Startups

What founders said at LIFT Labs Accelerator Roadshow’s Philly pit stop

Program directors are traveling the US to recruit and connect with tech startups for the 2022 accelerator, based once again at the Comcast Technology Center. Here's what Bruce Marable and Alex Kane learned from past cohorts.

Techstars' KJ Singh (left) moderates a discussion with past LIFT Labs Accelerator participants Bruce Marable and Alex Kane, with Danielle Cohn.

(Photo by Paige Gross)

Less than a year after Comcast opened its much-anticipated home for startups in its new Comcast Technology Center in 2019, the pandemic forced the company to close its doors.

Only the 2019 class of the company’s signature accelerator program, LIFT Labs — which partners with Techstars to get around a dozen early-stage startup companies’ go-to-market strategies ready, and to potentially work with the broadcast giant — got to use the space to its fullest. Two years and two cohorts later, the program has graduated 43 companies.

Now, leaders of the program have set out in-person across the country to recruit for the 2022 class.

Techstars Managing Director KJ Singh and LIFT Labs head Danielle Cohn held court at the program’s home base on the fourth floor of the CTC Wednesday night to connect with founders, investors, mentors and other friends of the show. It was the Philly stop of what they’re calling the Accelerator Roadshow: So far, they’ve hit Miami, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Chicago, and headed to New York on Thursday. Virtual events are planned for London and Tel Aviv.

Over 12 weeks, founders in the LIFT Labs Accelerator will meet with mentors and product experts from across Comcast NBCUniversal’s businesses. That includes the Xfinity teams, NBC and Telemundo, Sky, Universal StudiosUniversal Parks and ResortsDreamWorks Animation, Illumination, Comcast Business and Comcast Spectacor. The dozen or so companies chosen for the in-person programming this year will focus on three main categories: connected living, immersive and inclusive experiences, and smart, sustainable enterprises. The categories are chosen each year after consulting with leaders throughout Comcast and its affiliated business, and hearing what they’re looking for in developing new products and solutions.

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Luke Butler, Comcast’s executive director of startup engagement, said the tour isn’t exactly new — the team had been recruiting in other cities before the pandemic. But because the team’s more able to recruit IRL this year, they’re prioritizing geographical diversity alongside gender and racial diversity of the next cohort’s founders, he said.

“Having companies from around the world just brings a vast variety of different perspectives,” Butler told Technical.ly. “And we want the best companies, no matter where they’re located.”

Attendees heard from two founders who have been through the accelerator: Bruce Marable, cofounder of HR tech platform Employee Cycle, and Alex Kane, founder of sports betting app Sporttrade. The pair said the program gave them the access to customers and mentors and helped guide them through tricky situations, like parting with cofounders.

Kane began the program with two cofounders, who ultimately left the company. There were disagreements about how much they should raise early on, he said.

“Not every company raises a $3 million seed round on Demo Day, but that was [my] thinking,” he said.

He sat down with a founder from another LIFT Labs company who told him she could tell he was passionate about it. That, and the support from program leadership, kept him moving forward.

“Walking in day one, and walking out week 13, I had no idea that was going to happen,” Kane said. “But I think we’re all the better for it.”

Marable told attendees one of the biggest takeaways he got from the accelerator was the ability to get an intro to anyone he could dream of in the Techstars network. He made lists of dream clients, and sent at least 30 intro messages a week.

By the time the program was over, Marable had connected with more people than nearly any other founder had in the program’s history, Singh said.

“I wear my Techstars hoodie when I travel, if that tells you about how I feel about it,” Marable said. “I know I’ll run into somebody, and when I’m on demos, customers see the hoodie. Multiple have asked if I want intros to investors because I’ve been through it. I will always wear my hoodie when I travel and I will always run into someone in the network.”

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