Entrepreneur

3, 2, 1, liftoff! Startup Minds sends promising ideas into flight

The intent of accelerator programs is to help startups take off, which makes the conference table at Startup Minds so well suited for its current home. The table is made out of a repurposed airline wing, and every day, entrepreneurs, mentors, and investors gather around it to help ready-to-fly ideas take off.

Startup Minds is an accelerator program that launched earlier this year. It was founded by the Gonen brothers and their father to take a different approach than many other similar programs. Their model is flexible with funding and timing. Startups here don’t face a fixed amount of investment or a graduation date. The support each company receives is based on its individual needs.

The patriarch, Sam Gonen, is a serial entrepreneur, and his sons were brought up in an environment where risk-taking and innovations were encouraged. After spending time in the “Startup Nation” of Israel, elder son David decided to deviate from his intended path of medicine and get his hands dirty in the startup world. His first project was Curious Minds, an incubator dedicated to coming up with business ideas.  

“At Curious Minds, we shut ourselves from the outside world and came ups with ideas internally,” David said. “Back in 2004, it was expensive and complicated to get an idea off the ground, and entrepreneurs needed us because we had developers and business people in-house. Startup Minds was born when the world changed and instead of only working on our own ideas, we began listening to outside ideas and giving people that push they need to start a company themselves.”

David’s domain is the technological side of Startup Minds, while his younger brother, Jonathan, engages with the business and marketing. When evaluating an entrepreneur, he looks a balance between technical and business expertise and a clear go-to-market strategy. Participating companies will receive anywhere between $25,000 and $600,000 and the degree of involvement is really up to the startup.

For an international company that has already realized its idea but needs additional help, Startup Minds may have limited involvement, while a very young business may rely heavily on the accelerator’s resources. Internet security startup Telesign and Ringadoc, which recently received investment from angel investor Peter Thiel, got their start with the Gonens.

A recent addition to the Startup Minds family is Authorly, an application builder for authors that want to publish their work to mobile devices. Using the web-based platform, they can create interactive applications with gestures, page turning, audio, videos, text-highlighting, and other interactive features. The single founder, Chris Whitman, was inspired after developing a mobile app for a New York Times best-selling author on a freelance basis and realizing that there were many others in his shoes.

“My idea is to break down the barriers of the development cost and time for any author, so they can do it themselves for cheap instead of paying tens of thousands of dollars,” he said. “As technology becomes more a part of children’s lives and education, it is important for children’s book authors to make their work available on mobile smart phones and tablets.”

Whitman heard about Startup Minds through others in the freelance industry, and one day decided to check it out. He somehow got through security and showed up in the 10th floor office space unannounced. At first, the Gonens were going to kick him out, but after listening to his pitch, they had him take a seat at the aforementioned conference table to talk details.  

“Chris is the quintessential example of a developer with a lot of options,” said David. “He could have worked for big company in a split second, but it goes back to human nature. We like to work on our own passions and ideas, and our philosophy is to empower him rather than control him. We gave him a budget, he picked his own team, and we just check up on his progress or he tells us about it.”

Now, Chris has carefully created a team with people around the world and is gearing up to launch at SWSW in March. He comes into the Startup Minds office occasionally for consultations, inspiration, and to use the workspace. The Gonens have worked hard to create a fun, appealing atmosphere and there are activities almost every night to help the entrepreneurs unwind, as well as regular hack-a-thons. Whether it is through pick-up basketball games or strategic marketing meetings, the whole family is committed to getting promising ideas off the ground.


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