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STAMFORD, CT — After making major progress last year, southwestern Connecticut’s newest business accelerator is aiming to maintain its momentum in 2018.
Focused on enterprise-oriented startups, TechXel graduated last month its first group of businesses. Its founders say the early feedback from participants, mentors and speakers suggests that the initiative has established a promising model for helping entrepreneurs to develop the knowledge and networks they need to grow their firms.
“Something had to be done to give these young ventures a leg up in getting that vital early seed and angel (investor) funding,” co-founder Brenda Lewis said in a recent interview at the Workpoint co-working center at 290 Harbor Drive, where TechXel is based. “We are one of the very few entities in the state that is directly supporting early-stage ventures. Much of the focus in the state is on stage two ‘in revenue’ companies. We’re taking those development-stage companies and preparing them to get their first round of institutional funding.”
In the 12-week program, participants receive 25 hours each of mentoring from business experts on key skills including the development of business plans and presentations for investors. During their training, they are expected to produce a complete set of documents covering funding for their businesses.
“What Brenda is really doing is polishing and helping these entrepreneurs get to the point so they can go to angel-investing pitches and competitions,” said Leanna Lawter, TechXel’s other co-founder, who is also an associate professor in Sacred Heart University’s College of Business and an HR consultant. “If you’re not polished and able and ready to answer questions and be vetted, you’re not going to move forward. She provides the necessary and valuable expertise and assistance to get to that point.”
The entrepreneurs also attend presentations held Wednesdays at the Ferguson Library led by experts on topics including social media, cybersecurity, patents, financial modeling and term sheets.
Incorporating their new insights, the candidates made practice pitches to a panel of investor judges at a Dec. 6 event at Workpoint.
TechXel does not provide funding. Instead, participants will use the feedback they have received when they meet with prospective investors from Lewis’ network of some 250 venture capitalists.
“It’s not a competition between them; it is a competition to get the best comments or feedback,” said Lewis, who is also principal of the Stamford-based Transactions Marketing.
Three businesses enrolled in the first cycle — five would be the maximum going forward — to ensure a high-level of individual coaching and mentoring.
“It’s a very intensive process,” Lewis said. “We feel any more than five would overwhelm the ability of our (mentor) professionals who are giving their time.”
Entrepreneurs interested in applying to the TechXel business accelerator program, can contact co-founder Brenda Lewis at email@example.com.
The inaugural group of TechXel graduates praised Lewis for helping them to better understand how to realize their goals. “All the ideas are in my head, and Brenda got me to pull them all out, so everybody has an understanding,” said Rodger Gibson, founder and CEO of the Stamford-based Airbornway Corp., an engineering and manufacturing firm focused on transportation, security and logistics. “She forced me to stop talking about it in larger terms, so I had to get into the weeds, which was very eye-opening. I saw how it’s actually going to work.”
TechXel’s next group of entrepreneurs are set to start on Jan. 17. Participants pay $1,500 to support the program’s operating costs.
“We’ll make some tweaks to it, but, in general, this has worked very well,” Lewis said. “We’ve had good feedback from the candidates, and based on the early feedback about the pitch party, people were extremely impressed.”
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