By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
Lisa Calhoun says she consistently asked herself why she did not see more women and racial minorities at pitch events in Atlanta. After all, the city was in first place in the country for women entrepreneurs and number two for producing businesses owned by African Americans.
“Let’s kick-off a new initiative,” the Founding Partner at Valor Ventures said of something named Startup Runway. “We were having conversations two weeks before we launched.”
That was this summer, and the initiative started accepting applications for its inaugural cohort in early August.
The “we” that Calhoun is referencing is Ryan Wilson, Co-Founder of The Gathering Spot in Atlanta. They have since added a number of energetic individuals from the Atlanta start-up ecosystem and linked-up with several investors including Kristina Montague of The JumpFund in Chattanooga.
While the initial focus is on Atlanta, the concept has applicability to other locations that have a substantial number of female and minority entrepreneurs. Over the last five years, we have drawn a similar conclusion – minorities are generally underrepresented at demo days.
“The entire Southeast is a hot spot for both women and minority entrepreneurs,” Calhoun says while noting one fundamental difference: Startup Runway is not another accelerator.
“We don’t want to duplicate what others are doing,” she says, explaining that the collaborative and additive initiative is focused on helping start-ups in its target zone that also have a hyper-growth business model.
“We are a pitch practice format, not an accelerator or incubator” Calhoun says. As such, the participants in the initial cohort pitch to their fellow Startup Runway colleagues once a month. Everyone gets scored by peers.
“It’s all about teaching them how to pitch for funding,” Calhoun says.
The finale for the inaugural cohort, billed as the “Pitch Showcase,” is set for November 3. Only 10 percent of the cohort companies will be allowed to pitch that afternoon, and the selections will be based on the scores they earned during the monthly preliminary pitches.
Calhoun says the initiative’s name was inspired by the concept of a runway in concert with the flight simulator technology that airline pilots use.
“We are about the runway to seed capital investment,” she explains. Training in the simulator (i.e., pitch practice sessions) prepares the participants to take control of their plane (i.e., start-up), and take-off with the initial investment capital they need.
So, what happens after November 3?
“Let’s fund this one,” Calhoun says of the commitment that the organizers and sponsors made. “If it succeeds, we’ll do it twice a year.”
One suspects it will continue.