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ABQ startup community in the spotlight

Startup fever is spreading like an Ebola outbreak in Albuquerque, thanks in good part to three new breeding bizO-RobinsonAvila_Kevin_BizOprograms.

Those programs – the city-backed ABQid business accelerator, Central New Mexico Community College’s IGNITE Community Accelerator and Creative Startups – will be under the microscope at the next Coronado Ventures Forum on July 23 at the Isotopes Stadium.

At the event, representatives from all three accelerators will discuss how their programs help aspiring entrepreneurs find the fastest and most efficient paths to market for new products and services, and how all three organizations work together and complement one another.

The forum aims to provide a better understanding of the qualities the accelerators look for in companies seeking to join their programs, while reviewing the differences in focus and approach at each one, said Katie Szczepaniak Rice, forum president and head of the Epic Ventures office in New Mexico.

“Albuquerque now has several choices for entrepreneurs, so we want to discuss those options and analyze the benefits each one offers,” Szczepaniak Rice said. “The accelerators in town are still very young, but we’re already seeing a lot of success.”

Guest instructor Pat McNamara talks to promising entrepreneurs during a class of CNM's IGNITE accelerator program at Downtown's STEMulus Center in January 2015. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Guest instructor Pat McNamara talks to promising entrepreneurs during a class of CNM’s IGNITE accelerator program at Downtown’s STEMulus Center in January 2015. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

All three programs are barely more than a year old, with ABQid and Creative Startups launching their first training programs last summer, and IGNITE graduating its first cohort this past spring. A second round of training is now underway at ABQid and IGNITE, and Creative Startups is recruiting companies for its next cohort, scheduled to start on Aug. 3.

The programs are part of a rapidly emerging network of accelerators in the U.S. and elsewhere. About 5,000 such programs now operate globally, most of which launched in the past three years, according f6s.com, a leading accelerator news platform.

Most accelerators have overlapping curriculums that pursue the same basic “lean startup” methodology, whereby new companies are encouraged to aggressively test their products and services in the market through direct interaction with potential customers. The startups hit the street on a daily basis, while simultaneously receiving intensive training in core business concepts and strategies, combined with extensive coaching and mentoring from veteran entrepreneurs and investors.

That helps startups to rapidly assess market reaction to their ideas, allowing them to pivot in new directions as they seek the business path most likely to succeed. In many cases, it means “failing fast” – discarding a business pursuit if market testing shows it’s unlikely to succeed – in order to move on to new projects before sinking a lot of money and resources into the old one.

Most accelerators also train participants to succinctly pitch their ideas to customers and investors, while introducing them to extensive support networks and connections that can help them find funding and build their businesses.

But despite the overlap in core strategies, there are often distinct differences among accelerators that reflect the particular needs of local communities and the variety of industries that startups address, said Creative Startups co-founder Alice Loy.

Indeed, Loy and her team founded Creative Startups because most accelerators are focused on technology businesses, and traditional retail and service firms, not the creative industries that Loy’s program addresses.

Creative Startups specifically designed its curriculum to reflect the needs of creative entrepreneurs. The training, for example, includes more of the basic business concepts that artists may lack.

Inversely, Creative Startups de-emphasizes the daily grind of market testing with customers because people in the creative industries tend to already be more skilled at seeking that kind of social feedback as part of their startup strategy than many technology developers.

“The startups we work with are more naturally attuned to talking with customers and seeking feedback,” Loy said. “That’s different from engineers who are more accustomed to research and development, and less to relating with customers.”

There are important differences as well between ABQid and IGNITE. The former seeks startups that standout in their potential for rapid market growth, whereas IGNITE looks to recruit from the broad population of small-business owners who need more basic business training, mentoring and resources to begin building their companies.

“Each Albuquerque accelerator has a different focus,” said ABQid Chairman Bill Bice. “ABQid focuses on scalable, fast-growing businesses. Creative Startups works with the artistic community and IGNITE is focused more on Main Street businesses.”

Those differences, however, make the programs highly complementary, said Yasine Armstrong, director of initiatives at CNM’s STEMulous Center Downtown, where IGNITE is housed.

For more information about the event, visit the Coronado Ventures Forum website at www.cvf-nm.org.

 

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