News and Tribune

April 5, 2013

Business accelerator hoping to launch regional entrepreneurs

By BRADEN LAMMERS
braden.lammers@newsandtribune.com

JEFFERSONVILLE — Five new companies will soon occupy space at Water Tower Square. 

But the businesses locating along the Clark Memorial Bridge will not necessarily be permanent because they will be a part of a business accelerator program. Velocity Indiana hosted an open house to launch its business accelerator program Thursday night. The program is being funded by the Jeffersonville-based Ogle Foundation, New Albany-based Blue Sky Foundation and the Cornerstone Group, which provided the space for the accelerator.

Tony Schy, managing director of Velocity Indiana, said his company will invite up to five teams of entrepreneurs into the space starting in June, and put them through a rigorous educational and programming initiative.

He explained that it’s an accelerator program that takes businesses in the early stages of development and mentors and teaches the companies the tools on how to turn their concepts into a business.

“The whole idea is that we can help them put together a business model very quick[ly], and then they can validate that business model, and then they can execute it,” Schy said. “[We want to] make sure they’re building a business model that works, rather than executing a business plan that may or may not work.”

“This accelerator program is 100 days, so it’s fast and intense,” he added.

The companies chosen will begin in June and be mentored by up to 80 people. Throughout the program, the teams will work full-time to refine their ideas for starting a company and potentially launch the business, with a major educational component.

Schy said by combining the educational element with startup mentorships, the concept is to help startup companies “fail less.”

All five companies will locate in the 5,000-square-foot space in Water Tower Square and be given $20,000 apiece in seed capital.

Backing from the Ogle Foundation was somewhat atypical, said Ogle Foundation Executive Director Kent Lanum.

“We’ve always done brick-and-mortar,” he said. “Now we’re trying to build four or five more Paul Ogles. It’s an educational opportunity, but it’s also an economic and workforce development opportunity. We’re seeing a need for this. I can give $1 million to a building, but is that going to move the needle in terms of improving the lives of folks in Southern Indiana?” he asked.

Lanum said depending upon what comes out of the accelerator program, it could lead to angel investment for the Ogle Foundation and launch entrepreneurs in the region.

“I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “It’s exciting. It’s kind of modifying the mission to the times.”

While Velocity is located in Jeffersonville, it is being viewed as a regional effort.

“We want Indiana to have a bit of an entrepreneurial center itself, but we still have to be part of Louisville as well,” Schy said. “So this is a nice, convenient location.”

The applications are being collected from across the United States and around the world. When the accelerator program is finished, those from outside the region can return home and launch their businesses. However, Schy admitted that the goal is to entice the companies to locate in the region.

“Right now, we’re the only program like this in the area,” Schy said. “We’ve figured out what causes companies to fail and we can walk them through a program to where they can move very, very quickly ... and we can help them over the course of the summer figure out whether or not they’ve actually got a business.”

He said the region is ideal for companies focusing on e-commerce, distribution and technology companies, but the program is not limited to those types of businesses.

The difficulty, and what the program is designed to do is figure out what type of business model will work for the entrepreneurial teams.

“Startups are not small versions of big companies,” Schy said. “Large companies execute known business models. Startup companies have to search for their business model.”

In addition, a health-based accelerator program in Louisville is expected to announce its launch Friday.

“I think we can really complement each other really well,” Lanum said of the two programs.

About 40 applications have been accepted for Velocity Indiana already. The deadline for applications is April 14. The hope is to have about 100 applications to choose from by the deadline, Schy said.