Entrepreneurs: Beware the Post Money Trap!

For a startup company, serious interest from a venture capital (VC) firm is a big deal that's worth celebrating. Founders shouldn't pop the cork on the champagne too soon, however. VC money can be a mixed blessing if you haven't done your homework and crunched the numbers to make sure you're ready for this volume of investment. Studying all the important variables before accepting money is one key to a successful startup company.

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4 No-Budget Online Marketing Tips for Startup Companies

Effective marketing strategies are crucial to the survival of any business, but for early stage companies with little to no advertising budget, marketing and building brand awareness can be a huge challenge. While everyone knows that social media is a great resource for getting the word out, with so many platforms to choose from it can be difficult to know where to start. Here's the thing — social media is no longer an optional part of brand building. It's the single biggest resource young companies have at their disposal.

One thing I’ve learned through mentoring early stage companies is that one of the toughest challenges facing them is finding an audience of customers who will help them launch their brand. Social media is just a distraction if they aren't using it with a focused strategy to engage with potential customers and build an audience who will invest in them and spread the word. To assist in developing this strategy, I’ve compiled a list of four of my no-budget marketing tips for maximizing your social media marketing: 

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After Demo Day: What’s Next for Accelerated Startups?

After a successful Demo Day last Friday, we've officially wrapped up our Class of 2015! I say "officially" because the accelerator program is over in name only. Just as with previous classes, SparkLabKC continues to counsel and work alongside our graduate companies long after Demo Day. Our graduates have access to our office space through the end of the year, and we're always available to offer advice (whether they ask us for it or not) or unwind with a game of ping-pong.

We've already congratulated our 10 startup teams on a fantastic Demo Day, so now we'd like to share some thoughts with them about what comes next:

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The Class of 2015 Shines on Demo Day!

Our Class of 2015 culminated last Friday, April 10th, with Demo Day. Each of the 10 companies who have participated in our accelerator program over the last few months took the stage at the World War I Museum to pitch their products to an enthusiastic crowd of supporters, mentors, and investors. I'm glad to say that these innovative entrepreneurs and their products were a hit!

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Inside the Accelerator: Tips for a Pitch Perfect Demo Day Presentation

Demo Day is this Friday, June 10th! Each team will give a brief presentation introducing themselves and their companies to a crowd of leading area businessmen and women, distinguished guest speakers, and potential investors. This group of talented entrepreneurs is solving real problems with innovative solutions, so it's going to be an exciting day!

In anticipation of Demo Day, I've asked SparkLabKC mentor and presentation coach Vincent Wagner of Creelio (a graduate of our Class of 2014) to share some of the wisdom he's been imparting to our teams as they prepare to pitch in front of a crowd of influential mentors, innovators, and investors.

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Company Profiles: COPR Security Innovations, The Swapping Company, Lazser Down, and Kookiedoodle Crafts

In the final installment of this series, I'd like to introduce the final four companies who are participating in our Class of 2015. They round out our ambitious and talented group of 10 innovative new companies.

All of our teams have been hard at work preparing for the conclusion of the SparkLabKC accelerator program on April 10th, 2015. After brief speeches from our featured guest speakers, each team will present their pitch and introduce themselves and their company to the crowd of potential investors and partners. It's always an exciting day, and we hope to see you there!

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Company Profiles: College Sports USA, Royal Loyal, and PopBookings

Demo Day is on the horizon (mark your calendars for April 10th!) and the SparkLabKC teams are hard at work. Between meeting with mentors, continuing to develop their products, and preparing for Demo Day presentations, they are a busy and industrious group. We've got 10 exciting new companies to reveal to the world in a few short weeks. But, I'd like to give you a sneak peak with a brief introduction of each company.

This week I've highlighted three companies whose experience in their field led them to understand a major problem and create an innovative solution.

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Startup Books: Top Picks to Make Your Business Better

There are a lot of books out there about entrepreneurship, innovation, and startup culture. Now that we're in our third year of providing guidance and support to startup companies through our accelerator program, we've come across just about everything ever published about entrepreneurship and business. Everybody has advice to offer — some groundbreaking, innovative, and exciting, and others not so much.

We've amassed quite the library of startup wisdom and thought we'd share our picks for the best of the best. These four books have been passed from company to company and from mentor to mentor, and they never fail to jumpstart in-depth discussions about business theory and practice. We recommend them to our companies when they're struggling and need extra inspiration, and we highly endorse them to anyone who wants to get a better sense of startup culture or help their business grow and thrive.

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The Secrets of Venture Capital Success

For many startup companies, receiving investment through a venture capital (VC) firm is the Holy Grail — it's a big validation of your idea and team. It seems like there's always a new story in the news about a startup landing a huge investment, such as the$19M round just closed by Miami-based YellowPepper. While these stories can seem ubiquitous and it's true that last year was the biggest year for VCs since 2000, venture capital is a major catch that requires major preparation to land.

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Inside the Accelerator: Finding the Right Mentor

One of the biggest assets of any startup accelerator program is its mentors. These are the business leaders and industry experts who give their time and make connections to help early stage startups. For the accelerator program, this is what makes an $18,000 cash investment feel more like $100,000 (which makes giving up a 6% equity stake a lot more palatable for startups, especially those in a later stage of development). How well an accelerator program recruits, allocates, and manages its mentor pool is a sign of its effectiveness in advancing successful startups.

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Crowdfunding Isn't Magic: How to Get It Right

Running low on working capital? Need to raise a quick round of funding to boost your startup to the next level of its development? Many entrepreneurs have been in this situation, without access to the capital they need to grow and unsure of where to turn.

Many early stage companies in these circumstances have found success on online funding platforms such as KickStarterIndieGogo, and GoFundMe. In addition to offering a way to raise a seed round from friends, family, and online supporters, these platforms are also a valuable and inexpensive way to validate your product. It quickly answer the question: is anyone willing to pay for your new product or service?

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Want a Successful Startup? Find the Right Co-Founder

So, you've got a great startup idea. Fantastic! You might be thinking that your next step is to hunker down and build something, then pitch it to an accelerator program or a funder, and you're off to the races. Right? Wrong! At SparkLabKC, we are big believers in finding someone to build it with you first. If you can't find someone to share your enthusiasm and vision (a.k.a a co-founder), it's probably not the right thing to build in the first place. 


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The Key to Acceleration? Diversity

When you hear the words "startup company," I expect you think about two founders and an idea — one that is just barely "off the cocktail napkin." Those kinds of startups were the applicants for the first accelerators (e.g., Y-Combinator, Techstars). But now that there are more than 200 accelerator programs worldwide, the times seem to be changing. In the last two years, there has been a shift in the diversity of companies applying for startup accelerator programs. Many later stage startup companies are now valuing the accelerator experience as a growth stimulator or an infusion of energy to get them over a growth hump.

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Introducing the SLKC Class of 2015!

On Monday, January 12th, we welcomed a new group of inspiring local innovators into the SparkLabKC Accelerator Program — our Class of 2015! We hand-picked each participating company through a painstaking vetting process and are very excited by the results of our search. Many promising companies submitted applications, came in for interviews, and impressed us with their passion, commitment, and entrepreneurial spirit. It was a competitive field of candidates, and the final ten companies accepted into our accelerator program were the cream of the crop.

Drumroll please...

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Vitamin or Painkiller: Which is Your Product?

What motivates customers to buy your product? Knowing the answer is essential to targeting the right demographic with your marketing and sales efforts. After all, you don't want to waste your time and money hawking the health benefits of your product if customers buy it primarily for pain management. Likewise, you don't want to talk about managing a chronic health condition when people are buying your product primarily to stay healthy.

This post isn't about pharmaceuticals, however. Vitamins and painkillers in this case are analogies for the two types of products developed by entrepreneurs, and they can be applied to almost any product. The theory was originated by venture capitalist Mahendra Vora and is explored in detail in a Forbes piece by George Deeb.

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Congrats! You’ve Been Accepted: So Now What?

Congratulations! Your company has been accepted to SparkLabkKC (or one of the 224 other accelerator programs across the globe listed on Seed-DB). To be accepted into an accelerator program is quite a feat! You are joining an elite group of 4,264 companies that have been accelerated since 2005 when Y-Combinator was born.

As you know, this is a highly selective process and many worthy companies do not make the accelerator cut. It’s an important first step in the validation path for your startup company that many others do not get. It gives you an “edge” in the dog-eat-dog world of startups and improves your odds of success.

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The Future of Investing: Title II of the JOBS Act

It's an exciting time to be a startup entrepreneur! In addition to becoming the new paradigm in the business world and capturing the attention and imagination of the culture at large, recent legislation promises to make it easier than ever to launch and grow your own company. The JOBS Act has been around since 2012, but one major provision, Title II, went into effect in September of 2013.

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