Inside a Startup Accelerator Demo Day

Yesterday, I attended the Remote Demo Day for the latest class from the Launch Accelerator, a startup accelerator run by noted investor Jason Calacanis. We hear a lot about accelerators (also known as incubators), from famous programs like Y Combinator or Techstars to small, local outfits.

One thing most of them have in common is a demo day. This occurs at the end of the accelerator program and gives the startups an opportunity to pitch their company to investors.

So what goes on at these demo days?

Seven companies had three minutes each to present. A panel of judges (investors at venture firms) and members of The Syndicate (Calacanis’ investment group) submitted questions. Founders then had two minutes respond. Finally, both the judges and syndicate members voted on their favorites.

Here are some interesting trends I noticed from the meeting:

1) Business-to-business companies got a better reception than business-to-consumer companies. Business customers are less fickle and more likely to remain customers once acquired. They also have deeper pockets, and if you can show them that a technology clearly saves them money or gives them an important new capability, they’re likely to buy. Consumers are harder to pin down.

2) Startups are very diverse now, in terms of race, gender and geography. Two of 7 founders were female, and two were minorities. This isn’t equal representation, but it is progress. The companies came from all over America, from the usual suspects (Bay Area, NYC) to the South and even Europe.

3) It’s not all software companies. My favorite was actually a beverage company. Show investors some substantial recurring revenue and fast growth, and you may find checks flying back at you. What’s more, so many companies these days have a tech angle. This company sells their beverages online in a subscription model.

4) Everyone’s nice. Despite stereotypes of grizzled money guys telling you “It’ll never work!” the reality is that reputation is critical in this industry. Expect specific questions that might be hard to answer, but don’t expect (or tolerate) jerks.

Expect specific questions that might be hard to answer, but don’t expect (or tolerate) jerks. #startups

5) Even early stage companies fresh out of an accelerator have real products and revenues. There were no companies just trying to get an idea funded or still working on a prototype. They wouldn’t have made it into the accelerator in the first place, and even if they had, they wouldn’t have attracted any investor interest. Investors help business scale. They don’t help ideas become products.

So, who got funded? That remains to be seen, but if there’s enough interest from syndicate members, several could potentially get the nod. I know I’m interested in investing in two of the startups I saw.

We are so fortunate to live in a country that produces incredible entrepreneurs with such regularity. This was the 21st class to go through the accelerator, and there will be many more!

Congrats to all the great founders that presented, and a happy weekend to all my readers!

Dig into these posts for more on startups:

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Photo: “Great white shark” by Gussy (Luke) is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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