Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Jonathon McCoy of Perception Labs Talks about the Accelerator Program

I met with Jonathan McCoy who is part of the Entrepreneur Organization or EO as members call it. EO membership is available to entrepreneurs whose company has at least $1M in revenue. Numerous CTAN members are part of EO so I hear about the support that EO provides to its members.

So what is your background?

I studied electrical engineering at UT and then went on to work in Semiconductors for about 4 years. I worked at AMD and Cirrus Logic primarily. About five years ago I started some cash flow businesses. The first was a local courier / logistics business called Green Light Delivery that I recently sold. I also co-founded a company called Greenling which is an organic food delivery service to the home. The management of the company has grown the business considerably here and now in San Antonio. Then, I formed a partnership to purchase a small company, Longhorn Delivery that delivers restaurant meals to the home. You can have a meal delivered to your home in under an hour. Most recently, I started a company called Perception Labs. It is my primary focus today - the venture is working to commercialize a technology I have developed over the last four years or so.

Tell me more about the home delivery service market?

When the internet first became popular it was an interesting service to offer but nobody could figure out how to make money with the business model. With Longhorn Delivery we’ve taken a much slower approach, and as a result the business is sustainable and provides value to a lot of consumers. However, what might start to happen over the next several years as mobile applications become more ubiquitous is that ordering becomes a contextually-aware process - then the home delivery service becomes a seamless value-added service. Like many industries, embedding more and more software applications into our lives could be a game changer.

What’s the status of Perception Labs?

It’s still in the R&D phase – we’re working very hard to get the technology in a state that is ready for customers. The technology is very cool – a sort of unique method for performing domain specific search and simulation. I’ll keep you updated when we have a public demo.

So you’re a part of EO. Tell me about it?

I’ve been in EO for a couple of years now. It’s a great group that I’ve gotten a lot of value out of. The idea is to get people who have similar needs together to help each other - issues such as hiring/managing employees, growing sales, etc, come up often. I think the group has something like 15,000 members around the world, and about 80 in Austin. To get in EO you go through an application process at the local chapter level. The minimum requirement is that you have $1M in revenue for your company. What I like best is Forum, its kind of like having your own virtual board of directors. These are guys who have also become some of my best friends.

So what is EO’s new Accelerator program all about?

The EO Accelerator provides classroom education, peers, and mentoring support for up and coming companies. It’s a non-profit organization within EO. It’s been rolled out in 12 cities across the US and I’m volunteering to ‘Champion’ the local chapter. It’s for companies with $250K - $1M in sales and seeks to take entrepreneurs to the next level. It’s perfect for businesses that have a solid plan in place to reach $1M+ in sales within 18-24 months.

What does the entrepreneur get if they apply and then accepted?

The entrepreneur gets four quarterly meetings – each one a full 8-hour day. Like most things in EO you have to make a strong commitment to the program. There are four focus areas: people, sales/marketing, money, and strategy. During that eight hour session, there’s a professional facilitator, in our case a very successful entrepreneur named Gerry Morton, who teaches the entrepreneurs about setting goals for their business for the subsequent three months. It’s very tactical in nature. You’re setting goals for yourself so you can incrementally improve the business. The curriculum was pulled from successes within the EO network. They took the more successful business owners (there’s about 40 contributors) and drew out their experience. That’s the learning environment. Then there’s a local speaker that comes in for a few hours and talks about a related topic.

Where does the mentoring come in?

So, the other members of the Accelerator program provide peer support in groups of 3. EO members from the local chapter participate in the program for their own businesses and are available as mentors. We also invite mentors to the program from various communities within the city.

When does it start?

We’re launching on February 20. We have accepted just about all the members we need for the first round, but still looking for a few qualified candidates. So far we’ve had a couple information events to get the word out. We had a speaker come in from Microsoft last week and talk about how small business can profit from Microsoft as a vendor, how to position your business for a sale to Microsoft, and how businesses can leverage the newest technologies both to grow their own businesses and also to partner in providing new products and services.

How would you characterize the EO members?

It’s very diverse. It’s one of the most diverse groups I’ve been in. Maybe about 25-40% of the companies are tech oriented. In my forum we have 8 very different businesses represented. The philosophy of the group is to seek diversity in order to build off of one another’s experiences. We expect to see the same thing in the accelerator group. Nearly any kind of business is acceptable. We want people to graduate and move up. We don’t want people in the program for more than 18 or 24 months.

How much do you charge for the program?

Normally, the program like this would cost from $5K to $15K per. This program is $1K due to the sponsorship by Mercedes Financial. It’s heavily subsidized. It is really a no-brainer for businesses focused on growth because of the sheer amount of resources that are available. The program has you fill out worksheets on your strategy, sales/marketing etc. How many business owners in the hectic growth phase sit down and write up their strategy, then have the support to follow through? The program encourages good practice.

Best regards,
Hall T.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Daniel Marcos of Starts Venture Fund for Companies Serving Hispanics

I met with Daniel Marcos of who provides financing to Hispanic customers. He now has a new project – applying venture funding to startup companies serving Mexican customers living in the US or in Mexico. He has experience having built an angel fund in 2000 and made eight investments. One of them has multiplied its sales by over 15 times in its 7 years of investment.

Daniel’s current fund is matched by the Mexican development bank at 35%. He has over $3M in the fund so far and it continues to grow. They are seeking a name for the group that will work in both the US and the Mexico market.

From the first one in the late 1990s to about 20 funds countrywide today, the number of venture funds in Mexico is growing. The other impact on the venture fund situation is the creation of the “AFORES” which is similar to a 401K program. There is now over $70B invested in the AFORES throughout Mexico. Soon, the managers of these funds will be allowed to invest some % of those funds into venture funds.
Angel funding in Mexico is not very large yet. There are two ways companies are started: large companies start small, stand alone businesses, or individual families start them. The Young Entrepreneurs Organization (YEO) has three chapters in Mexico. Most of the entrepreneurs in it are self-funded.

Best regards,
Hall T.