Update On Last Year
Last year, when we launched the business incubator component of LaunchBox Digital, we weren’t sure what to expect. How many applicants will our first program get? What will be the quality of the ideas? How much support will each company require? It was a bit of a leap of faith, especially because of our decision to base the program in Washington, DC.
Now, looking back over the last eight months since the first program began, we couldn’t be happier. We got around 250 applicants, ranging all the way from DC to Norway and China. The ideas we saw were of good, and sometimes great, quality. We selected a group of finalists to interview, and from there, we chose the nine companies that were our inaugural participants. 12 weeks later (fuelled by lots of sweat equity and passion), each of the nine companies got to pitch their businesses to investors, bloggers and angels on the East and West Coasts, with some great early feedback.
But suddenly, right after the end of the program, the US (and subsequently, the global economy) went into the tank. Here were entrepreneurs, excited and energized, sitting across from potential investors who were watching the book value of their investments decline day after day. I don’t think there could have been a more daunting challenge for our companies: Each company really needed to close on a new round of funding if they were going to take their business to a new level, and they found themselves competing for attention in an incredibly stressful investment environment.
Angels were seeing 30-40% declines in what they considered their low-to-medium risk index and stock investments, and wondering if they were too far out on the efficient frontier with their private equity investing. Venture funds, even ones in the top quartile of performance, were watching their own fund raising efforts run into a community of LPs who were collectively reeling from their own hedge fund investing. Now imagine throwing a bunch of early stage companies into this maelstrom, and you might expect a real train wreck. What we got, however, was the exact opposite.
In really early stage investing, it is all about investing in the people, and, as a collective group, the LaunchBox teams were as creative and dedicated a group as we had ever run across. They all kept the faith, used the same aggressive cost management that they had operated with all summer, and pressed on with both their fund raising and product development.
Now, sitting here in January, we have six of the nine companies funded, and all are focused on changing the world in their own unique ways. As people who played a small part in their journey, we couldn’t be happier.
With that as background, we are happy to announce that we are now open for applications for the 2009 incubator program, LaunchBox09. We are really excited about the new ideas that we’ll see this year. We think there are a number of new catalysts and opportunities for startups that have emerged over the last year:
• Government 2.0 – looking at the agenda of the new administration, and seeing interesting spaces to help drive the efficient re-invention of government-funded processes and programs
• Healthcare – taking a fresh look at outside-in innovation around patient care and personal health monitoring and management
• Plays within the new mobile ecosystems, including new ones centered around Palm’s webOS and Android
• Opportunities afforded by powerful netbooks soon hitting the $150-200 price range (and that $20 India netbook we’ll see Feb. 3!;)
• People riding the infrastructure plays like Twitter and delivering complementary new services.
With the continued support of both our great group of advisors and our first alumni group, we can help first-time entrepreneurs navigate that crucial first year of existence and succeed. In spite of what we see each day on TV and the web about the macro-economic picture, too many new opportunities exist for people to play defence here – we are looking for bright, bold, and dedicated folk to help lead the way to a brighter tomorrow.
You can learn more about our program (and apply to participate) at www.launchboxdigital.com.
John McKinley is a partner at LaunchBox Digital. Previously, he was CTO of AOL. John serves or has served as an advisor to or member of the Boards of Directors at Equifax, MessageLabs, Powerset, Xoopit, Sharememe, Buzzable, Foundation Capital, and ObectVideo. John is also the founder and CEO of OurParents.