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Investing in the Lives of Founders: Lighthouse Labs RVA (pt. 3)

Anika Horn
Nov 21, 2017 · 5 min read

November 16th, 2017. It’s Thursday afternoon. In a large conference room on the West Creek Capital One campus the lights are dimmed. The room is packed with 170+ people, standing room only for anyone who arrived after 4 p.m. Todd Nuckols, Executive Director of Lighthouse Labs, takes the stage and kicks off the fifth annual Demo Day for one of the top 25 seed accelerators in the United States. Welcome to Lighthouse Labs!

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Announcement of Lighthouse Labs’ cohort V at RVAtech jam in July 2017

What follows are pitches from six startup founders who just completed three months of mentoring, tailored programming and pitch practice with RVA’s entrepreneurial community. Every four minutes the room erupts in wild applause, then we’re on to the next pitch. After 30 minutes, the entire spectacle is over. Via audience voting, Capital One awards

The audience spills into the cafe space downstairs for hors d’oeuvres and drinks. Business cards change hands. Shoulders are padded. Mentors, founders, Alumni and advisors mingle while I am desperate to sit down for a moment and devour some crackers. I talk to an entrepreneur who wants to apply next year, make introductions, and catch up with Alumni and founding partners. I take a moment to look around the room and am amazed how far many of the founders have come since week one back in August.

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Alumni catch up: Joanna Pheil (program manager at Lighthouse Labs), Jon Coble (GoGoBand), Jen Linton (Fenris Digital), Blue Crump (Lumen Energy & Glass Smith)

While I love working with early-stage founders on validating business models (see part 2 of this series), for three months a year I get to experience the later stages of high-growth startup life and it gives me immense pleasure and joy to see founders reinvent themselves and grow beyond what they thought possible only three months earlier. I was thrilled at a recent investor dinner when I found myself next to one of the founders who — 12 months ago — had nothing but an idea on a napkin, and was heatedly discussing cap tables and their big data approach to monetization.

What I love about Richmond is that most of our Lighthouse Labs Alumni are only ever a phone call away to grab coffee and catch up. I try to meet up with founders at least once a month to keep my finger at the pulse of our ecosystem and I feel incredibly grateful to have grown into this community of founders without being one myself. I learn a ton from each startup team and every now and then am able to bridge the gap between first-time founders who are new to the game and some of our veteran entrepreneurs.

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Brian Marks of Bonfire and Belle Isle Craft Spirits on Customer Acquisition and Sales Funnels at Lighthouse Labs.

The Next Wave of Founders

One thing I would love to see more of next year is time spent on cultivating and nurturing this entrepreneurial community. We have incredible founders who build — and sometimes shut down — awesome startups. There is SO MUCH to learn from them, in particular for the next generation of founders who are tinkering on their ideas in their basement. I would love for us to find a way to engage entrepreneurs more into their own community, tell their stories, get them in front of early-stage founders, act as mentors and advisors who have been there and know the ins and out of our local ecosystem.

Rebelles, Visionaries and Accelerators.

2018 is going to be a hell of an exciting year for Richmond and its entrepreneurial community! We have planted seeds for some incredible initiatives (and I KNOW here is much more going on that I haven’t even heard of!) and I look forward to watching — and helping — them sprout in the next year. With that being said, I have also learned a thing or two about myself in this process:

What the ecosystem needs isn’t always what I am most passionate about and in order for me to feel fulfilled, I need to be stay close to my roots of creating social change through business. Ultimately, that’s what I’m good at and that’s where I will make my biggest contribution. There is plenty to do for all of us.

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While I was bringing — and helping to bring — these three projects into the world, I was also working a 50%-position as community builder for B Corporations, and growing another human. At the time of writing, I am awaiting the arrival of my daughter in less than six weeks. That’s right, all of these professional achievements saw the light of day on a minimum amount of caffeine and zero Belle Isle Moonshine — no small feat for a Richmond local. What I am taking away from these three months of labor is that I want to be a role model to other women in terms of staying true to their purpose instead of trying to please everyone or sacrifice themselves for the greater good. Doing good for the community doesn’t always mean doing good by ourselves. Since August, I have neither invested in marketing my business nor have I acquired any new clients or sold any services. I have put everything else on hold to make these three projects and my part-time role a priority and to be honest, if I had to do it over again, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Yet, I know it’s not a sustainable approach. And as 2017 comes to an end, I am figuring out once more where to draw the line and what priorities will steer this ship over the coming months.

Thank you to my partners in crime for your support, belief in me and patience!

Lastly, thanks to my wonderful husband for putting up with me spending too many nights away from home, working weekends and supporting me in doing what I love.

Learn more about my work at

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