This morning, crowds gathered at the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center in San Francisco, where the first class of entrepreneurs to graduate from the 12-week Milestone Makers program regrouped. The spotlight, however, was clearly on actress and entrepreneur Sarah Michelle Gellar, who was there to ring the Nasdaq stock market closing bell remotely. In 2015, she and her two cofounders launched Foodstirs, an all organic, non-GMO baking mix brand.
“As a new entrepreneur myself, I know how scary this world is, especially up north here!” Gellar told us. When asked whether being an actress helps her entrepreneurial career, she answered, “Maybe it helps to get meetings, but it’s a lot harder to get taken seriously. I’m not a Wharton business graduate, and so there’s a novelty in ‘Let’s see Buffy bake!’ or ‘Let’s see what this latest celebrity has to offer’.”
There has, indeed, been an ongoing trend of celebrities turned entrepreneurs.
The Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center, which opened in 2014, is neither an incubator nor an accelerator. It is a program designed for early-stage startups who are paired with a coach and three to four mentors to accomplish certain milestones early on. This first batch saw 11 entrepreneurs graduate. The mix ranges across different sectors, from plant-based foods to artificial intelligence. One eager founder, Ming Zhao, whose startup Proven offers a data-powered skincare line, just raised $200,000 in seed money. “I think the success of us raising our first seed round was in large part due to this program,” Zhao said. “Now we’ll likely do a Kickstarter campaign and also maybe join Y Combinator in March.”
So the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center isn’t a substitute for top accelerator programs, but it’s certainly a good name to have when you’re on the starting block. The idea, according to Bruce Aust, president of the center and vice chairman of Nasdaq, is to accompany startups early on, before they’re even thinking about an initial public offering (IPO).
“You know, you have entrepreneurs that are early-stage, who are all dealing with the same issues, and who don’t have anyone to talk to,” Aust told VentureBeat. “So to have this network of entrepreneurs who are faced with the same challenges is a great learning experience.”
It’s curious to note that this center wasn’t launched in New York City, where the Nasdaq stock exchange is based. It seems nothing beats the Silicon Valley hype.