The dust has settled after the whirlwind Creative Startups (CS) accelerator, and when I look back on that time, I think of it as a warm, big hug.
CS is an accelerator for — you guessed it — creative startups (think art, social good, media, retail, etc.) in Albuquerque, New Mexico that debuted last year for the first time (a startup helping other startups accelerate… meta!). It consists of six weeks of remote classes with mentors/instructors, weekly small group discussions, and then a final deep dive week in ABQ that continued classwork but starts to focus more on next steps — legal, investment, pitch decks, network building, connecting mentors and mentees. We had the opportunity to demo our product to the ABQ startup community and the final day of the accelerator was spent pitching to investors. This year we were joined by eight other startups.
I forget how we first found out about the CS accelerator, but our first reaction to the description was that it sounded perfect for us — if we’d be able to get in. I think the application deadline was earlier than we thought we were ready for (we had considered looking into accelerators around the end of 2015, not mid-2015), but our CEO Shivani is hands down amazing at taking (and making) opportunities regardless of how ‘ready’ we feel, which keeps up our team’s momentum. Then when we were accepted, I think the team had a little uncertainty about what it would mean for our work momentum, and also if we would be ready to start building a pitch deck and talking with investors.
In the thick of things
We needn’t have worried! I think the CS team (Tom, Alice, Amy, Roxanne, Julia) is a truly special one that hit the perfect balance between pulling us forward, but also encouraging us and giving us freedom to make the experience our own. The ‘homework’ and classes were overall more helpful and engaging than I thought they would be, purely based on my past experience with remote classtime — but outside of technical difficulties, I think it worked quite well. While no one in the cohort met in person until the Deep Dive, I think we did get peeks into each other’s startups and personalities during the six weeks and built an excellent starting rapport.
We were also grouped into Google Hangout groups to talk about the classwork and help each other think through the week’s discussion questions. I think this was a hit or miss for some due to scheduling conflicts, but I have to give a shout out to my group, Jessica Metcalfe at BeyondBuckskin and Alex Rayon at Inmerssion, for being so helpful and supportive. It was interesting and instructive to talk about how topics differently apply to a retail company, augmented reality company, and TheRightMargin.
Now, the warm, big hug part. The deep dive was a week I will always look back on with fondness and gratitude. I didn’t have too many preconceptions going in, other than that it would be extremely intense and that startups can sometimes break up in the high pressure environment. However, I have to echo my colleague Bob’s sentiment — rather than a shark tank-like, harried and hurried atmosphere, we felt like we were making meaningful relationships with our mentors, getting the 411 on how to ask for money and partner with investors from actual investors, and accelerated the development of our pitch materials and actual pitch. Because of CS I think we started seriously thinking about monetization strategies, asking users about what they’d be willing to pay in usability tests, and will be prepared to start reaching out to investors many months earlier than anticipated.
I think what was so special about the rapport the cohort built amongst ourselves and with the CS mentors and investors is that it could have gone the other way. The accelerator was a competition after all, so a sense of competition could have pervaded the atmosphere, rather than one of humility, support and mutual respect. The final evening, Tom and Alice told us to take the weekend and at least Monday to rest and reflect — bless them — but (impressively so) Shivani chose to power through without pause and launched us directly into our post-CS sprint, in which we completed our pivot towards focusing on goals and helping writers feel accomplished rather than on having writers adopt our editor. Two other things we are pushing forward on now because of CS: getting to monetization and talking with angels.
My two cents
As a designer, getting to experience the week with my team and other startup founders was a privilege and wonderful experience. While I did initially wonder about what the dynamic during the Deep Dive might be like, amongst all these talented CEOs, I felt welcomed and respected. What I’m especially grateful for is the new community that spans the world (Portugal! South Africa! Great Britain! Mexico!) and the exposure to much more outside of my world of research and design and marketing. #creativestartups2015
This post originally appeared on Medium