In 2018, our fourth year as an accelerator, we set an ambitious goal to try several new programs to make an even bigger impact. Our goal: Help early-stage businesses with high-growth potential access the knowledge, resources, and connections they need to succeed. As we approach year’s end we’re excited to review those programs and share our learnings.
Our Year in Review
- Ski Lift Pitch 2018. 15 investor judges connected with 15 competitively-selected startups. One of those startups was a New Mexico company who went on to receive a $300k investment from a judge met at the event. Psst: Apps & tickets for 2019 now open!
- NM Tech Wolves Den. We mentored seven student entrepreneurs in Crownpoint and Las Vegas on the art and science of pitching a business. The students we coached won first and second place in the competition, taking home $5,000 and $2,000, respectively.
- projectY Lean Startup Bootcamp. Teaming up with projectY, we helped nine entrepreneurs in Los Alamos use the lean startup methodology to refine their core hypothesis, test it in the real world, and come out the other side with a stronger value proposition and direction for their efforts.
- Sandia Labs Pitch Competition. We helped 14 Sandians learn to build a business pitch around their cutting edge technology. We used a rigorous 2-month training and coaching process that culminated in a packed pitch event at the Lobo Rainforest Building. The winner of the event is working on technology that would make DNA sequencing orders of magnitude faster and cheaper. He has continued to refine the concept through UNM Innovation Academy’s iCore program.
- Balloon Pitch 2018. Our first-ever Balloon Pitch event brought $150m in deployable investment capital into New Mexico in the form of investor judges who interacted with seven New Mexico-based startups on the move–the winner even got an awesome balloon ride in the Mass Ascension!
- Hyperspace Challenge. Our partnership with Air Force Research Lab New Mexico resulted in ten of the top geospatial data analytics startups in the country investing three days in Albuquerque to conduct immersive customer discovery with defense community members with important problems to solve, from infrastructure assessment to mobility.
- Office Hours. We began holding open office hours in July and since then, have met with 64 members of the entrepreneurial community looking for advice, connections, funding, and everything in between. (Join us at Office Hours on January 9, 3-5pm @ WESST to kick off the New Year right!)
- ActivateNM. Our first software and software-enabled cohort consisted of five companies who presented their pitch on December 7 to a packed crowd at WESST Enterprise Center. The cohort continues to meet and make amazing progress on their businesses as we continue this hybrid accelerator/incubator program.
5 Learnings for the ABQ Entrepreneurial Community
- Mentors rule. The Albuquerque entrepreneurial community continues to gain momentum. The number of mentors who came forward, ready to plug-in, was amazing; from the 30+ local experts leaders who took part in Hyperspace Challenge, to the guest facilitators and mentors of ActivateNM, we have amazing wealth in the mentor community in Albuquerque. Our job going into 2019 will be to grow our matchmaking capacity and increase the number of mentors involved at different stages of our programming.
- Focus is important. We chose to focus on data analytics for Hyperspace Challenge and software for ActivateNM. We made those choices strategically based on a number of factors, and we recognize that by doing so we are saying “no” to certain companies as much as we’re saying “yes” to companies working in those areas. Our goal is not to make a one-size-fits-all program, but to design the best program that makes the biggest difference for the companies who participate. We saw first-hand in our ActivateNM program that because all companies were working on software, the cohort-to-cohort interaction value was multiplied compared to previous general cohorts. We’ll continue to pursue focused programs, balanced by the fact that we run events that welcome all types of startups and investors (for example, a food company won Balloon Pitch!).
- Albuquerque continues to rise. Since 2016, startup (and associated investment) activity has been on the rise, and we’ve definitely seen this first hand with a growing number of applications to our programming. There are more active VC firms in New Mexico than there were three years ago, and more firms from out of state are spending more time in New Mexico. Both are great news and support each other, and events like Ski Lift Pitch, Sandia Labs Pitch, and Balloon Pitch are excellent opportunities to get VCs from in- and out-of-state to check out New Mexico.
- You manage what you measure. For all of the above programs, we gathered qualitative and quantitative data from participants about what worked and what didn’t. We strive to be a learning organization and use both success and failure to constantly improve what we’re doing to drive better outcomes. Our improved measurement sophistication from 2017 led to better outcomes in programs for 2018. Being open to this constant learning keeps us humble and striving toward excellence.
- It’s all about community. There’s no one program or activity that makes the difference in growing startup activity in New Mexico. What does make the difference is relationships. That’s why we rely heavily on our partners (AFRL, Sandia Labs, WESST, NM Tech, and more) and make referrals to our peers (Creative Startups, SVEDC, Innovate ABQ, other Catalyst Fund recipients, and more) all the time. You can boil all of our programming, events, and training to a simple concept: creating a culture in which good things happen, and the right connections can be made across the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
We’re excited as ever to be helping this community grow, one successful startup at a time. A happy holidays from the entire ABQid team!