Graeme Thickins on Tech

Reflections & analysis about innovation, technology & startups, with a focus on Minnesota, Land of 10,000 Lakes

Tag: entrepreneurs (page 1 of 3)

gBETA Announces Minneapolis Spring 2018 Cohort

gBETA demo night photo

gBETA, a program of the nationally ranked gener8tor accelerator, today announced the seven startups that were selected for gBETA logoits gBETA Minneapolis Spring 2018 cohort.

“gBETA works with some of the best and brightest companies in the community to help them achieve their goals and be successful in the long term,” said Eric Martell, managing Eric Martelldirector of gener8tor Minnesota. “We couldn’t be more thrilled to work with seven impressive Twin Cities-based companies for the next seven weeks. Building successful companies is only possible with the support of the larger community, and we’re grateful to our mentors and supporters to be able to provide this service.”

The seven companies selected for the Spring 2018 Minnesota gBETA program are as follows, in alphabetical order:

enVerde repurposes carbon-containing waste into clean, sustainable energy and chemicals. Municipalities, commercial, and industrial organizations can decrease their operating expenses by significantly reducing their waste streams and creating clean fuels and heat they can use locally and immediately. enVerde’s patented gasification technology was built by a team with more than 180 combined years of cleantech experience. enVerde’s technology is based on intellectual property from the University of Minnesota.

MANBOAT increases net tuition revenue and student success by optimizing admission and scholarship decisions. MANBOAT’s subscription-based service provides individualized student recommendations using patent-pending machine learning algorithms. MANBOAT launched in January 2018 and expects to reach $300K in annual recurring revenue by the end of the year.

Spooky Action builds UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) that fly forever. Using a proprietary ground-to-air tethered power system, Spooky Action specializes in custom aerial intelligence solutions for applications where drones are too underpowered and helicopters are too cumbersome. Spooky Action’s UAVs were field tested, providing air support to anti-poaching teams in South Africa.

Studioso modernizes music education by connecting students to teachers through its mobile app. Studioso serves both private and institutional music educators and works for all instruments. Studioso’s beta has more than 70 institutional preorders, 1500 Twitter followers, and 3 beta testing partners.

Take 12 is a crowdfunding service that allows friends and family to relieve the financial stress of unpaid maternity leave for working mothers by giving financial gifts in lieu of a traditional baby registry. Take 12 also offers working moms planning resources and community support. In its first year, Take 12 helped 493 mothers navigate their maternity leave experience and helped raise $10,654.00 in financial gifts for new moms.

WorkOutLoud hosts online communities connecting enterprise companies to their customers. WorkOutLoud enables community-wide collaboration, resulting in an improved customer experience. WorkOutLoud has lifetime revenue of $474K over the past 26 months, with 31% growth from 2016 to 2017.

Y Translator provides the only complete translation services for YouTube videos. More than two-thirds of YouTube viewers – one billion – don’t speak English, and content creators are missing out on opportunities to triple their influence and revenue. Y Translator launched its website on January 22, 2018 and closed its first two translations in its inaugural week.

About gBETA

gBETA is a program of nationally ranked startup accelerator gener8tor. gBETA is a free accelerator for early-stage companies with local roots. Each program is capped at five teams, and requires no fees and no equity. gBETA currently operates in six locations: Beloit, Detroit, Madison, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, and Northeast Wisconsin. gBETA graduates have collectively raised more than $5.5M since 2015, and 50% have either gone on to participate in a full-time, equity-based accelerator or raised at least $50,000 in seed financing. More statistics here.

Selected companies receive:
• Access to a community of entrepreneurs including their fellow cohort members, as well as gener8tor and gBETA alumni.
• A formal relationship with at least 2-3 mentors with relevant expertise.
• Introductions to the gener8tor network of successful entrepreneurs, angel investors, venture capitalists, and technologists.
• Individualized coaching and mentorship from the experienced gener8tor team.
• Office space.
• $1M+ in deals and perks from vendors like SoftLayer, Rackspace, Amazon, PayPal, Zendesk, and Microsoft.

More information here.

About gener8tor

gener8tor is a nationally ranked accelerator that invests in high-growth startups. In addition to its gBETA program, three times a year it conducts 12-week accelerator programs in Milwaukee, Madison, and Minneapolis, in which it invests up to $140K in each of five startups who receive a concierge experience during these programs. gener8tor supports the growth of these startups through its network of experienced mentors, technologists, corporate partners, angel investors, and venture capitalists. The 65 gener8tor alumni have cumulatively raised more than $120M in follow-on financing. Of these, 57% have raised more than $1M or have been acquired. gener8tor invests in high-growth startups, including software, IT, web, SaaS, life science, medtech, ecommerce, and hardware. gener8tor is a proud member of the Global Accelerator Network (GAN) and is sponsored by American Family Insurance. It is a GOLD-tier accelerator in the U.S. as ranked by the Seed Accelerator Rankings Project. More information here.


Disclosure: I’m a mentor for gener8tor Minnesota and gBETA  🙂

SXSW Adding Great New Wrinkle for 2012: ‘Startup Village’

StartupVillage-logoYou've likely heard of the "SXSW Accelerator," which has been a feature for several years at the huge, annual South By Southwest festival, held every March in Austin, Texas. Well, here's something new for 2012: SXSW has announced the creation of a home base for startups, VCs/investors, media, and other entrepreneurial-minded attendees to gather, mix, and mingle during the Interactive portion of the event. It's called SXSW Startup Village.

The 19th annual SXSW Interactive Festival takes place March 9-13, 2012. Startup Village will include the Accelerator program, targeted panels, meetups, lounges, and mentoring/coaching sessions, and will primarily be located on the fourth floor of the Austin Downtown Hilton, making it easy for the startup crowd to find the programming and networking opportunities most important to them.

Want to hang out with startups of the quality of Siri (which won the Accelerator's web category in 2010, then was acquired by Apple) and Hipmunk (the 2011 winner)? Then this is the place for you!  I'm sure planning to attend.

I spoke recently via Skype with Chris Valentine (photo), coordinator of the SXSW Startup Village, and asked him some questions.  ChrisValentine-croppedHow big is SXSW Interactive?  He told me about 10,000 people attended the last one. And he noted it has an "international scope."  How many startups applied to last year's SXSW Accelerator?  About 400 in various categories, and that was narrowed down to 40 who were invited to present at the event.  Who were the winners last year?  Here's a link announcing the seven winners in 2011, which includes two that were music-related (there's also an Accelerator program for the music portion of the festival, which follows the interactive event). For the 2012 Accelerator, Valentine said 56 companies will get to present, due the the fact that new categories have been added, including Mobile and Health.


[Timeout for a Minnesota Connection: At last year's SXSW Accelerator, Minnesota gaming startup OONQR was a finalist in the Entertainment category. Cofounder and CEO Justin Peck told me that his company's SXSW experience "exceeded our expectations." He was impressed that the Accelerator program "made room for a tiny midwestern startup in their lineup of successful, well-established companies." He said their trip to Austin wouldn't have been possible without the two free tickets they got to SXSW as a result of being accepted to present at the Accelerator. "I'm glad to see they're expanding it. Startup Village sounds like promising addition to the program."]

UPDATE: Chris of course remembered the QONQR guys and spoke highly of their startup. Then I brought up how many Minnesotans have been attending SXSW Interactive for years — hundreds went last year. Many gang up in cars and drive down, and some even rent houses to save on accommodation expenses! Chris seemed surprised when I told him we have one of the largest interactive marketing communities in the entire country. The Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association (MIMA) has more than 1300 members and holds the largest annual event of its kind, right here in MInneapolis: the "MIMA Summit." It attracts more than 1000 attendees every fall. My coverage of the recent event, with my colleagues at, is here, here, and here.


SXSW_2012-logoThe SXSW people define the purpose of the new Startup Village as "uniting the startup, entrepreneur, and investor communities under one roof for focused programming and networking opportunities during SXSW Interactive."

Valentine explained: “Over the last few years, startups and the entrepreneurs who nurture them have become a vital part of the SXSW Interactive festival." He said SXSW wants these attendees to learn, network, and share their experiences, and to foster an environment of innovation and collaboration. "We’re magnifying that atmosphere by converging startup-specific programming, events, and the SXSW Accelerator program in one dedicated location.”

Startup Village panel programming will consist of discussions and workshops specifically designed to educate budding and current entrepreneurs on best practices and lessons learned. Startup Village will also feature mentoring/coaching sessions, lounge areas, and designated meetups for attendees to network with some of today’s up-and-coming startups, seasoned entrepreneurs, and investors.

The 2012 SXSW Accelerator competition kicks off its two-day Interactive showcase on Monday, March 12, while the SXSW Music Accelerator, which spotlights the latest in music technologies, takes place on Wednesday, March 14. For companies wishing to participate in the Accelerator program, applications are being accepted through November 18. To apply for the Interactive Accelerator, visit, and to apply for the Music Accelerator, visit

Startup Village programming will be open to SXSW Interactive, Gold, and Platinum registrants. SXSW music registrants will be admitted to Startup Village programming and events on Tuesday, March 13, 2012. For more information, visit

My Adventures as a Connoisseur of the Fine Art of Startup Pitching

Mobicart-DEMOfall2010 Can one learn anything listening to a lot of startup pitches?  I mean even if your job, like that of a VC, doesn't require it, per se.  Yes, I believe you can, and I've invested a large part of my time and attention over the years to this practice, betting that doing so brings value to my clients. 

I began attending and reporting on many of the large, national tech conferences (most in California, but some in other U.S. cities and resort locations) more than 12 years ago – as a way to juice my own knowledge as a tech marketing consultant and startup advisor, and to keep out in front of tech trends. (Not to speak of being able to meet and network with lots of heavyweights.) This pastime of sorts is what basically turned me into a blogger, and even an accidental part-time journalist — actually getting paid occasionally to write about what I learned at these events.  Imagine that.  (That was before the intrinsic value of a blog post starting going to zero. But I digress…)  After proving myself early-on as a good event reporter, the conferences began granting me press passes.

I've heard so many startup pitches over my career, especially during the last 12 years, that I've lost count.  But I have no doubt it's more than 1000.  And I've been lucky enough to document most of them — certainly hundreds — in my writings.  Twitter and live-blogging tools in recent years have only added to my output.  Someday, maybe I'll even turn my blog archives into a large coffee-table book. (Yeah, right, like I'd ever have the time! And a large percentage of these startups are now either out of business or acquired, so who would care?)  Just one live-blog I did of a two-day conference last month totaled 9000 words.  More on that below.

The many conferences I've attended include top events like DEMO (11 times), Esther Dyson’s PC Forum 2006 (the swan song), Under The Radar, TechCrunch 50, several O'Reilly events, those sponsored by leading publications (e.g., Forbes, Fortune, WSJ), Defrag and Glue, and many smaller, newer, or regional startup events such as CrowdPitch as well.  The collective intelligence I gather from this investment of time (and money) has been remarkably valuable to me personally, and to my clients. 

How?  Well, in several areas:  understanding and assessing trends, messaging, strategy, business models, and what I'll call style, or stage presence. By observing the best-of-the-best pitch their businesses (all these conferences closely vet applicants), I'm better able to understand not only where technology startup trends are going, but I can hear the best stories, the best messaging.  I get to see with my own eyes what resonates, what hits the mark — meaning the startups that best get people to pay attention, take action, elicit media interest, attract customers, and (not the least) cause investors to write checks.  Sure, not all these technology startups will make it.  But, because I'm getting extensive exposure to this cream-of-the-crop with the best potential, I've found that I'm in a much better position to help guide my clients back home in their own business planning, marketing and launch strategy, media strategy and tactics, and even in coaching the founders in their own on-stage startup pitches. I can also teach them to avoid the mistakes I see others make.

DEMOfall2010-graphic Just a few weeks ago, I attended my 11th DEMO conference, and my 10th in a row.  (The event is held twice a year, and the recent one, called "DEMOfall 2010," was held in Santa Clara, CA.)   Long ago dubbing itself "The Launchpad for Emerging Technology," DEMO is generally regarded as the inventor of the startup pitch fest, and certainly has the longest, continuous track record.  Launched in 1991 by Stewart Alsop (whom I've had the privilege to meet at more than one DEMO), this venerable event was acquired by IDG many years ago, and is still the gold standard.  It is extremely well run, and remains my favorite conference of them all.  It never disappoints. The main thing to remember about DEMO is that it attracts a large, prestigious press and blogger contingent, and generates more than 200 million media impressions for the collective participants of each conference.  Not to minimize the importance of the many investors that regularly attend, too –- it attracts those, and the presenting startups, from around the globe.  Over the years, startups pitching at DEMO events have collectively raised hundreds of millions of dollars — billions, I'm sure — in funding. And many of them, household names now, have been acquired or gone public. Check this list of DEMO alumni companies, and it only includes those for the years 2006-2010.

Last month, I live-blogged the entire two-day-plus DEMOfall 2010 program, an agenda made up mostly of rapid-fire, back-to-back startups pitches, some 70 companies in all, with several great panels and interviews mixed in.  (In that live-blog archive, scroll down to get to the meat of the pitches, since, on the afternoon of registration, I allowed all those on Twitter posting tweets with the event hashtag to flow into my live-blog, as people were traveling to and arriving at the event, including me. Part of the fun is the anticipation!)

In addition, I did nine audio interviews of some of my favorite startups while I was at DEMOfall 2010:  here's the link to all my blog posts for this event, which include links to those interviews. I started doing audio interviews of startup founders several DEMO conferences back. Two of the companies I interviewed even went on to be named among the DEMOgod Award winners.  My photos of the event are here on this Flickr set.

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