New NWI business accelerator to launch high-tech startups

2013-12-19T16:00:00Z 2013-12-20T09:30:07Z New NWI business accelerator to launch high-tech startupsJoseph S. Pete joseph.pete@nwi.com, (219) 933-3316 nwitimes.com
December 19, 2013 4:00 pm  • 

VALPARAISO | A new business accelerator planned for downtown Valparaiso aims to launch high-tech and entrepreneurial startup companies.

In January, entrepreneurs with big ideas will be able to apply for classroom seats at the new accelerator – the Northwest Indiana Tech Foundry – which will give them $15,000 in seed money and mentor them for 90 days before sending them out into the world with enough guidance to turn a vision into cash flow. The program will be based in downtown Valparaiso and be open to tech startups with ideas for services they could sell nationally or internationally, said Kelly Schwedland, entrepreneur-in-residence for Elevate Ventures, a statewide initiative that supports entrepreneurship.

Carefully screened startups would have concepts for how to create or gain ground in a national or international market, Schwedland said. The fledgling companies would often consist of just a "hipster, hacker and hustler" – or a creative mind, developer and salesman.

The program would start in summer 2014, mentor 10 startups at a time, and be similar to the Techstars Chicago accelerator at The Merchandise Mart downtown. That accelerator has graduated companies such as SpotHero, a online business that helps drivers reserve guaranteed parking spots in seven cities across the country.

Schwedland said the accelerator concept is different than a traditional business incubator, which houses startups in shared office space until they grow large enough to leave. The Northwest Indiana Tech Foundry will be more of a crash course in how to get a new tech company up and running, such as how to raise venture capital funding, how to develop a customer base and how to generate cash flow. Entrepreneurs will also get funding in exchange for a small share of equity.

The accelerator program will last for three months, but the foundry will be open year-round, hosting guest speakers and other events.

Currently, Velocity in Jeffersonville is the only dedicated accelerator program in Indiana, Schwedland said. The Purdue Research Park in Merrillville also offers accelerator services aimed at developing fledgling companies.

He announced the accelerator at a standing-room-only workshop in Valparaiso on Wednesday. Startup business network Startup Front and the statewide venture development group Elevate Ventures co-hosted the event, which was aimed at coaching entrepreneurs on how to get startup funding from investors.

BookaCoach.com co-founders Myles Grote and Kevin MacCauley told a crowd of entrepreneurs and techies about how they secured $125,000 of funding from Elevate Ventures in exchange for an equity share of their company.

Their online business – valued at $1 million – helps parents find sports coaches who have been verified as safe to provide one-on-one lessons to their kids. Currently, BookaCoach.com mainly caters to the Indianapolis and Washington D.C. markets, but serves coaching academies in nearly all 50 states and has the potential to tap a market of more than $6 billion, MacCauley said.

Coaching academies have gravitated to the site, which offers them free tools such as online scheduling and payment processing. Parents pay an extra fee, similar to a Ticketmaster surcharge, to book lessons through the website. BookaCoach.com has been surveying parents and coaches to figure out whether it could offer services that would convince people to pay monthly subscription fees.

Schwedland said the main takeaway was that BookaCoach.com validated assumptions in its business model, such as what customers would be willing to pay for and how much revenue it could reasonably expect.

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