What is wrong with incubators and why are we starting a new one?

When Bill Gross created Idealabin 1996, during the early days of the internet boom, startup incubators were a fairly unique concept. Incubators differ from research and tech parks. Incubators are strictly dedicated to startups. Most tech parks do not offer any business assistance services. Business incubation has jump started our economy in many cases. Now accelerators and incubators have multiplied and are found all over the world. In the most recent count,it was determined that there are more than 6000 accelerators and incubators out there. In theory, they do a great job. In our local market, 1871 is a thriving incubator. It is the pride of Chicago city government and the startup ecosystem. It helped to convert the fly over county into a startup destination. Incubators advise entrepreneurs on how to build a startup. In most cases, they need help in planning and very specific items. Advice is useful, but more importantly, a helping hand goes a long way. So we decided to start an incubator which actually build startups instead of advising. All of these incubators are accelerators who target startups with an existing team. Recruiting the right team is the biggest challenge for a first time entrepreneur. So the main question becomes, how do you recruit a tech co-founder when you have only an idea? If you are able to find funding or paying customers, you might be able to recruit a quality tech co-founder. But,thisis a catch 22. You have a couple of options. You can try to hire a developer from a local development company or find a freelance employee or search on Craigslist. In most cases, these donot fare well. This is primarily because your developer builds exactly what you architect. Unless you spend years building apps, not sure how qualified you are for the architecture and if you have the high level skillset necessary. We created CodeVentures as mix of a development agency and an incubator.It is our mission to build startup companies, not just apps or products. It is our goal to help you build a lasting business. We would like you to think ahead and not only come up with an application or product, but determine if you can build a business. Are there multiple products that you will be able to launch? I, personally, will act as the tech co-founder for the startups we choose.I will also work closely with our developers to create your vision of the startup and turn it into reality. Of course, we will use the best technology stack available. We do this for a minority equity stake in the startup. How do I choose which startups to partner with? Since we are an equity partner in the startups, we want to select the companies with significant potential.Your success is our success. One question we ask ourselves is if we build a great product and are able to gain some traction in 6-12 months, what is the likelihood of receiving VC funding? Or at least large angel funding in order to scale the business? We are located in the Chicago area and prefer to work with team members who we can meet with face to face, at least occasionally. Here are some of the questions I would like to be answered when upon our initial point of contact: -Have you validated the customer need? If not, how can we validate it without spending an entire year building the product? -How much research you have done so far on the pain points?Also, how are existing solutions addressing it, if there are any existing solutions? -Once we build the product or MVP, what is your exact plan to acquire customers? Who will call the potential customers and sit down with them? With over 10 years of business experience, over 60 engineers, over 2000 projects delivered, and greater than 10000 successful clients, my team have become a leading hybrid agency. We normally deal with web applications, marketplaces, social applications, SaaS, mobile apps, wearable tech, enterprise applications, and IoT. We might not be the most optimal fit for mobile or web games including animation. So, if you have a startup concept to make this world a better place and all you are missing is a solid tech partner, CodeVentures may be the solution that you are searching for. Let’s talk.

The hitchhikers guide to part-time non-tech founders

Is it possible to launch a startup while working somewhere else? It’s a question that many new founders face. You have new business ideas – ones that are most likely related to your current job or interests. Unfortunately, most people with these thoughts do not take action and the contemplation of starting a business never amounts to more than a dream. While this is an unfortunate truth for the majority of potential entrepreneurs, a handful of them do actually take the plunge and become successful, full-time entrepreneurs. When I started my software development company, I had a full-time position at Motorola. It took me a few years of working on my own business part-time (and gathering enough courage) to leave my regular paycheck and commit to my own business full-time. Now my company is devoted to helping entrepreneurs execute dreams by creating online businesses from the technical side. During this process, I’ve realized that the majority of our customers are taking the same steps I did: starting a business while working regular hours somewhere else. After researching this topic, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the failure rate is higher for founders that are not working on developing their business full-time. Because of that most traditional startup ecosystems – Venture capital ,Angels, accelerators and incubators- will not take weekend warriors seriously. However, there are pros and cons to both scenarios and some have found success juggling both. • Marco Arment developed Instapaper while working full-time on Tumblr. He has since stopped working at Tumblr and works on Instapaper full-time. In April of 2013, Instapaper was acquired by Betaworks. • Joshua Schachter started Delicious while he was an analyst at Morgan Stanley. • Mass Relevance is a social engagement platform, which was started as a part-time venture called Tweet River. The hard work and determination of the founders, Eric Falcao and Brian Dainton, made it a thriving business. They recently raised a $5.5 million dollar Series A. In these cases, the founders were weekend warriors also equipped with a technical background. How can you realize your startup plan if you are not a technical person? There are a few options. You can always learn how to code, but if you already possess a decent skill set to launch a company, learning how to code is probably not high on your priority list. Instead, you can walk a path similar to Kevin Rose when he started Digg.com, way back in 2007. Try to find freelancers to program your idea and create a prototype. Before you go and find programmers though, you will need to create architecture for your application. Without this, things may not turn out as you had hoped. At this time, you may also consider looking for a technical cofounder. There are number of channels to take advantage of. Local meet-ups as well as a number of founder-matching websites are available. But before you start looking for a technical cofounder, you should decide if you really need one. Sometimes people assume they need a technical cofounder regardless of the type of startup business. In many cases though, a technical cofounder is not actually needed and a web developer or programmer will suffice. This is especially true if you are considering developing a lightweight application. Since it is much more economical to hire a freelancer, this should some as good news. There are also many organizations that would be willing to partner up with you to create your startup in return for equity. In the Chicago area, there are a few accelerators and incubators who can help founders from the technical side. Platform Venture, Wavetable and Ensemble can help with creating MVP in return of equity or discounted rates. The key to this option is that you need to convince your development partners that the idea is fundable. Many developers will look at this option as a seed investment in your startup. But before you approach a developer or accelerator, you must review questions surrounding one key point – what exactly you will contribute to the success of startup? Who will be acting as the product manager and defining progress as it is developed? Who will be calling initial customers to sell it? What can you bring to the table for marketing and PR? Do you have funds to use for initial marketing, ads and services initially? Also be prepared to answer a crucial question: At what point would you be comfortable quitting your main job and working on the startup full-time? If your contribution to the business is the idea alone, good luck. There are ways to create a tech startup while you are working somewhere else full-time, but you have to be creative about it. Creating a startup is hard; especially when you do it with minimal funding and work on it part-time. Others have tried and succeeded down this path, but many have failed. Examine your own personal skill set, current and future business needs, as well as your available options to develop the best plan that will see it through.

MobOffer – Social Demand Aggregation

Why are Groupon and Living Social loosing popularity? Customers sent to businesses via daily deal sites are price buyers and not loyal customers. Once the rush of customers wears off, many businesses never see these people again. Deals can be used to increase awareness, but retaining customers is a different story. Another problem is anticipating demand. In the process, some businesses find themselves falling short and running out of product or time in order to handle the sudden surge of business due to the deals. In turn, this can create a lot of unsatisfied customers that will not only never come back, but be more likely to complain and give bad reviews if the product or service was lacking during the rush. What is the business model was tweaked to cater to demand instead of supply? We have done just that with our latest venture – MobOffer. We created MobOffer as a platform to exhibit the power of group buying. Instead of determining daily deals like Groupon or Living Social, users decide which deals the site should offer. Using a convenient MobOffer button (like Pinterest), users can add products from any website to a MobOffer Wish List. Users can invite others to join a list and aggregate demand for requested items. Once the demand is large enough, MobOffer requests merchants to offer a deal as an opportunity to make greater short-term sales that they can prepare for. Moboffer was developed in a distributed server cluster using PHP and mySQL. The Facebook app, with its clever open graph integrations, improves the virality of the offers and the items. Know any products you would like a deal on? MobOffer was recently made live for you to install the button and try it now. Create your own wish list and get started. Be sure to let me know your thoughts!

The Crisis of Mid-Career Entrepreneurs

We started iScripts.com in 2005 offering just a few software scripts to build online businesses. Early on, we weren’t exactly sure who would need our products but concluded that target customers would be webmasters managing a number of websites. Our software made the process easier for them by cutting down on time and effort needed to build elaborate platforms. After some time, we began getting inquiries from entrepreneurs looking to create online businesses. In response to this, we created web software with customizable business models already built into the software. We attempted to produce internet scripts including optimal business models for each type of business and industry. Once again, we were surprised by the ingenuity and variety of the ideas and plans presented by our customers. The small offering of products that were designed to help experienced programmers had instead evolved into an established line of web apps developed for entrepreneurs from various backgrounds diligently working towards individual business plans. Derived from experience in working with thousands of entrepreneurs and startups, I can say that many are created by mid career entrepreneurs. These folks choose the path by chance or choice after spending many years in the business world. In the media, we see many examples of very successful startups created by young entrepreneurs. Most of these prodigies drop out of school or start things just after graduation. Founding teams usually include classmates or college friends working out of a dorm room or parents’ garage. These teams have created world-changing ideas and companies. We have seen this with Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Sergei Brin, Larry Page and Steve Jobs – just to name a few. They tout, the young age and time somehow contributed to the monumental success they ultimately achieved. But I contest, it is the law of averages working in their favor. Unfortunately, the ecosystem is somewhat stacked against the mid career entrepreneurs. Currently, most startup accelerators, incubators and startup ecosystems found in the West Coast, Midwest and East Coast of the United States are set up to target and enable a young crowd that can live on a Ramen noodle budget every day. Those who already have mortgages to pay or kids in high school usually cannot pound out a 100 hour week like their diligent Ramen noodle counterparts. Mid-career entrepreneurs require different types of assistance to create businesses. They call for a shorter timeline to launch as well as assistance with a range of business matters. Despite being equipped with massive domain expertise within a chosen field, they still may lack certain skills such as the technical proficiency, fundraising knowledge, or legal familiarity required to start a successful startup. The mid-career entrepreneur will most likely have a massive number of connections, but comprised mostly of those within their specific area of expertise. Unfortunately, these connections are usually very limited in the scope of the startup world. Mid-career entrepreneurs require vehicles enabling them to establish and sustain important connections vital to success. At some point, even young entrepreneurs learn that they cannot carry out every task themselves and uphold a long-term business merely on personal eye of the tiger mentality and personal skills alone. While it is initially imperative to have the drive, determination and time to start a valuable venture, it is just as important to grow out and up out by seeking connections. After a certain point, business potential can instead be limited to the capabilities of one individual or a select few. Since mid-career entrepreneurs can create startups with a higher chance of success based on experience, there is a need for accelerators and incubators focusing on this entrepreneurial sector. These experienced entrepreneurs can hit it big when acquiring a cofounder with complementary skills or discovering teams that can fill the gaps. When offered more opportunity to connect, mid-career entrepreneurs have a huge chance of excelling simply by joining forces to push ahead. While we should continue to guide young entrepreneurs, we also need to realize the importance of fostering connections among existing entrepreneurs. Those with established experience and specialized skills to make big ideas a reality should be given more opportunity to do so. By overlooking the needs of mid-career entrepreneurs, we are allowing a great deal of potential success to fall through the cracks.

SocialDefender – Social Reputation Management Platform

Social media can be hard to control. From small and medium-sized businesses lacking additional manpower, to large companies requiring a method for scheduling numerous team members, we decided to create a tool that will add additional value to social media efforts. Social Defender provides real-time social media monitoring, insights and gives the ability to accurately moderate social media efforts and understand customer sentiment. By using the tool, businesses can manage multiple social media networks including Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube, G+, blogs and forums using just one login. This social media management tool gives businesses the ability to analyze what is being said online about a brand, service, industry, and competitors. Analytics provided by Social Defender may be incorporated with future goals or business plans. Social Defender has a Facebook page app, Twitter app, LinkedIn app, G+ app and more. Users receive real-time info for each channel. Each of these messages were fed to an NLP algorithm for sentiment analysis. We used a proprietary Bayesian algorithm for the sentiment analysis is developed by the team at Armia. This algorithm takes feedback from manual changes to the sentiment making self learning of the accuracy and effectiveness. Right now we achieved an accuracy level of 90% and fine tuning to make it better. The brand manager can decide if they want the platform to auto moderate based on time, sentiment, brand etc.. Or if they want to be notified. It has a decent workflow manager to drive notifications to different users in the team. Also same workflow manager can schedule publishing of different contents to different platforms. The user and admin area analytics were created using Flash. Know any businesses that need help with social media? Do them a favor and tell them about Social Defender (a free plan is also currently available).