OCEAN Accelerator is on a mission to expand God’s kingdom in the marketplace by building into entrepreneurs.
Name of Accelerator: OCEAN Accelerator
Location: Cincinnati, Ohio
Managing Director: Ian Smith
Marketing Manager: James Clair
This article is part of our Startup Accelerator Spotlight Series featuring accelerators from around the world. We hope these spotlights will assist the entrepreneur should they consider attending an accelerator program.
In two sentences or less, tell us about your accelerator and its objectives.
OCEAN Accelerator is on a mission to expand God’s kingdom in the marketplace by building into entrepreneurs. We are enriching the modern marketplace by inspiring, developing and equipping entrepreneurs through a unique accelerator that implements a spiritual framework within the commercial growth of companies.
Why is your accelerator program unique? Please describe the benefits of participation in your program.
Through a five-month journey, up to ten venture backable companies receive seed capital, co-working space, mentor and investor networks and free legal services. The program is designed to best prepare companies to raise investment and to provide them with the tools to launch a business. In the largest attended Demo Day in the United States, founders pitch their companies to thousands of potential investors, partners and customers from around the country.
What is the most difficult part of working with startups?
The most difficult part of working with startups is also the most difficult part of working with entrepreneurs themselves. Most often, opportunities and gaps in our work reveal themselves in our personal life. So, the most challenging aspect to what we do is also the ‘why’ behind our ‘what’. Creating a decision-making framework so that our ‘what’ resonates and creates impact is critical.
What do you enjoy the most; what do you find most appealing about working with entrepreneurial startups?
What I enjoy most comes from what is the most difficult part of working with startups – building community. Since our program is focused on building into and growing the founder themselves, as well as their business, a natural fruit of that is community. Entrepreneurship is a lonely journey for many, but that’s not the way God designed us to operate, so we intentionally lean into that. I’m extremely relational and when we get to know our founders and show that we ‘get it’, often that builds our credibility with them more than our business acumen.
Tell us about your success stories; which are the most interesting companies to have participated in your program?
So far, we have accelerated 19 companies in our first two years – that number will go to 26 after Class III kicks off in January, 2017. We have had amazing success with our alumni, already raising $7 million in follow-on funding – a shocking number considering many of our alumni don’t need to raise investment just yet.
We had an amazing story emerge from two of our second class participants after our program ended in the spring. Homefield determined to place their pursuit of taking their product to the market on hold, after fielding multiple angel investment and customer contracts, to join the team of another participant in Class II – Spatial.
Spatial had been accepted into Techstars and after experiencing the OCEAN program with Homefield, decided they would make excellent additions to the team. They ended up joining the Spatial team and together finished the Techstars program and recently announced the raise of a $2.1 million seed round.
This journey emulates exactly what we hope participants get out of our program. It’s about pausing and passing your options through a decision-making framework that includes what effect your choice has on your company, your health, your relationships and your faith. Homefield took a path many wouldn’t have. Spatial saw an opportunity many wouldn’t have thought. It’s resulted in an outstanding example of trust, community and boldness our program stands for.
What are the three most important factors entrepreneurs should consider when contemplating attending an accelerator?
Identity – Accelerators are obviously designed to take your startup to market faster. However, that may also result in your startup failing faster. 90% of tech startups fail – accelerator or not, that is reality. Thus far, OCEAN is trending substantially above that. The reason startups fail is for all kinds of commercial reasons, but it’s also because of all kinds of personal reasons as well. Typically, whenever your gap is in your personal life, it inevitably gets revealed in your business, and often crumbles companies. If you aren’t ready to be asked the tough questions, your company isn’t either.
Community – Going through an accelerator has loads of benefits, but the network is what’s attractive. You have the unique ability to be introduced to individuals who have knowledge in your space, have wisdom from their own company’s growth and have the financial credentials to invest in your company. The rarity of that existing in any format is profound. Consider the mentors, advisors, investors, but also consider the community members of the city your accelerator is located. Often, the accelerator reflects the activity in the city, and analyzing the larger scope will help you get a better grasp of the impact that that network can make for your company.
Boxes – Be realistic and ‘check all the boxes’. Accelerators all offer their programming in a fixed-term, provide seed money, provide co-working space, etc. Pause, make a chart of the handful you are considering and determine what matters and who has it. This is third on my list, because this becomes clear when you’ve wrestled with the first two factors. ‘Checking boxes’ isn’t how you should make decisions, it’s a formality.
What else would you like to share?
“Our philosophy is that a rising tide lifts all boats”, according to co-founder Tim Brunk. “I hope that in the long term, this accelerator can contribute to that rising tide by pumping more successful companies into our Cincinnati ecosystem.” Stay up to date on Ocean by subscribing at cerkl.com/ocean-accelerator .
Are you familiar with other startups you believe should be spotlighted? If so, we would like to hear from you. Tell us about them, sharing your comments below!