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Mistakes Were Made

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$130,000,000+ raised by our companies.
Over 400 jobs created.
A Top-10 accelerator in the US.

There are a lot of great stats that I often use when talking about The Brandery. However, if you’ve ever heard one of my talks before, you know that the most important statistic to me is this one:

100% of our participant companies said the program was worth it.

No doubt this remains true today. That said, I’ll be the first to admit we are hanging on to that 100% by the skin of our teeth.

The Brandery team has done a lot of thinking on how to get better in 2017. Our conclusions are that we have slipped in two main areas: type of company selected to be in the program and the stage that company was at when chosen.

When The Brandery was started in 2010, the goal was to bring great talent to Cincinnati. That’s why, in every class, most of the teams come from outside the city. The initial thesis was to choose consumer-facing, high growth companies but we quickly created a lot of wiggle room there to accommodate talented founders over any other factor. I don’t necessarily think that was a bad decision, but we certainly lost focus on other variables. A talented round peg can succeed in spite of the square hole, but it’s not exactly ideally sustainable.

After many years of great results, and a particularly great 2015, we got over-zealous in thinking we could move the needle for anyone we brought in. While we always added some value to everyone who came through the program, the truth is we can help some companies tremendously and others in only limited ways. This is a function of the talents of our staff, mentorship pool, and the intrinsic nature of our close network of partners and sponsors. See here for more about the types of companies we are going after in 2017. Pretty much everyone in our network is well-positioned to add tons of value to these kind of startups.

We also overestimated our ability to take early teams and will them over the line to funding (as we have in years past). Historically, we average close to $2MM in funding per company, but out of the gate in 2016, our alumni did not find great success fundraising. Some of this is the function of the environment, but a lot is on us as well. The current state of venture funding requires significant traction to raise a proper seed round. What was needed to raise an A Round in 2012 you now need for the seed. This means we need to find talented teams that have already hit that product-market fit, raised a bit of money, and are looking to get to that next level. It’s almost impossible to get a small team with just a barebones MVP there in the span of a 16-week accelerator program.

If there was another miss it was simply around expectation setting. Past performance is no guarantee of future results but we didn’t do a great job of correcting the expectation that, as with past Brandery classes, a good majority of our companies would be able to raise a round of funding soon after Demo Day. We need to do better in preparing our companies for the reality of what comes after they leave us.

Running a startup is all about building, testing, refining – and repeating. I look at The Brandery in the same way. We can’t get better unless we’re honest with ourselves about where we fell short. Will our sharpened focus work? I think it will, but the only way to find out for sure is to dive in. I’m looking forward to an exciting 2017 – and learning even more.

We’ve seen a lot of accelerators shut down in 2016/17. It is a tough model if you have lulls/gaps. That said, we’re going to continue to be a strong pillar of the StartupCincy ecosystem for many years to come. Our drive to learn, evolve, and grow is the reason why. I welcome anyone and everyone to help us continue to get better!

The Brandery's New Accelerator "Deal": $50,000 Per Company

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This summer, the sixth cohort of companies will be joining us at The Brandery. What an amazing first five years we have had (note: information on our five year anniversary celebration will be forthcoming – you need to be there)! Five years later, we remain more focused than ever on our mission of accelerating startups by building powerful brands. Our core approach of layering inspiring brands on top of dazzling technology and driven founders has proven to be a recipe for success. Like the beef Bolognese recipe of your great-grandmother, we are less than enthusiastic to make adjustments to the formula.

But, who are we kidding? We’re an accelerator — evolution and retooling shouldn’t be limited to our portfolio companies. Excellence can be found in rational and thoughtful change. As such, in 2015 we will be announcing some core changes to our accelerator program that will provide our participant companies with an even stronger platform to grow.

We are excited to announce our sixth cohort of companies will receive a total of $50,000 of capital from The Brandery. This will be split into two tranches: (1) $25,000 in for a six (6) percent warrant upon beginning the program, and (2) another $25,000 through an uncapped convertible debt note to each company that completes the sixth week of our accelerator program.

Some accelerators offer more cash than The Brandery and some offer less, but after having 45 startups go through our accelerator, we believe $50,000 is the right amount. We have always had two juxtaposing beliefs about the capital that we provide companies: first, our companies need enough capital to focus solely on building a great company, and second, The Brandery funding should not provide such a substantial runway that the startup loses its sense of urgency. We believe $50,000 will accelerate our startups to the next step, whether that’s raising a round, bootstrapping with revenue, or moving onto the next thing.

The Brandery has always felt strongly that the “deal” needs to be explicit at the outset. Some accelerators offer more capital but hinge the capital on different performance metrics or, in some cases, the discretion of the accelerator’s investment team. We think this is unfair to the startups because it does not provide them with the ability to plan their burn and so that there is not an investment decision that adversely impacts the relationship between the accelerator and its participating founders. As such, the second tranche of $25,000 will be invested purely on the temporal requirement of each company making it through six weeks of our program.

And that’s not all! We’ll have more big news to break in the next week or two. We can’t wait to share.

If you’re interested in learning more about The Brandery Accelerator, go to brandery.org/accelerator, or apply now.

2014 Graduate Strap Raises $1.25 Million

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Fresh out of The Brandery Class of 2014, wearable analytics startup Strap has raised $1.25 million. Investors include CincyTech, Hyde Park Venture Partners, Mercury Fund, New Coast Ventures, and angel investors. Among the angel investments include Charlie Key and Brandon Cannaday, founders of 2012 Brandery graduate Modulus, which was acquired by Progress Software earlier this year. We couldn’t be more proud to see Brandery companies supporting each other right here in Cincinnati.

Founders of Strap, Steve Caldwell and Patrick Henshaw, have permanently relocated to Cincinnati from Mississippi to grow their team and build their business (did we mention they’re hiring?).

Read more about the deal in the Cincinnati Enquirer.

FlightCar, SocStock, and Impulcity Updates

More updates from our 2012 graduates! Below are some post-demo-day-developments from FlightCar, SocStock and Impulcity.


FlightCar (Co-founders Kevin Petrovic, Rujul Zaparde and Shri Ganeshram) relocated to San Francisco after Demo Day. Their site will be live on February 1st and their first site will be located at San Francisco International Airport (SFO). Later this week, they team will begin allowing people to list/rent cars on their platform. If you’re traveling to/from San Francisco soon, check out this awesome opportunity to save yourself some money.

SocStock (Founder Jay Finch) launched their online platform to a solid crowd at the Know Theater in Cincinnati. They generated a significant amount of excitement on both the small business and consumer ends. Over $50,000 in Socstock has been offered to the community to date.

Impulcity (co-founders Hunter Hammonds and Austin Cameron) are gearing up for their public launch. After raising a seed round shortly after demo day and completing a successful beta run, the team rebuilt their app to be faster and simpler. Impulcity will launch their own local event series, starting in Cincinnati, to promote their app and create awesome events. Check in for updates on their event series developments!

ChoreMonster gets Funded!

Congrats to Brandery Class of 2011 alums Chris Bergman and Paul Armstrong for getting funded!  Their business, ChoreMonster, received $350,000 in funding from CincyTech and private investors.  With new developer and fellow Brandery alum Kevin Pfefferle, ChoreMonster looks forward to making chores fun for both kids and parents alike.  Read more about ChoreMonster here.

ChoreMonsters receive funding.
Paul Armstrong, left, and Chris Bergman, are co-founders of ChoreMonster. They’re pictured here with monsters Frank Rumpnoodle, assistant vice associate junior manager (purple); and Phil Dustrumble, beginner dust collector (yellow).