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Startup Starting Line: eFactory accelerator plans change for third cohort

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They say the third time’s the charm. And after completing the first two rounds of The eFactory’s Business Accelerator program, organizers say they know exactly what cohort No. 3 needs: more networking opportunities.

“One of the biggest benefits of the accelerator is going through it with other people,” said Rachel Anderson, an entrepreneurial specialist at The eFactory who works in the 12-week accelerator program. “A lot of times, you can’t talk with a friend or even a partner or your family about what you’re going through because they just don’t understand. Having other founders who are going through the same stage, same growing pains, makes a world of difference and the learning that happens is pretty awesome.”

To ensure that goal, Anderson said cohort No. 3, beginning May 14, 2018, will be the only cohort of the year – as opposed to the former structure of two annual classes. The third class also will comprise 10 startups, as opposed to four or five previously.

One of the biggest goals behind the change is to increase attendance at the program meetings. In a class of four, Anderson said sometimes only two of the company founders could meet – which eliminated the desired communal atmosphere the accelerator intends to create.

“We want to make sure there is maximum shared learning,” Anderson said.

The new format also will make more efficient use of The eFactory’s space, with the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce’s Greater Ozarks Center for Advanced Professional Studies operating there nine months of the year. According to the chamber website, the GO CAPS program “is a unique, year-long learning experience that allows high-school juniors and seniors to test-drive future career options.” With 16 area schools participating, students may choose engineering and manufacturing, medicine and health care or the two programs facilitated at The eFactory, entrepreneurship and technology solutions.

“These high school students from all around the area are coming to The eFactory every day for a class,” Anderson said. “Within that, they are doing a whole host of different things. They are doing job shadowing and different projects.”

One project will be helping prep for the Business Accelerator and developing new marketing plans to attract businesses.

“It’s real-world training and insight for students so they can see not only what startup businesses go through, but established businesses as well,” she said.

Anderson said the previous GO CAPS office was just leased by Chicago-based digital product developer Vault for a remote office.

GO CAPS students plan to clear out May 8 to make way for the third cohort May 14.

Eagle Speak co-founder and CEO Jason Arend said a community and networking atmosphere is one reason his company has remained based in The eFactory after completing the Business Accelerator in its inaugural class.

Arend said the beneficial one-on-one advice with startup mentors could be diminished with more companies involved in the next cohort. “It’s hard to say. We, of course, were chosen at the very first cohort, so it was kind of the first run of the program. It’s kind of nice to have as much time with the mentors and other CEOs of the companies, within reason, to really get support and advice for your company and other projects you’re working on,” he said.

Eagle Speak’s participation with the Business Accelerator was timely, said co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Myke Bates.

“Eagle Speak joining the accelerator happened in tandem with the business starting,” he said.

The company won $10,000 at the Spin 66 Innovation Summit and combined that with the $30,000 investment from the Business Accelerator – which was exchanged for 8 percent equity held by a subsidiary of Springfield Innovation Inc. Eagle Speak also secured undisclosed funding from Mayhem Development LLC.

“It’s pretty incredible what happened from the accelerator and after the accelerator,” Arend said. “I don’t think Myke or I, either one of us, expected as much to have happened over the last year as it did.”

Eagle Speak is in the pre-revenue stage, putting all funds toward product development. In the world of startup capital, both founders say the mentorships and connections through the Business Accelerator can pay dividends.

Regardless of cohort structure, Anderson said collaboration has always been the goal of the Business Accelerator and what she views as its greatest asset.

“I really think it’s the relationships, advice and then taking learning that you have figured out over, say, three years, and really doing it in a condensed time frame,” Anderson said. “You’re better able to make the decision that’s best for your company.”

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