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New investment commitment in place for this year’s StartFast firms

By Journal Staff


SYRACUSE — In an increasingly crowded field of startup accelerators, leaders at Syracuse’s StartFast Venture Accelerator know they need to work hard to make their program stand out.

Early-stage companies have more and more options on where to turn for help, says StartFast Managing Director Nasir Ali. And accelerator programs like StartFast can draw applicants from around the world, meaning Syracuse isn’t just competing with accelerators down the Thruway for the best participants

A commitment from Sarasota, Fla.–based Sand Oak Capital Partners to invest $250,000 in this year’s StartFast companies will help separate the local program from the pack, Ali says.

“There’s been a very large increase just in the last 12 months in terms of the number of accelerator programs coming online,” he says. “We have to differentiate ourselves to rise above the noise and be seen as people who are serious and committed and able to drive results.”

More partnerships like the one with Sand Oak are likely in the future, he adds.

StartFast is a private capital-backed accelerator for software, Internet, and mobile startups. Teams already receive $18,000 in seed funding and then spend the summer working with mentors and coaches in Syracuse.

Its focus is on helping the young companies develop and validate a prototype product and secure enough funding for them to move forward with their work.

The commitment from Sand Oak is above and beyond what teams get just for participating in StartFast and the investments will come after firms have been through the program. But not all the companies will get a piece of that capital.

Sand Oak Managing Partner Jeremy Schwimmer says he’ll look for the same things in potential StartFast investments as he does when looking any possible deal. Schwimmer joined StartFast earlier this year as an entrepreneur in residence.

“I want smart, driven people who will listen, who will take advice, and are passionate about what they do,” he says. “It’s energy. It’s passion.”

Schwimmer led the successful turnaround of a metal-recycling business in Central New York and has made investments in six other companies in the area, according to StartFast. He is a member of the Seed Capital Fund of CNY.

Schwimmer has lived and worked in New York, San Francisco, Silicon Valley, and Los Angeles. He currently lives in Skaneateles.

As an investor, it’s appealing to target firms that have been through an accelerator like StartFast, Schwimmer says. It’s like a finishing school for promising startups, he notes.

“Most companies don’t go in and leave with an entirely different view of their business,” he says. “The acceleration comes from buttoning up the final points of execution.”

StartFast is part of the Global Accelerator Network. The network grew from the TechStars program that began in Boulder, Colo. in 2007. TechStars has since expanded to Boston, Seattle, and New York City and includes a separate program for companies working on cloud computing and infrastructure.

The network includes 45 accelerators around the world.

StartFast investors receive a 6 percent stake in exchange for the money program participants receive. The businesses also get access to a number of in-kind contributions from national sponsors like Google and Rackspace through the Global Accelerator Network.

Teams receive regular coaching with mentors from around the country and from Ali and the program’s other managing director Chuck Stormon.

The Seed Capital Fund of CNY (SCF) is providing 40 percent of StartFast’s $2 million in funding. The rest is coming from private investors. The initial funding round will allow StartFast to run for four years.

This is the second year of the program.


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