Recap: StartupHouse Foundry Program, an incubator program @ SF

Hi, my friends! Almost Happy Halloween🎃 I am Leo, the CEO of ConnecPath.

It has been almost 1.5 months since the end of the incubator platform, StartupHouse Foundry Program. Today, I would like to look back the sweet memories of this amazing pre-accelerator program that I was part of for 8 weeks this past summer.

 My sweet SF days started here.

My sweet SF days started here.

To begin with, StartupHouse Foundry Program was established by Elias Bizannes, the founder and CEO of StartupHouse. After the severe recession caused by the crash of CDS and sub-prime loan markets, SF Bay Area regained economic momentum and saw an influx of talented people rush into this small region. Rent skyrocketed. Many frugal entrepreneurs and engineers struggled to support themselves. That was when Elias started StartupHouse which provides both accommodation and shared office space to these people at affordable rates.

Elias, a serial entrepreneur, also started Foundry Program because popular accelerator programs such as Y Combinator and 500 Startups became competitive year by year and very early stage companies were losing places to get mentorship and support to kick-start their businesses from them.

ConnecPath was not the exception. I started preparing to start my company while I still was completing my MBA at the University of Michigan. Since then, I tried out every single opportunity I could, from pitching to accelerators to mentoring programs, and except for a small in-school incubator program, all I faced was rejection.💩

I saw this as a chicken and egg issue. Very early stage companies (technically ConnecPath didn't exist as an entity back then), like ConnecPath, struggle to come up with robust business plans, launch fancy prototypes, and gain traction. They definitely need the helpful hand of supportive mentors. On the other hand, groups of mentors such as accelerator programs have gained popularity of late, which is why they often have no choice but to be selective and to eliminate spots for very early stage companies because the low success rate  of these very early-stage companies.

"That's why I run Foundry Program."

Elias’ motivation to work with very early stage companies comes from a genuine interest to help startups who are in weak positions to gain momentum, and this is no easy feat considering the fact that most of these companies have an unpredictable survival rate that’s as low as 1% for a 5-yaear spectrum.

Anyways, back to my story. One day, around a half year ago, I had a plan to go to SF for several days. I surfed the internet to find affordable accommodation. Somehow, I found StartupHouse. I reserved the place right away and flew to the city.

 "Hey man! Is this the place?" That was my first impression lol.

"Hey man! Is this the place?" That was my first impression lol.

I fell in love with the place. Stylish co-working space, like-minded people, and very convenient location. It was just perfect for me. Then, luckily, I heard about the Foundry Program. Since I struggled to move forward my prep to start ConnecPath in Michigan, the program resonated greatly with me.

 I love these crazy guys👻

I love these crazy guys👻

After a while, there was a submission deadline for the program. I applied for it. I did my best at the interview, and finally, got the spot in the program!

The Summer Batch 2017 started in mid-July. The first day there was a workshop with Elias about vision. Vision is the most important facet of business operations all the time. Crystalizing vision in one word is harder than it looks. That was the learning of my first day of the program.

 Memorial selfie 😀

Memorial selfie 😀

Then, the non-stop eight-week program started. Each week, we covered critical startup-related topics such as traction, UX design, marketing, finance, legal, etc. The cohort, every week, had 1 or 2 workshops, 3 questions to answer regarding certain topics, and a one-on-one mentoring session with Elias.

 Batch... Ah! BTW, I love cooking 'food batch' 😎 Food batches refers to huge amounts of food that are cooked at one time, zip-locked or wrapped, and thrown into the freezer to warm up later.

Batch... Ah! BTW, I love cooking 'food batch' 😎 Food batches refers to huge amounts of food that are cooked at one time, zip-locked or wrapped, and thrown into the freezer to warm up later.

For me, the timing was perfect. I was about to set up a company when, during the program, I met a potential candidate, Pradeep, who’d serve as ConnecPath's CTO (today he's my co-founder!).  Akaash, a UX/UI designer intern, was present at that time as well, and I gained countless lessons from the program.

 An eye-opening picture presented by a mentor at the program about how to make MVP.

An eye-opening picture presented by a mentor at the program about how to make MVP.

Eight weeks passed by pretty quickly, and we concluded the wonderful program with a Demo Day in front of a group of judges consisting of early-stage investors.

I don't really know how well my pitch was, but I did my best. The winner of my cohort was Shane Barry, the CEO of BuildEasy which provides small and medium construction companies with a super easy accounting and project management web platform. His presentation was fabulous, and he had already shown substantial traction. Although I didn't win that day, I still got insightful feedback from the judges and audience, and the lessons I learned from the whole program were far more effective and impactful.

 My mouth looks like a duck's beak 🐦

My mouth looks like a duck's beak 🐦

The program ended with the pitch, and afterwards I drank a can of beer with Pradeep, Shane, and Julien Rosilio, a program coordinator of the program, which was tastier than any of the beers I’d had before then.

Interestingly, that was not the end of the program for me because one week later, Shane and I were on the stage of another pitch event, Live Sharks Tank, held in downtown SF, which we were invited to by one of the Demo Day judges.

Unfortunately, neither of us were selected as the winner, but we had another great experience, as well as an opportunity to expose our ideas to 200-300 people who came to the event.

 Please report me if my mouth is still beak of pelican 🐦

Please report me if my mouth is still beak of pelican 🐦

This series of experiences made me tough and more prepared to talk with stakeholders such as target users and investors. The biggest lesson I learned was that without proving the concept of business by gaining traction, hardly any investors get interested in a startup business. These are some of the takeaways that I got from the Foundry Program.

One month later, I was in front of a group of members from the Fall Batch of the program as a guest speaker for the first week of the program. It took only 2 months or so since I had joined the program, but I realized that so many things had happened to ConnecPath. I was surprised at my company's progress, but at the same time, I found ample room for progress that would have been made during the 1.5 months.

Alas, life goes on, so be strong, be patient, and be bold. Persistence and fortitude bring startups to the next phase of their businesses. I’ll never give up until I achieve my vision of connecting all students to their desired colleges and career pathways.

Let's rock together in the ed-tech industry, a thought-provoking intersection of tech and education!