Innovate September 2018

Co.Accelerator Strives to Stop the Brain Drain


Written By: Marsh Sutherland

In the recent past, too many startups have begun in Gainesville and moved out of town to grow. New entrepreneurs have had difficulty finding experts and financing to help them meet their milestones.

For instance, two local startup success stories, Waitr and Feathr, both left Gainesville. Waitr relocated to Louisiana and sold in May for $308 million. Feathr moved to Austin for a short time but moved back to Gainesville and has since grown into one of the top software companies in town.

Just this year, Aaron Dixon and Quang Tran of Collective & Co. decided enough was enough.

“It’s unfortunate to let potential entrepreneurs slip through our fingers and go to another city,” Tran said.

The Collective & Co. team rolled up its sleeves and started Co.Accelerator at the UF Innovate | The Hub to stop the brain drain from the University of Florida and to keep our local talent local.

The team’s goal is to create increased community awareness and support for startups, so they can stay and grow here, following in the footsteps of now-established Gainesville startups like SharpSpring, Fracture and OPIE Software.

For the beta Co.Accelerator cohort, Tran was able to source startups through the local coworking space Starter Space, which he co-founded. CharterHook, GRIFIN, Gatherade, Tribe, EDUTECH, REVA, Synchronize, Sift Local and Longwing Coffee Co. are the current companies participating in Co.Accelerator’s program.

Startups going through the three-month accelerator are given free coworking space at in the UF Innovate | The Hub on 2nd Avenue. They receive free mentorship and guidance from experienced local players who have the same. Collective & Co. foots the entire bill presently.

An example of one such mentor is James Davis, the chief marketing officer of Scout, who has assisted Co.Accelerator’s beta cohort of startups with email marketing campaigns and lead generation. An expert designer has also led branding sessions.

The startups have bonded through weekly founder dinners and design sprints where all founders focus on improving the designs and workflows for two participating companies.

CharterHook CEO Andrew Smith commented, “There’s a lot of energy among the startup companies that are here with us. I think that energy is just giving me more energy to focus a little bit deeper on things that I need to push for and on their feedback on CharterHook. It’s going to be invaluable throughout this program.”

Jasmine Tran, Co.Accelerator’s director, indicated the team looks for key attributes in startups it invited to the accelerator:

  • Committed founder team
  • Startup strives to positively impact the lives of others
  • Founders are coachable
  • Startups are diverse creating synergy with the other startups

Co.Accelerator held its first Demo Day on Aug. 16 at Cypress & Grove Brewing Co. The CEOS of seven startups each gave a five-minute Shark Tank-style pitch to the audience of investors and other members of the technology community.

Todd Van Hoosear, the senior vice president of marketing for the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce, who previously worked at UF’s incubator, calls the Co.Accelerator an important step toward a stronger infrastructure for creating, finding and nurturing entrepreneurial talent in the area.

“The brain drain is real, and it’s not just happening at the individual level to recent graduates of our higher education programs, but to entire companies as they outgrow the resources we make available to them,” he said.

To learn more about applying for Co.Accelerator, visit its Facebook page at facebook.com/coaccelerator.

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