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A Future Built On Our Past

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Around this time seven years ago, the idea of The Brandery was just starting to come to life. We didn’t have a building to call home. We didn’t have any funding. We didn’t have any employees. But we had our pitch deck and we were just crazy enough to think we could make this thing happen.

In other words, we were just like the startups that we one day hoped to help.

Seven years later, 66 startups have graduated from The Brandery, raised over $130 million in funding, and we have been consistently ranked as one of the top programs in the country. And in that time, the landscape of entrepreneurship and accelerator programs has changed. And it is time for us to change with it.

Many people do not realize it, but the underlying legal structure of The Brandery is based upon a 501©3, the mission of which is to support entrepreneurship in Cincinnati and the Midwest. Since day one, everyone involved in The Brandery has been involved because of that mission. The equity that we receive from startups in exchange for their participation in The Brandery does not go to investors. Instead, it sits in an endowment that we hope to use in the support of entrepreneurs.

I write that because in 2010, the city that The Brandery calls home was a very different place for entrepreneurs. There was no #StartupCincy as a rallying cry for the region. Aspiring founders didn’t have role models like EBTH, Dotloop, Assurex, or Modulus to show them the way. Cintrifuse did not exist and Union Hall was not the home of our hustle. As such, we viewed The Brandery as the opportunity to be an injection of talent into our ecosystem. It could be a reason for local entrepreneurs like Chris Bergman of FamilyTech to jump into the tech startup world. It could be a reason for entrepreneurs like Jim Fisher of Roadtrippers to move to Cincinnati sight unseen. We wanted it to be a reason to believe that Cincinnati and the Midwest could be a destination for startups – and the Venture Capitalists that invest in them.

We are a long way from ringing the bell and declaring success in that mission. But we have made amazing strides. As we move into 2017, The Brandery is refining the focus of the accelerator program in order to do our part in better helping entrepreneurs. As our announcement stated in early March, we are focusing the 2017 class (and beyond) on digitally native vertical brands (DNVBs) and the retail/marketing tech companies that give these brands a new way to reach consumers.

In many ways, our future is about us doubling down on our past. We are called The Brandery because we believed (and still do) that the skills of building a brand could be as valuable for tech startups as they could be for large consumer packaged goods. We also believed that we could uniquely involve mentors from the halls of large CPG companies who were leading their organization’s efforts in embracing digital marketing and marketing tech. Those two premises still hold true today and even more so as we sharpen our focus.

The other reason that I am excited about this sharpened focus is the impact it will have on the founders as they go through the program and become alumni. Every year, I am asked the question of what helps a company achieve success in The Brandery. And every year, my answer is the same: the companies that help others the most are the ones that succeed the most themselves. This continues after Demo Day where the founders who give the most back to the Brandery community are the ones who continue to shine. With this new focus, every startup in the class will be complementary in same way. They might be able to partner together with a consumer brand serving as a customer to a marketing tech startup. Or they will be able to share best practices on B2B customer acquisition or user retention for digitally native vertical brands.

We have come a long way in seven years, but I look forward to seeing how much further we go thanks to the startups that join The Brandery family in the years to come.

Dave Knox is the co-founder of The Brandery, Managing Director of WPP Ventures, and author of the newly released book Predicting The Turn: The High Stakes Game of Business Between Startups and Blue Chips .

Why You Need the Brandery Agency Partnership: Spicefire & Goodwipes

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Over the last few weeks, we’ve been telling you all about our sharpened focus on Digitally-Native Full Stack Products (CPG are part of that) & startups that support these kind of companies (both large and small) for our 2017 cohort. If you haven’t had a chance to read over our thought process behind this shift, check out this blog post from a few weeks ago when we made the announcement.

As our General Manager Tony Alexander said in his blog post earlier this week, “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. Pretty much everyone in our network is well-positioned to add tons of value to these kind of startups.” To illustrate this point, we’re going to share some of the success stories of Brandery alumni who fit into the categories of companies we’re looking for.

Meet Goodwipes, graduates of Brandery’s 2016 cohort. They are serious about being clean.

Charlie, Maria, and Sam: Team Goodwipes

Goodwipes had already sold 1 million body wipes at independent retailers and on Amazon when they came to Cincinnati last June on a mission to refine their brand and strengthen their company. Each company in our accelerator is paired 1-to-1 with a world-class creative agency, of which there is a high concentration in Cincinnati ( aka BrandHub, USA ), which is one of the most significant reasons Goodwipes applied to The Brandery. We spoke to Sam Nebel, Co-Founder of Goodwipes, for his thoughts on why The Brandery’s program is so uniquely suited to help a CPG company.

Goodwipes worked with Spicefire to create a brand as fresh as their products. “They did nothing but GIVE, GIVE, GIVE”, Sam says. “Time, energy, attention, passion, experience, knowledge and patience. They shared. They worked with us through seemingly simple, yet extraordinarily arduous critical thinking exercises to define Goodwipes as it is today: a modern, better-for-you take on wet wipes that empowers people to do more, feel good, and live clean. We could not be happier with Jason Hargis and the Spicefire team. I’m talking endless hours of their busy time they gave us. If you understand how an agency works, time is money, and they spent extra time working with Goodwipes. It was really humbling and incredible to be given so much time and energy by such a talented group.”

The Goodwipes Branding Case Study

Goodwipes's Branding, Pre-Brandery

With the majority of Goodwipes’ sales occurring online, having a slick brand and packaging wasn’t nearly as important to them; with their goal of appearing on more brick-and-mortar shelves, it was more important to create eye-popping visuals that would appeal to customers looking up and down the personal care aisle. The Spicefire team helped to create a beautiful, modern look for their packaging, which also carried over to their advertising and web presence.





Spicefire’s collaboration and work with Goodwipes is just one reason we’re excited about our 2017 program; our agency partners have always yielded fantastic work no matter the type of startup we’ve paired them with, but now that we’re looking to work with more consumer-facing brands and the technologies that support them, the Brandery Agency Partnership should prove to be even more successful.

Sam wanted us to publish his personal number so that anyone interested in talking about applying to The Brandery could call him – we are going to spare him, but we’d be happy to answer any questions you might have about the 2017 application process. Contact us at info@brandery.org!

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!

Build Your Best Brand in Cincinnati

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Prior to announcing our sharpened focus for 2017, I spoke with several of our closest mentors, investors, and supporters to share the news with them and get their thoughts. Overwhelmingly, their responses sounded something like the following:

“It’s about time.”
“What took you so long?”
“This is a no-brainer.”

While there are various reasons this focus didn’t happen sooner, we’re all excited about the new direction. In the minds of most everyone in The Brandery network, our decision to recruit and invest in digitally native vertical brands (DNVBs) and the retail/marketing tech companies that support them was a long overdue one. However, a lot of folks outside our network may be wondering why this is; after all, what’s so special about a midwestern city like Cincinnati compared to similar business ecosystems on the west and east coasts?

Cincinnati is BrandHUB USA

More than anywhere else in the country, businesses here are equipped to build better brands. It started with Fortune 500 companies like Procter & Gamble, Kroger, and Macy’s establishing their headquarters in downtown Cincinnati. For a long time, these powerhouses developed incredibly strong internal organizations devoted to understanding their consumers, and thus built tremendous brand loyalty. Over time, these professionals went on to build independent agencies, consulting firms, and think-tanks dedicated to consumer marketing and branding. Today, Greater Cincinnati is home to more than 200 consumer product companies and upwards of 60,000 industry professionals, as well as several globally-renowned agencies. Nowhere else in the country can you find more consumer branding expertise per capita than right here in Cincinnati.

When The Brandery started in 2010, our goal was to leverage this unique and unfair advantage in developing the next great tech-enabled startups. Since 2010, we’ve paired each of our startups with an elite branding agency located here. These are agencies comprised of highly-talented professionals working with globally-recognized brands one day – then working with the young & hungry startups within our cohort the next.

It doesn’t stop with our agency partnerships; data science and analytics firms like Quotient (formerly Coupons.com), 84.51, The Nielsen Company, and others have all chosen to operate in Cincinnati because of the wealth of talent and customers they can find here. Many of our mentors work within these organizations, providing our startups with an intimate, insider’s knowledge of consumer understanding.

To be clear, branding is only one part of the equation. After all, what good is a solid brand and great customers if you can’t reach them? Being located in Cincinnati means easy access to 25 of the largest metro regions, over half of all US manufacturing establishments, and half of the US population. This is a major reason why Amazon is building their $1.5 billion Prime Air hub here, and why major logistics operations are locating here every month. This growth is perfect for small and up-and-coming retailers who may not be selling in brick-and-mortar yet and appreciate the ability to ship their products out quickly and efficiently.

If you’re a startup building the next great consumer brand or tech to support these brands, Cincinnati is the best place you can be. With more than 60,000 branding, marketing, and design experts within reach, The Brandery will help you accelerate your startup to success.

2016 Applications open on February 1!

It’s that time of year!

We’re here on the blog this morning to officially announce that applications for The Brandery’s 2016 accelerator program will open on Monday, February 1st.

This might be a time when you are trying to figure out if The Brandery’s program is right for you, and what sets us apart from other accelerators. Check out this nifty infographic that we created to give you an overview of The Brandery program and our 2015 highlights!

Over the next few months, we’ll be posting a lot of content here to help you get a sense of what life at The Brandery is like. We’ll highlight our office space, Branderyhaus startup housing, our cool partners, what we look for in outstanding applications and so much more. And don’t forget to connect with us! We’re on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

If you have questions about the program or the application process, you can find contact information for our staff and founders on our website or you can email info@brandery.org.

Procter & Gamble To Offer Up To Two Fellowships to Brandery Companies in 2015

As an expansion of P&G’s continued support of the Cincinnati startup ecosystem, two fellowships will be offered to Brandery companies in the 2015 accelerator cohort. As with our other fellowships, any startup that applies will be considered for the fellowship. Here are the benefits:

1. Direct access to P&G mentors & experts who will help the startup better prepare for solution driven engagements with potential large customers.

2. Active connections with P&G brand teams and executives to inform solution design and go-to-market strategy.

3. Pre-commitment to a paid in-market pilot with a P&G brand as part of The Brandery experience.

4. Opportunities to engage with global senior executives on business strategy.

Specifically for this fellowship, The Brandery and P&G are looking for startups that excel in one of three core areas: Connected Products and Platforms, Seamless Brand Building & Commerce, or Big Data & Analytics. You can read more about these three categories here.

“We’re thrilled about Procter & Gamble’s continued support of The Brandery and our startups. If you’re a startup looking to sell to marketers or work with CPG companies, there is not going to be a better opportunity to change the trajectory of your business.”

–Dave Knox, Co-founder, The Brandery

Procter & Gamble has been an active supporter of The Brandery, including hosting startup pitch events at P&G for brand tech companies, participating in Brand Fusion, helping lead workshops (like Growth Hack Day) and mentoring startups.

P&G’s fellowship offering is going to directly impact startups in our accelerator program, adding even more fuel to the fire for #StartupCincy.

The final deadline to apply to The Brandery is April 16. Apply now.

How To Stand Out When Applying To The Brandery

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[Editor’s Note: This post is by co-founder of The Brandery, Dave Knox. Dave, along with the rest of The Brandery team, will be reviewing applications for the next few months as we recruit startups for the Class of 2015. By day, Dave is the CMO of Rockfish. Read more of Dave’s blog posts and thought leadership here.]

Did you know that getting into a top tier startup accelerator is actually statistically more difficult than getting into Harvard? For its Class of 2018, Harvard accepted around 5.9% of their 34,000 applicants. In 2014, The Brandery accepted half that percentage with <2.5% of applicants being offered a spot in the program (a number we consistently see with other top-ranked peer programs).

So what should a founder do in order to get their application to stick out? After reviewing thousands of applications over our five previous classes, here are a few best practices I have seen work to help your startup stand out from the crowd. None of these are hard and fast rules, but more what I personally look at when I am reviewing our applications.

1. Become a known entity

If there were only thing that a startup could do when applying to The Brandery, this would be it. It amazes me how many startups apply for The Brandery but do not do any personal outreach. It is pretty easy to find out the decision makers behind our program. All of the founders and staff are listed on the website. All of us are very open about our contact info with emails and Twitter. And we hold a ton of events during application season where you can meet Brandery staff, alumni, and mentors in person. Yet despite this, an amazingly low number of applicants take any steps to reach out beyond their written applications. One of the keys to standing out is to have champions that believe in your team and your company. You can increase your odds of finding those champions by putting in the extra effort to meet the people behind the selection process.

2. Get a personal introduction / endorsement

Speaking of finding champions, one of the best ways to stand out from the crowd is with a warm introduction from someone in the Brandery network. We have an amazing group of mentors, investors, and alumni that are part of The Brandery family. If I get an email introduction from any of them telling me that “so and so startup is applying for The Brandery and they are awesome”, then I put that application on the top of my list. For instance, we had one application a few years ago that had a so-so initial product. But right before they applied, I received an email from an investor I trusted who said the startup had “one of the best mobile product teams” they had ever seen. Needless to say, that type of endorsement changed how I viewed the application right off the bat.

3. Do not be a “Me Too” Startup

Every year, The Brandery receives around two dozen applications that are best classified as “Me Too” Startups. The common theme of these companies is that they are a small twist on whatever the hot startup happened to be that year. When Groupon was gearing up for an IPO in 2011, we had an influx of companies with takes on the Daily Deal space. When Instagram was bought in 2012, our application inbox was flooded with photo startups. The shame with these applications is that I often don’t spend the time digging into the team because I’ve already dismissed the potential of the idea right off the bat.

4. Prove your hustle instead of telling us about it

Every startup talks about having the perfect “Hacker, Hustler, and Designer”. But it is interesting how often The Hustler actually doesn’t show their hustle. If you want to see hustle, talk to Michael Wohlschlaeger, CEO & Co-Founder of Ahalogy. When Michael applied to The Brandery, he and his wife were living in China. That year, The Brandery was having a “get to know us” happy hour during applications at a local bar in Cincinnati. Michael showed up at the event, where we learned that he flew from China to St. Louis (where his family was from) and then drove six hours from St. Louis to Cincinnati— just for the happy hour. That is the definition of hustle. I knew at that moment I would place a bet on Michael as an entrepreneur no matter what. Since Ahalogy has been ranked the fastest growing startup in Ohio the past two years, I think Michael has lived up to that reputation for hustle.

5. Apply early

Do not wait to the last minute to apply. Yes, the final deadline to apply is April 16th, but don’t make the mistake of waiting that long. All of us are reading applications as they come in, and I personally have a ranking of my top 10 applicants that is evolving in real-time. If your company has applied early, that has given me a longer time to learn about you, the company, and your team. I have been able to research the space you are playing in and talked with other investors about the opportunity. If you apply at the last minute, you are “forcing” me to make a quick decision about whether you should be a company we interview and accept.

All that being said, applications to the Class of 2015 are open now. The deadline is April 16.

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.

Reason #31: Proven history of success.

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Over the last four summers, we’ve accelerated 35 startups, raising a total of over $44 million. Backed by the previous 30 reasons, there is no surprise that Brandery graduates do big things. We’ve showed you the rankings and the reasons. Now, there’s nothing left to do but apply.

Deadline III is April 15 at midnight and the final deadline to apply is May 1. However, we are currently interviewing candidates, so the sooner your startup applies, the better.

I am a mentor for many accelerator programs. The Brandery is one of the country’s best. Participating companies benefit immensely from Cincinnati’s many global brands, leading agencies, and market research companies.

– Joe Medved, SoftBank Capital

Reason #30: Now's the time to start up.

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As Forbes detailed earlier this year, 2014 “will be the best one to run a business that we’ve seen in a long time. It’s also a very good time to start one.” This “Golden Age” of entrepreneurship has also spurred easier, faster ways to fundraise and more general support for founders, including accelerators like us. With your idea, drive, and our assistance working in tandem with an improving economy and general optimism, now is the time to start up. The Brandery could be just the boost you need.

In a world where the costs to build a company and the technical barriers to enter a market are decreasing rapidly, marketing and brand strategy have become critical to building enterprise value. The Brandery focuses in this area and offers a unique value to their portfolio with access to some of the best brand managers and marketing strategists in the world today.

– Phin Barnes, First Round Capital

Apply to The Brandery today.

Reason #29: The Cintrifuse fund of funds.

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Our friends a few blocks down at Cintrifuse have created a fund of funds to invest in venture capital firms. The fund has closed $51 million to date and is believed to be the largest privately funded, first-time regional fund of funds in the country. Investors include American Financial Group, Castellini Management Company, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Duke Energy, The Greater Cincinnati Foundation, The Kroger Co., Messer Financial Services, Procter & Gamble, the University of Cincinnati and Western & Southern Financial Group. Because of the nature of the fund, VCs are consistently visiting to learn more. The VC firms Cintrifuse has invested in include Allois Ventures, UpFront Ventures, and Sigma Prime.

It’s amazing over the last six months how many VCs have been coming through town to meet with Cintrifuse. The $50M+ dollar fund of funds, whose investors are cincinnati’s largest companies and organizations, has resulted in a steady flow of the top early stage investors around the country meeting with our startups.

– Mike Bott, General Manager of The Brandery

Apply to The Brandery now.

Photo courtesy of WCPO.

Reason #28: We are the #1 accelerator in the country for industry-specific mentorship.

As you know, we recently broke in to the top ten accelerators in the nation. But what we really were satisfied to see are the sub-rankings. Here’s how we stacked up:

  • The Brandery ranked #5 in average valuation across all portfolio companies,
  • #4 in average valuation across all portfolio companies one year after graduation,
  • #4 in average valuation across all portfolio companies two years after graduation,
  • #4 in overall satisfaction with mentorship,
  • #3 in satisfaction with mentorship in management and financial issues,
  • And #1 accelerator in the nation for satisfaction with mentorship in industry-specific knowledge

via seedrankings.com

What does industry-specific knowledge mean? It means we’ve found a team of unbelievable mentors from across the nation that choose to donate their time to our startups. The breadth of their work means they can relate to the startups they are paired with, and moreover, know how to help. The rankings say it all: we do this better than anyone in the country.

Data like this lets us know we’re on the right track— and we want you to be part of it. Today is Deadline II to apply. Deadline III is Friday, April 18th. We will extend offers as we vet startups, so the earlier the better. Apply to The Brandery now.