Accelerator programs have been bolstering startups for nearly a decade. In terms of food and health, companies like Kitchit, Foodspotting and Mile High Organics participated in 500 Startups accelerator program, and Goldbely, Spoonrocket and Instacart, to name a few, were backed by Y Combinator. And niche accelerator programs, like Accelfoods, which will offer engaged support for packaged food and beverage entrepreneurs, are popping up, too. Now, Toronto-based Fresh Startups joins the scene to offer an intimate, customized accelerator experience just for food, health and wellness startups.
The program, a partnership between startup and innovation consulting firm Kinetic Cafe and Freshii, a healthy food restaurant chain that’s hoping to redefine fast food in Canada, aims to fix what the team sees as the broken accelerator model. Accepting only a handful of startups into its first class, Fresh Startups will focus on business growth rather that pitch decks and customer growth over investor interest. The team will work side-by-side with startups everyday of the 6 month program, covering everything from business development to deal closing.
In addition to affording startups constant access to on-staff designers, developers, sales, strategy and marketing experts, the program’s Freshii partnership affords startups access to the restaurant chain’s users and infrastructure, which the team hopes will boost brand positioning for the startups.
I caught up with Kinetic Cafe principle and head of Fresh Startups Saul Colt to learn more about the program’s model and goals.
Food+Tech Connect: What is you background, business model and market size?
Saul Colt: My background is deeply entrenched in the startup space. Having grown up in a family business and learning how to run a business from an early age I went on to launch a publishing company, was the first international employee of Zipcar.com and launched the service in Canada. Was the head of magic for Freshbooks.com and helped grow the business from 240k users to well over 5 million, held a senior role with Rogers.com venture wing and now with Kinetic Cafe and Fresh Startups.
Fresh Startups model can be best better described as a partnership with each company that enters our program. Our goals are to build great businesses and not pressure people to give up on their goals and sell their business at the first chance they get. By entering the Fresh Startups program we make a financial investment in the company in exchange for a percentage of the company but the goal is not to flip and see a return instantly. We are long term partners who will coach and support the companies well past the end of the program.
FTC: What was the inspiration for Fresh Startups?
SC: The inspiration for Fresh Startups comes from the same place great company ideas come from. As a group we believe that the current accelerator model being offered to startups is broken. When you see something broken you can either ignore about it or you can try to fix it. And we are not alone in this thinking. In a recent article from Sramana Mitra in the Harvard Business Review, Mitra states that success has to be more than just funding. “Most incubator/accelerators use funding as a success metric, which is a somewhat flawed criterion. Over 99 percent of companies should operate as organically grown, self-sustaining businesses — bootstrapped, without external financing. For them the goal is to achieve customer validation, not financing. Yet if the incubator uses financing as its success metric, it will try to force inexperienced entrepreneurs into an unnecessary financing round. And more often than not, they will fail.” Fresh Startups is our way of fixing the broken accelerator model.
FTC: How do you differentiate yourself from others startup accelerator programs?
SC: Our program is very different. Sure we offer money and space to work, but that is where the similarities end. Instead of having a long list of familiar faces as mentors we have a small group of people you may not know but who are some of the best designers/developers/UX/UI/sales/strategy/marketing in the city. And instead of them just dropping in a few times, they are on the payroll, work in the space and are available to our applicants as needed.
Beyond that, we have an internationally recognized strategic foresight team on staff with far reaching research resources at their fingertips waiting to work with our applicants. But the biggest differentiator is our amazing partnership with Matthew Corrin and his company Freshii. Freshii opens up a vertical expertise that these companies can’t find anywhere as well as access to customers and other opportunities through their distribution and procurement channels if thats appropriate and important to the startup.
FTC: Why do you think your model (and the partnership between Kinetic Cafe and Freshii) is best suited to bolster wellness, food and health startups?
SC: By taking a laser focus and only working with health, food and fitness startups we can focus all our research, startups and education towards the same goal. When a co-hort has people from hardware to app discovery to social platforms the goals can’t be similar and the learnings and mentor talks can’t be anything more than high level. With everyone working in the same space the lessons are similar and even allow for co-marketing.
FTC: What will the accelerator process look like for the startups that make the cut? And what type of growth are you hoping to see for the average startup?
SC: We will run each company through a completely customized program that will start with business modeling (or service design), customer identification, design and development and sales acceleration. The reason we customize this is because each company will be at different stages of growth and we want to maximize the success for each startup that is accepted into the program. This is the reason we are keeping the number of selected startups small; our program is intensive and want everyone to get as much attention from us as possible.
FTC: What does the program offer in terms of funding and education, and what do participants receive in return?
SC: We offer $25,000 in cash, $15,000 in digital lab credits, Office space and a hands on program. In return, we take a range of 5-10 percent in equity of the business.
FTC: Are there any companies you aspire to be like or hope to improve upon, maybe a hybrid of a few?
SC: While there are some great companies out there that we respect greatly, we feel we are building something new and hope FreshStartups is something that inspires others to follow us instead of us following them.
Fresh Startups will be accepting applications for its inaugural class beginning on October 4th.