Prize Money=Nice | Funded Pilots=Amazing

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This summer I had the pleasure of facilitating the 2019 Energy (CleanTech) cohort for the AccelVT accelerator in Burlington, VT. At last week’s graduation they showed one of the critical differentiators between their accelerator and most others: funded pilots with utilities.

Most CleanTech companies need to interface with local utilities in order to deliver their innovations to the world. Utilities are usually extremely cautious, deliberate, and methodical – great things for organizations dealing with high voltage safely! However, that same culture is usually far too slow for startup-paced innovation.

AccelVT built a network of utilities and similar entities that didn’t only write checks and show up to share advice… no, they did the hard work to figure out how to run real pilots to put the startup’s innovations to work making VT’s climate greener and safer. The graduates had tried working with utilities (elsewhere) before and left frustrated. But in this program they were “blown away at how ready AccelVT’s sponsors were to find ways to Make It Work.”

The Burlington Electric Department and Green Mountain Power provided four funded pilots at graduation. My conversations with the graduating startups showed that by the end of graduation night almost all of them had serious prospects at getting their own funded pilots with one or more of the many sponsors who attended the event.

I’ve never seen anything like it. AccelVT and their sponsors are making Vermont one of the best places in the country for CleanTech innovation. If you have a CleanTech startup, keep an eye on AccelVT and consider making a pilgrimage to beautiful Burlington to see if you can do business there. I’d be happy to introduce you.

Picture of the cohort.
Picture of the cohort’s entrepreneurs and I. Source: AccelVT & the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund

Here are details on the fantastic startups I had the delight of teaching these past three months.

DCC is a hardware company supporting residential electric vehicle charging installations that are otherwise unattainable because of a limited power supply. With our device, EV owners now have a reliable solution if their panels are at full capacity or if they reside in a multi-unit dwelling. dccelectric.com   Quebec 

EVmatch is a mobile platform that allows EV drivers to find and reserve charging stations anywhere they go by enabling increased access to private charging stations. EVmatch reduces the stress in locating an available charger and immediately grows EV charging options by making private charging stations available to the public. www.evmatch.com/  California

Go Together is a SaaS platform for people to get where they need to go through their trusted networks using apps to do end to end trip planning to meet, collaborate and schedule carpools, biking, walking, transit, and more. Go Together leverages technology and the power of trusted communities to innovate the way people get where they need and want to go whether it’s to and from school, to practice, a game or to vote. gotogether.today/home/  Washington, D.C.

iSun Energy develops robust, esthetic, smart and easy to install solar carport and canopy systems with proprietary hardware and software systems. iSun offers an attractive structure delivering shading and protection, while also feeding the local grid with renewable solar energy, and the ability to mate with smart energy management systems, such as EV charging. isunenergy.com/en/ Quebec

Onboard Data is in the business of helping people make buildings better. We provide analytics software to service providers and facility managers that maintain our most frequented spaces: such as our offices, hospitals, and schools. Instead of chasing energy, maintenance and comfort problems, our customers can turn to our software to uncover issues before they turn into emergencies. Maintenance personnel can now save time and money while delighting their building owners and tenants.  www.onboarddata.io/  Massachusetts

SomEV provides charging solutions for micro-mobility applications (e-scooters, e-bicyles, e-mopeds) by providing a network of Battery Swap Kiosks, that charge, store, and monitor battery packs. Using our proprietary kiosks, riders of micro-mobility have access to a swap-&-go battery system, thus providing a convenient and reliable way  www.som-ev.com/  Massachusetts

UAT developed a robust clamp for electrical wire management that reduces weight, improves safety, and simplifies maintenance through the use of Augmented Reality and Artificial Intelligence. This patent pending ICC is unique because it avoids metallic installation hardware while greatly simplifying installation complexity, reducing installer fatigue, and minimizing associated repetitive strain injury. www.uairtek.com/  New York

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Facilitating AccelVT Energy 2019 Cohort

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I often talk about how startups are the ones out there saving the world. This summer I have the delight of facilitating the newest cohort of the AccelVT Accelerator. This accelerator focuses on “startup and/or seed stage ventures who offer new technologies, or novel applications of existing technologies, aimed at reducing fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions in the heating and/or transportation sector.

It will be an honor to help these entrepreneurs as they boldly work to solve crazy-hard problems that could literally help save the world.

My thanks to my first mentor, Joseph Steig, for bringing me into this program!

Western Mass Demo Day! Wha who!

Western Mass Demo Day Connects Local Startups to Investors.

This is an invite-only event for active & accredited investors to hear pitches from startups with a connection to Western Massachusetts. Startups get an optimized way to meet a room full of different investors, many with a strong interest in companies connected to the region. Investors get a first look at the startups, meet the founders, and network with other investors.

This event is organized by a coalition of the region’s startup investors including: Launch413, River Valley Investors, Springfield Venture Fund, Milltown Capital, Alchemy Fund, Golden Seeds, the Maroon Fund, and the event is hosted by our friends at Valley Venture Mentors. For regulatory compliance reasons, representatives of other investment groups & funds who wish to attend need simply request an invitation. Members of the local entrepreneurship ecosystem who wish to observe may also request an invitation.

Value Proposition for Startups

If you want to raise money now or in the near future, Western MA Demo Day puts you in a room full of people with money, who actively invest in companies like you, and who are keen to be helpful. And… there is no fee to apply or participate!

Learn more & apply at: www.westernmademoday.com

An Engine to Find Product/Market Fit

Previously I shared Brad Feld & Neeraj Agrawal’s descriptions of how hard it is for a startup to achieve product/market fit… and the ramifications of that failure. Recently Jim Stanczak kindly shared an article identifying the solution: a numbers-based, systematic, empirical process for measuring product/market fit and iterating your product towards it. This article is pure gold. Highlights:

0) Anchor on a leading indicator.

Just ask users “how would you feel if you could no longer use the product?” and measure the percent who answer “very disappointed.”

After benchmarking nearly a hundred startups with his customer development survey, Ellis found that the magic number was 40%.

1) Segment to find your supporters and paint a picture of your high-expectation customers.

As an early-stage team, you could just narrow the market with preconceived notions of who you think the product is for, but that won’t teach you anything new. If you instead use the “very disappointed” group of survey respondents as a lens to narrow the market, the data can speak for itself — and you may even uncover different markets where your product resonates very strongly.

2) Analyze feedback to convert on-the-fence users into fanatics.

This batch of not disappointed users should not impact your product strategy in any way. They’ll request distracting features, present ill-fitting use cases and probably be very vocal, all before they churn out and leave you with a mangled, muddled roadmap. As surprising or painful as it may seem, don’t act on their feedback — it will lead you astray on your quest for product/market fit.

3) Build your roadmap by doubling down on what users love and addressing what holds others back.

To increase your product/market fit score, spend half your time doubling down on what users already love and the other half on addressing what’s holding others back.

4) Repeat the process and make the product/market fit score the most important metric.

The percent of users who answered “very disappointed” quickly became our most important number. It was our most highly visible metric, and we tracked it on a weekly, monthly and quarterly basis. To make this easier to measure over time, we built some custom tooling to constantly survey new users and update our aggregate numbers for each timeframe. We also refocused the product team, creating an OKR where the only key result was the very disappointed percentage so we could ensure that we continually increased our product/market fit.

Read the whole article and consider it an instruction manual. We certainly are at Launch413. My thanks to Rahul Vohra for taking the time to document this process and share it with the world.

Do You Have Product/Market Fit?

Ran across these great blog posts (The Illusion of Product/Market Fit for SaaS CompaniesThe SaaS Adventure) by Brad Feld & Neeraj Agrawal respectively. Product/Market Fit is now, appropriately, a central concept in startups. But when do you have it?

  1. If you think you have it, odds are darn good you don’t. Is your data really robust enough for you to know you have it?
  2. If you do have it, odds are good you don’t have it good enough to scale!
  3. If you do have it, and you are actually ready to scale… be ready for the world to change and for you to lose Product/Market fit… at scale!

Not trying to be a downer, but getting these questions wrong can kill your company. Luckily, those two posts have some great rules-of-thumb for keeping you honest and on track.

 

Congrats to a Former Student Making The World A Better Place

So much food goes to waste in our country every year.

So many people are hungry.

It is literally cheaper to throw food away than to give it away… until now.

A few years ago I had the honor of mentoring Maria Rose Belding when she and her partners at Means Database were in the Valley Venture Mentors startup Accelerator. Her social venture is organized and dreams like a high tech silicon valley startup – but all of that energy is directed to doing good, at scale. Her venture diverted more than a million pounds of food to food pantries around the country, is financially sustainable, and has only just begun.

Oh… and she did all of this while being an undergraduate.

No wonder she was just recognized as one of CNN’s Heroes of the year. Check out her CNN’s video about her here.

Maria, you make us so damn proud!

 

Launch413 Completes Seed Round

My thanks to the many people who put their faith in Rick Plaut and my new venture, Launch413. A special thanks to the many members of River Valley Investors who provided the pre-seed funding to get us started and then played a big part in finishing our seed round.

For those that don’t know Launch413, we are an alternative venture fund that takes startups from Launch to their first $10 million in revenue. We are serial entrepreneurs and veteran executives dedicated to helping startups become engines of prosperity in our region. We accelerate our entrepreneur’s progress by investing our expertise & networks to provide strategies and introductions that would have taken years to acquire on their own.

Launch413 uses a royalty-based model instead of equity, allowing our entrepreneurs to keep 100% ownership of their venture.

We are now actively seeking companies to invest in. If you know any great startups with a connection to Western Massachusetts and who want to scale to at least $10 million in revenue, let me know :).