The Real Deal

Startup Runway Week 2: Minority Startups Finding Value

By August 18, 2016 No Comments

The Mission Control team at Startup Runway, a project co-hosted by Valor Ventures and The Gathering Spot, is into week two of our Fall Series. We wanted to pause and share some of the ongoing information from this new pitch series for women and minority startups–the first and only one of its kind in the region.

Startup Runway Flight Simulations

The companies we invited from the applicant pool to participate in our simulation tend to be showing strong customer growth. Here is the percentage of Startup Runway flight simulation invitees who have revenue (and/or more than 100 customers) and the percentage with less than 100 customers and/or no revenue.

customer validationStartup Runway value proposition attracts startups from across the country

  • When our leadership team envisioned this program, we saw an Atlanta pitch series that, if it proved valuable, we could grow to other cities once we proved the model here for startups and for investors.
  • What we did not anticipate is that startups from several areas of the country have asked to pitch on our stage. Here’s the current breakdown based on the ~60 applications we have in week 2. Two thirds of our applicants are from Georgia and the Southeast–which is what we have messaged on and what we expected. 1/3 are from other startup areas.

Startup Runway Geography
Minority and women-led startups find huge value, and confidence, in being “in the majority”

  • Several of the women-led tech startups with significant early traction (over $500K at this seed stage or over 1000 customers) have mentioned that this is the kind of room where they feel their voice are heard better. One of the applicants who had previously participated in a well known national accelerator, said that as the only woman-led team in her all-male cohort there, she got attention but for the wrong reasons–for standing out as a woman. This threw off her game, in her opinion, because she was constantly dragged into a “woman” role instead of remaining centered in her “founder” role. At Startup Runway, race and gender diversity aren’t “exceptional”–it’s the norm. The talk is all about the build and the business. As one of our applicants said, “I’d like a room where I am the norm, so I can just focus on the business and not so much on being accepted.”

Maturity of minority startup business model is often accelerated

What we’re also noticing is most of the applicants have a working business–customers or revenue or both. The motive to apply to Startup Runway seems less driven by “startup culture” mania and more driven by a true business need to fund a working opportunity. This is refreshing and our team is curious to see how it plays out as we continue the process. (Maybe the early applicants are not the same profile as the latter applicants? We’ll keep you posted.)

Types of minority startups

In an earlier post, we discussed the industry sectors we’re seeing.  That picture continues to evolve. In our current batch of just at 60 applicants, we have teams that are building a broad spectrum of interesting solutions, including:

  • Healthcare technology
  • Artificial intelligence apps
  • Patented hardware solutions
  • Social justice solutions
  • Market research and other technologies for retail
  • Marketplaces
  • A large number of entertainment industry technologies and solutions

We’re learning

This is a first-of-its-kind program in our area, and we’re learning a ton from the great teams joining us. Here are a couple of the things we’ve learned so far:

  • Our definition of a “pitch” wasn’t necessarily the same definition our successful startup businesses had. The 5 minute pitch process with timed Q&A was new to many–easy enough to learn, but new. This further validated our approach of creating a “pitch simulation” practice process to coach through these acquirable skills and vocabulary.
  • Peer review process has added impact. To encourage founder-founder relationships, Startup Runway uses peer scoring. In other words, we don’t have “judges judge” them in simulation. We let the founders score each other on issues like hypergrowth business model, after discussing business models and relative growth of different models (like services businesses, etc.) This further empowers the startup founders to own the language and understand their opportunities to further grow.We didn’t realize this approach would also cement the learning about what validation, traction, business model and other investable elements mean for our startups. Further rehearsing these concepts and language they’ll need to have effective early stage venture investor conversations looks like a winning process, at least from this early perspective.

We’re looking for you

Get involved in Startup Runway–we’re looking for mentors, sponsors and of course–we’re still looking for startups! Applications are open through September 30 for minority and women-led startups in the Southeast. All events happen in midtown Atlanta, next to Georgia Tech, at our co-host The Gathering Spot private club.