A venture capital firm known for its investments in civic and socially minded enterprises selected 16 startups on March 1 for a 10-week accelerator program in Sacramento, California.
Impact Venture Capital has taken entrepreneurs from the fields of civic tech, sustainability, health care, water and agriculture to be part of its annual Entrepreneurs Showcase Accelerator. The early-stage companies will get mentorship, co-working space and help from marketing, financial and legal professionals. A demo day will cap the program with a chance for the entrepreneurs pitch their wares to prospective investors.
Startups selected include:
- We Micro Give
- Yellow Circle
- Athena Intelligence
- Barley Oats Farms
- Factor Five
- Fishrock Lab
- Alphapura Robotics
Yellow Circle, a online learning platform for cloud computing, is among the the selected startups. Yellow Circle CEO Navneet Grewal and Chief Operating Officer Myles Maskovich said the accelerator represents a unique opportunity to advance the nonprofit through assistance that was previously out of reach.
“It’s pretty great being a small organization being chosen to work alongside other great local startups, and we’re hoping to meet other people who are like-minded in similar industries, to grow our network out and showcase what we can do to impact more students,” Maskovich said.
The company has reached more than 40,000 students that have signed onto the free platform since it launched in 2014. User growth has skyrocketed with greater demand for affordable tech education and a scarcity of affordable options to learn cloud skills. Like Codecademy and other coding sites, Yellow Circle provides a virtual learning environment for students in middle school and up to learn the complexities behind cloud-based infrastructure, applications, servers and databases.
“Our services, what we give away for free, is going to cost students hundreds if not thousands of dollars if they go out to educate themselves through the private cloud,” Grewal said. “And everything comes with a cost on the back end, so hopefully, with the accelerator’s help we can get connected to corporate sponsors who understand our mission and support it.”
Grewal explained that for the company’s small team, the most valuable features of the accelerator will be the added promotion, marketing and legal aid.
“What we’re looking for from the accelerator is help with marketing and with the legal side of the business.” Grewal said. “Even though we’re a nonprofit, those aspects are not things that always come to mind. We’re technology heads and don’t necessarily understand the all legal complications that come from operating a company.”
Other aspects that the accelerator might assist with are possible monetization methods and business models. Maskovich said Yellow Circle is considering several possible scenarios to ensure services are sustainable long term. Corporate sponsorship is one avenue, premium offerings another, and selling a subscription service to academic institutions also holds promise. Maskovich said Yellow Circle is working to identify the right choice that allows students free access to the platform, yet protect the quality of the product with revenue sources.
Current donors include Google, the City of Sacramento, the Western Digital Foundation and Quest Technology Management.
Aaron Anderson, principal at Impact Venture Capital, said in an interview with Business Insider that the firm received 65 applications for the 16 spots. As with previous years, the curriculum will be tied to teaching problem-solving skills and taking criticism from peers. The entrepreneurs will critique prototypes and services while providing suggestions from a multiplicity of backgrounds and industries.
“The teams pick each other apart and build each other back up again,” Anderson said. “The great thing about diversity of perspective, diversity of industry and diversity of [business] stage is it’s really helpful in seeing each other’s blind spots.”