Accelerators / COVID-19 / Startups

Fall programs for entrepreneurs are changing up their formats in response to COVID-19

From pitch competitions to accelerators, these typically in-person entrepreneur experiences are adapting for a remote audience.

Competitors at the 2015 Veteran Shark Tank event. (Courtesy photo)
Update: Inaccurate info about 1776's Rittenhouse location has been removed. (9/9/2020, 4:20 p.m.)

Military veteran Alex Archawski’s experience in the U.S. Navy gave him the skills necessary to help Veteran Shark Tank adapt in the face of a pandemic.

“In the military, we learned how to pivot and adapt based on the environment of our deployment,” he said.

From entrepreneurship competition Veteran Shark Tank to business-building programs like 1776’s accelerator, many of the programs designed to support entrepreneurs that would typically be bringing folks together in person this fall are switching to allow for a virtual audience in response to COVID-19.

Programming in a pandemic

Veteran founders will get the opportunity to pitch prominent entrepreneurs during the eighth edition of Veteran Shark Tank, an annual competition (influenced by the popular television show) that’s designed to help entrepreneurs who served in the armed forces develop their businesses.

With support from Comcast NBCUniversal, Veteran Shark Tank will give one winning veteran entrepreneur $50,000 to use for their business idea.

In order to be selected for the competition, eligible veterans must submit a business plan on creating or growing a business and a two-minute video describing their idea and what they should be featured in the competition. Five applicants will be selected to participate in the final round of the competition where they will pitch a panel of judges that in the past has included veterans, businesspeople and celebrity judges.

Archawski is the founder of the Greater Philadelphia Veterans Network and has organized Veteran Shark Tank since its inception. He said that this year’s live pitch round will be more accessible thanks to the first-ever virtual broadcast of the event.

Veteran Shark Tank usually coincides with Army-Navy week and the Army-Navy Game, a sporting event that brings large numbers of armed forces members, military families, veterans and supporters to the Philadelphia area. In response to COVID-19, Veteran Shark Tank organizers decided to have competitors pitch judges live but in a virtual environment without an audience.

“For this year, we’re pivoting to go virtual and the pitches will still be live with our judges,” Archawski said. “We are using technology to allow people to watch this from the comfort of their home. People know about it from across the country and this year people can watch it for free.”

Ground Style founder Dan Alarik speaks at 2019 Veteran Shark Tank. (Courtesy photo)

Accelerate safely

Philly-based coworking network 1776 is launching a virtual startup accelerator to help founders gain knowledge and tools to help take their companies to the next level. With the remote format, applications are open for founders around the country.

“We are excited to bring this dynamic programming to entrepreneurs as they seek to become investor ready and take their companies to the next level,” the company said in a statement.

The program will begin on Oct. 7. Over 10 weeks, its curriculum will give participants knowledge of the startup world, access to mentors and professionals with experience working in various communities of entrepreneurship.

Like Veteran Shank Tank, 1776’s program will be virtual for the first time. Other organizations like Philly’s Pennovation have also made their accelerators virtual experiences this year.

On the coworking front, 1776 has experienced significant changes since changing its business model in recent years in an effort to cut operating costs and operate on a larger scale. In 2019, 1776 closed a coworking campus in Philadelphia. It also closed locations in the DC area including its original incubator location, before opening a new sites in D.C. and North Bethesda, Maryland.

Founders interested in participating in the 1776 accelerator can view the requirements and apply here. The deadline for applications is Sept. 18. Accepted participants will be notified by Sept. 28.

The road ahead

For Archawski, it is important to continue having Veteran Shark Tank during the recession because of the way in which it has helped veterans with entrepreneurial goals succeed in the past.

U.S. Army veteran Chris Molaro won the 2016 Veteran Shark Tank competition for the business plan for NeuroFlow, a behavioral health technology company. In the years since then, NeuroFlow closed a $7.5 million Series A round of fundraising in November 2019 and received $750,000 in funding from the National Science Foundation in April 2020.

Veteran entrepreneurs can apply for Veteran Shark Tank here. The deadline is Oct. 20.

Michael Butler is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.
Companies: 76 Forward / Greater Philadelphia Veterans Network
Series: Coronavirus

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