51 days to LAUNCH Festival — Spotlights on Angela Benton, NewME Accelerator

Today’s Angela Benton’s day: featured speaker at the next edition of the LAUNCH Festival (march 2–4, San Francisco) she’s having a huge impact in the world of tech for the under-represented minorities with the newMe startup accelerator she’s founded.

In the TWiST episode I’ve noted today (Ep.485 of10/28/2014, Youtube, Itunes) Jason sits down with her and let her explain what makes her newME startup accelerator so special, why discrimination issues in tech are alive and kicking and discussing them openly shouldn’t be such a taboo; how she can tell if a founder has the potential to be a great entrepreneur and why they don’t believe in applications (and don’t take applications).

In the second part of the episode, 3 newME fellows will present their businesses (@canustart,@joicaster,@loveKairos) proving that you don’t have to be a technical co-founder to be an entrepreneur in tech and impress the hell out of Jason Calacanis.

Don’t forget to subscribe to the ThisWeekInStartups podcast: the best content comes out of these guest’s mouths and you won’t read it anywhere else (maybe in my notes).


How and why newMe was born

  • Today’s guest is Angela Benton from the newMe accelerator, the “Black accelerator” as sometimes it’s referred as in the Silicon Valley
  • It was founded to help unrepresented minorities in SV: women, people of color, Hispanics
  • They’ll have a raw talk about race in America and race and gender in Silicon Valley
  • It’s inconceivable that the race debate and the under-representation of minorities is still present after all these years
  • Jason is in shock and can’t believe how dangerous it is to be a black young in America
  • press wasn’t covering black startups
  • she had a network of entrepreneurs from different minorities that hadn’t access to resources, capital, mentors that could coach and guide them
  • the newMe accelerator was started in June 2011 to solve these problems andas a response to Ycombinator not having many Afro-Americans in their ranks
  • So she went to the center of the tech world, Silicon Valley and did it
  • Jason was one of the first supporters
  • Anybody can be a part of Silicon Valley, the majority of people there is a complete outsider that came there (Jason)
  • The accelerator is open to everybody but you are judged by the network you are in
  • She disagrees that you need to be technical to be successful in tech and you shouldn’t be discriminated if you can’t code or didn’t have a CS degree; there are other areas beyond tech in a company
  • If founders are not technical, the greatest issue is to find a technical co-founder
  • Saying that bad public education is the cause of not having enough women that can code or guys from minorities that can code do is not a solution
  • YCombinator has been successful so every other incubator is trying to copy them instead of finding their own model and that resulted in a industry looking only for technical founders or from a certain network

Differences from traditional YC-like incubators

  • When Angela came to the Valley she found good support but everybody she asked help for his accelerator wanted her to clone YC like everybody else and work with more founders
  • Founders graduating newMe are focused on building a business and that means different things to different people
  • Not all of them are trying to raise capital
  • If it’s a 20 million dollar business, Ycombinator or Andreessen won’t look at it but it would be a great business for the founders and their community
  • Entrepreneurs entering the accelerator understand first what kind of business they want to build
  • After that, they help them to get there
  • Most of them are focused on generating revenue from day 1, validating their product and making money
  • Not on user growth to show user growth and raise money
  • Less ambitious business than the one Ycombinator would fund but with more chances of not failing
  • The accelerator is impact-driven: measuring their impact and the impact of the entrepreneurs they help
  • It’s important that they are hiring people, creating jobs, impacting their community
  • It’s not a failure for NewMe if entrepreneurs build a 5 million dollar business
  • In her opinion, it comes down to give access to people to the know-how and the resources and make them comfortable to say what their goals are, how to get there and getting the information without feeling stupid

How it works

  • They took their 12-week-program and built an online platform available to all people around the country as subscription service
  • They are not creating content but curating it, organizing it, packaging it and guide them on what they have to do to get started (their customers may not know what a “wireframe” is so they tell them everything starting from the basics)
  • They do weekly accelerator speaker dinners, Q&A based
  • They do knowledge session where founders can help each others on the issues they face

How selections are made

  • In the last batch of startups (at the time of the interview, 2014) they had chosen founders from the online platform
  • They don’t believe in applications and have to meet them in person to have a real sense of who they are
  • If they work for some months on the platform, when they get to the physical program they are more prepared
  • She’s removing the bias that you need to be a technical founder (Jason)
  • She can tell who has true potential as a founder by observing how they do on the online platform first for an extended amount of time (filter for BS artists)
  • Some of the most driven folks Jason sees at his events are the ones with the roughest starts and want to get out of there badly
  • She started it to make an impact, you don’t have to be a certain way or fit into a certain mold to be successful in tech
  • The accelerator has attracted underdogs not only from the States but also foreigners believing in kicking back to the status quo

Jason’s perspective on Race and Gender in Silicon Valley

  • Back in the end Jason wanted the best people talking at his events and didn’t care about the race or gender as long as they were the best
  • Now he’s more sensitive to the issue and doesn’t want that people coming to the event see only white guy or believe they represent the industry
  • Jason meets with any female or black founder even if he wouldn’t normally have, he wants to support people that didn’t have enough support (as a white guy from Brooklyn he had an hard time being taken seriously when he started so now he wants to give back)
  • It’s about telling them the truth: if their product or startup sucks, at least they know and can course-correct

Angela brought some founders from NewMe

CanYouStart

  • It’s a hiring system for the restaurant and hospitality industry
  • Who hires in the industry is usually also the manager or chef or do many other things so they end wasting a lot of time handling the hiring process
  • Most staffing platforms just cater to professionals
  • The site has a great design (Jason), learnt through newMe
  • They wanted to create something that could help anybody in the restaurant and hospitatily industry to get hired, not just celebrity chefs, the higher-end (dish washers, sous chefs etc)
  • It matches employers to job seekers and job seekers to candidates through algorithm
  • The algorithm stacks the working experience according to what the employer is looking for: if they are looking for experience in X, X will be shown first
  • It’s very simple to use and provide clear instructions
  • There is also an on-demand feauture if you need staff at the last minute to fill in somebody who’s not coming to work (waiters for example), depending on the area and the availability
  • For jobseekers it’s free
  • Employers can pay $25 for a one-trial or subscribe to it paying a monthly fee of $14
  • Jason suggestions: higher prices and expansion on the on-demand feature
  • It has the quality level of a company that could have graduated from YC or TechStars (Jason)

Joicaster

  • the Hootsuite of LiveStreaming
  • It’s a live syndication platform taking your live stream and syndicating it to different platforms (YouTube, Ustream)
  • They have a business-to-business target
  • They have an annual basis subscription model and custom prices in the range of tens of thousands of dollars per year
  • Jason’s suggestions: it could be used by mega churches that need to stream everywhere and high school and universities for their sport events
  • Another business model: creating a network of channels similar to an advertising network
  • They could create a channel for comedy, technology, cooking and the participants of the network agree to broadcast each other live streams

Kairos

  • It’s a facial recognition software for companies and government
  • Kairos means the most opportune moment in greek
  • They have an API so people can build wherever they want on top of it
  • They acquired the company that built the facial recognition software
  • Facial recognition works like this: the software is looking for certain points on your face (around your eyes, nose, mouth) and measures the distances between those points (distances are like your fingerprints or your faceprint)
  • It’s 99.4% accurate
  • They do facial recognition for CIA, NSA, FBI, NYPD and they provide them an appliance with the software
  • The company is 2.5 years old and bought a company that’s 12 years old, redesigned it, made it more appealing and enterprise to cruise lines and healthcare companies
  • On cruises a lot of pictures are taken from cameras installed on the ship and through facial recognition they can put names to faces (it’s $100 million business a year)
  • They have a $100 million pipeline
  • “Angela changed my life 100%” (the CEO and founder of Kairos)
  • At YC Demo Day, Kairos would have been one of the top 5 companies this year (Jason)

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