectivity. But with that said, we’re also interested in all types of technology. We’re really interested in innovation, so it can be Fintech or health tech. What I would say to the entrepreneurs is, check us out, learn what we do, learn how we do it. See if we’re a fit for you.
Our applications will be online for our cohort which should start late February, early March. Come visit our space when we’re open, because it’s going to be an amazing place for innovation and for supporting each other and for connecting with people as well. We want to be a place where people collaborate, where they learn, where they share, where they grow, where there is energy and a little bit of edginess, because all of those elements really lend themselves towards greatness in terms of innovation.
And are there any guidelines around how early-stage your startups can be?
We’ve looked at what’s working in Boulder — we have seen that startups can be in a number of different phases. So we have some startups where they just have a prototype. We have other startups where they actually have a product or service that they’re already out there selling to a customer. What’s been most important to us is, what does that startup need to get to the next level. And then, are we the right person to help them get to that point?
Are you focusing on any particular region?
We absolutely are focusing on the Atlanta startup ecosystem. But with that we want to expand that ecosystem so that it incorporates startups in the southeastern region in particular, and then even at some point have a broader focus. We think that Atlanta actually has an appeal for companies from anywhere because of the resources, because of the cross-fertilization, because of the industries, because it’s a top place for corporate headquarters. There are a lot of reasons for people who may not be in Atlanta now see this city as an opportunity for themselves as well.