Posts Tagged 'Techstars'

April 17, 2014

Deep in the Heart of Te(ch)xas: SXSW 2014

SXSW 2014 was bigger and crazier than ever. For anyone who has been sleeping under a rock, SXSW is one of the largest, most intense start-up technology, music, and film festivals on the planet. Held in March, SXSW turns Austin, Texas, into the global epicenter of everything (startup) technology.

As in years past, SoftLayer hosted the Speakeasy lounge, a daytime co-working space and community/networking lounge in the evening. For the second straight year, the lounge blew our expectations out of the water. Over the course of 48 hours, we saw over a thousand partners, start-up clients, fellow colleagues, and members of the global start-up community come through the doors. To give you an idea of how “global” the community was, I walked through the lounge at one point and heard six different languages being spoken.

Our start-up partners used the lounge to escape the chaos of the festival so they could get work done. In the space, they could relax, send emails, connect with clients and friends, or just find some peace and quiet away from the cacophonous show floor (and even-noisier 6th Street).

Catalyst Lounge SXSW 2014

One of the biggest highlights at SXSW for the Catalyst team was a panel that I moderated about building meaningful, organic communities around brands. The panelists for this discussion were George Karidis, COO of SoftLayer; Ben Rigby, CEO of Sparked; Samar Birwadker, CEO of Good.co; and Justin Johnson, director of developer evangelism for Keen.io. The group explained how their brands’ approaches to community engagement helped them build momentum and succeed faster, and I was humbled to hear how the SoftLayer Catalyst program impacted their decisions shaping their own communities. To cap off the session, the panelists also brought up the benefits of using Catalyst for testing and scaling during their early stages, so they could understand how to use the infrastructure as they grew. You need look no further for validation of our model than to have three of our most successful clients attributing their success to it.

In addition to the Speakeasy and the panel discussion, SoftLayer was also well represented on the SXSW show floor. Over the course of the show, clients, partners, and prospects stopped by to try their hands at the Server Challenge, and we had some phenomenal conversations about the future of the cloud and how SoftLayer is forging a new path in the infrastructure as a service game.

What a lot of people don’t realize about SXSW is that the majority of business gets done outside of the show floor. Each night presents opportunities to connect with and learn about individuals in the global start-up community. For example, Catalyst partner Planwise held a party and barbecue where they discussed best practices for start-ups in financial technology. We got in on the fun as well when we partnered with Techstars to host one of the hottest parties at SXSW Interactive. DJed by Thievery Corporation and attended by over a thousand guests, if you managed to get a hard-to-come-by ticket, you had a great time and met a lot of amazing people.

SoftLayer & Techstars Party SXSW 2014

Over the years, SXSW has proven to be a melting pot for creativity and innovation on a global scale. As businesses look for new ways to gather and present information, providers like SoftLayer become an integral part of their approaches. Our goal with Catalyst is to stay front-and-center in the startup movement … So it’s a safe bet that you’ll see us again at SXSW 2015.

-@joshuakrammes

March 26, 2013

Should My Startup Join an Accelerator/Incubator Program?

As part of my role at SoftLayer, I have the opportunity and privilege to mentor numerous entrepreneurs and startup teams when they partner with us through our Catalyst program. One question I hear often is, "Should I join an accelerator?" My answer: "That all depends." Let's look at the five lessons entrepreneurs should learn before they decide to join a startup accelerator or incubator program.

Lesson 1: The founders must be committed to the success of their venture.
Joining an accelerator or incubator comes with some strings attached — startups give up between 6 to 10 percent of their equity in exchange for some cash and structured program that usually lasts around three months. Obviously, this kind of commitment should not be taken lightly.

Too often, startups join accelerator programs before they are ready or mature enough as a team. Sometimes, a company's idea isn't fully baked, so they end up spending as much time "creating" their business as they do "accelerating" it. As a result, that company isn't able to leverage an accelerator's resources efficiently throughout the entire program ... The founders need to establish a vision for the business, begin laying the groundwork for the company's products and services, and be 100% committed to the accelerator program before joining. If you can't say with confidence that your startup meets all three of those requirements, don't do it. Take care of those three points and proceed to the next lesson.

Lesson 2: Be prepared to leverage what you are given.
Many startups join accelerator and incubator programs with unrealistic expectations. Participation in these programs — even the most exclusive and well-known ones — by no means guarantees that you'll raise additional money or have a successful exit. These programs provide startups with office space, free cloud services, and access to mentors, investors, recruiters and media ... Those outstanding services provide participating startups with a distinct competitive advantage, but they don't serve up success on a silver platter. If you aren't ready work tirelessly to leverage the benefits of a startup program, don't bother.

Lesson 3: Take advice and criticism well; mentors are trying to help.
"Mentorship" is very tough to qualify, and criticism is difficult to take ... Especially if you're 100% committed to your business and you don't want to be told that you've done something wrong. Mentors in these startup programs have "been there and done that," and they wouldn't be in a mentorship position if they weren't looking out for your best interest and the ultimate success of your company.

Look programs that take mentorship seriously and can provide a broad range of expertise from strategy to marketing and business development to software architecture to building and scaling IT infrastructure. Then be intentional about listening to the people around you.

Lesson 4: Do your research and make an informed decision.
With the proliferation of startups globally, we're also seeing an evolution in the accelerator ecosystem. There are a number accelerators being positioned to help support founders with ideas on a global, regional and local basis, but it's important to evaluate a program's vision with its execution of that vision. Not all startup programs are created equal, and some might not offer the right set of resources and opportunities for your team. When you're giving up equity in your company, you should have complete confidence that the accelerator or incubator you join will deliver on its side of the deal.

Lesson 5: Leverage the network and community you will meet.
When you've done your homework, applied and been accepted to the perfect startup program, meet everyone you can and learn from them. One of the most tangible benefits of joining an accelerator is the way you can fast track a business idea while boosting network contacts. Much in the way someone chooses a prestigious college or joins a fraternity, some of the most valuable resources you'll come across in these programs are the people you meet. In this way, accelerators and incubators are becoming a proxy for undergrad and graduate school ... The appeal for promising entrepreneurs is simple: Why wait to make a dent in the universe? Today, more people are going to college and fewer are landing well-paying jobs after graduation, so some of the world's best and brightest are turning to these communities and foregoing the more structured "higher education" process.

Even if your startup is plugging along smoothly, a startup accelerator or incubator program might be worth a look. Venture capitalists often trust programs like TechStars and 500 Startups to filter or vet early stage companies. If your business has the stamp of approval from one of these organizations, it's decidedly less risky than a business idea pitched by a random entrepreneur.

If you understand each of these lessons and you take advantage of the resources and opportunities provided by startup accelerators and incubators, the sky is the limit for your business. Now get to work.

Class dismissed.

-@gkdog

May 1, 2012

SoftLayer, Entrepreneurship and the White House

The past two weeks have been HUGE for the SoftLayer community development team and our Catalyst Program. In addition to the typical insanity of crisscrossing the country to attend startup events and scheduled "office hours" in Boulder, San Francisco, Boston and New York City, I was invited to visit a pretty noteworthy address in Washington, D.C.: 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Yes ... SoftLayer was invited to the White House!

I was honored and humbled to be recognized as one of 5 Entrepreneurs in Residence for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. As a part of the Entrepreneurs in Residence initiative, I joined the other private sector participants in the Secretary of War Suite on April 26 for an EIR roundtable meeting. I'd describe the meeting as "historic," but given the "history" at the White House, I might have to choose a different word:

SoftLayer at the White House

The USCIS is looking to make it easier for entrepreneurs and innovators to get to the United States to have the opportunity and resources they need to build the next Google or Facebook ... or SoftLayer. It's no coincidence that the Entrepreneurs in Residence roundtable discussion harkened to a few hundred similar conversations I've had with startups, startup accelerators and incubator programs so far this year. On the topic of startups, I wasn't just an empty suit ... though I was wearing a suit (for a change).

SoftLayer at the White House

When it comes to credibility in the startup space, SoftLayer has become quite an authority. Beyond our own growth and success as a startup a few short years ago, we've spent the last year investing in relationships with startup communities and the organizations fueling innovation in the US and around the world. For a perfect example of that investment, just look at today's news: SoftLayer Gives Next Generation of Entrepreneurs Foundation for Success with TechStars National Sponsorship.

You've heard us say it a million times, and you'll probably hear us say it a million more: SoftLayer loves startups, and we want to do everything we can to inspire, mentor and cultivate the next wave of world-changing businesses. From providing mentorship and hosting credits to participating in the conversations that will shape the startup landscape in the US for years to come, SoftLayer's representing.

If you have an idea, a business plan or just a brilliantly talented team looking for some direction, take a look at the TechStars 2012 Program Schedule and Apply for TechStars to get in on their fun in San Antonio, Boston, NYC, Boulder or Seattle. If you already have a killer startup that just needs a little help in scaling your success, hit us up at startups@softlayer.com, and we can tell you a little more about the Catalyst Program.

-@PaulFord

April 16, 2012

TechStars Cloud @ SoftLayer - DAL05 Data Center Tour

Last week was HUGE for the inaugural class of companies in the TechStars Cloud accelerator in San Antonio. The program's three-month term concluded with "Demo Day" on Wednesday where all of the participating companies presented to more than 300 venture capitalists and investors, and given our relationship with TechStars, SoftLayer was well represented ... We were even honored to present a few of the companies we've been working with over the past few months. All of the 20-hour days, mentor sessions and elevator pitches culminated in one pitch, and while I can't talk much about the specifics, I can assure you that the event was a huge success when it came to connecting the teams to (very interested) investors.

Demo Day wasn't the end of the fun, though. After the post-pitch celebrations (and a much-needed night of sleep), the teams had one more item on their agenda for the week: A visit to SoftLayer.

On Thursday, the teams piled into a bus and made their way from San Antonio to Dallas where we could continue the celebration of their successful completion of the program ... And so many of the teams could see the actual hardware powering their businesses. After a nice little soiree on Thursday evening at the House of Blues in Dallas, we put the teams up in a hotel near our Alpha headquarters promised them an informative, interesting and fun Friday.

After a few hours of sleep, the teams were recharged on Friday morning and ready to experience some SoftLayer goodness so...

TechStars Cloud Data Center Tour

They loaded up the bus and took a 10-minute ride to our corporate headquarters.

TechStars Cloud Data Center Tour

Given our security and compliance processes, each visitor checked in at our front desk, and they were divided into smaller groups to take a quick data center tour.

I could tell that going on a data center tour wasn't the most exciting prospect for a few of the visitors, but I asked them to forget everything they thought they knew about data centers ... This is SoftLayer. Yes, that's pretty bold, but when each team walked out of SR01.DAL05, I could see in their eyes that they agreed.

TechStars Cloud Data Center Tour

The tour started innocently enough at a window looking into Server Room 01 (the first data center pod we built in DAL05). In the picture above, Joshua Daley, our DAL05 site manager, is explaining how all of SoftLayer's facilities are built identically to enable us to better manage the customer experience and our operational practices in any facility around the world. After a few notes about security and restrictions on what can/can't be done in the server room the group was led through the first set of secured doors between the facility's lobby and the data center floor.

TechStars Cloud Data Center Tour

From the next hallway, the tour group observed the generators and air conditioning units keeping DAL05 online 24x7. Josh explained the ways we safeguard the facility with n+1 redundancy and regular maintenance and load testing, and the group was led through two more stages of secured doors ... the first with badge access, the second requiring fingerprint authentication. When they made it through, they were officially in SR01.DAL05.

TechStars Cloud Data Center Tour

Josh explained how our data center CRAC units work, how each server row is powered and how we measure and optimize the server room environment. While that aspect of the data center could seem like "blocking and tackling," he talked about our continued quest to improve power efficiency as he shared a few of the innovative approaches we've been testing, and it was clear that the tour understood it to be easier than, "Plug in server. Turn on air conditioner."

TechStars Cloud Data Center Tour

The teams got a chance to get up close and personal (No Touching!) with a server rack, and they learned about our unique network-with-a-network topology that features public, private and out-of-band management functionality. Many "oohs" and "ahhhs" were expressed.

TechStars Cloud Data Center Tour

The tour wrapped up outside of the data center facility in front of the Alpha HQ's Network Operations Center. From here, the TechStars could see how our network team observes and responds to any network-related events, and they could ask questions about anything they saw during the tour (without having to shout over the air conditioning hum).

When the final tour concluded, the full group reconvened in one of our conference rooms. They'd seen the result of our hard work, and we wanted them to know where all that hard work started. Because SoftLayer was started in a Dallas living room a few short years ago, we knew our story would be interesting, inspirational and informative, and we wanted to provide as much guidance as possible to help these soon-to-grow businesses prepare for their own success. After a brief Q&A period, a few of the TechStars Cloud participants (and some of their Dallas-based Tech Wildcatters cousins) presented a little about their businesses and how they've grown and evolved through the TechStars program, and we got to ask our own questions to help them define their business moving forward.

After the presentations at the office, we knew we couldn't just load the bus up to send the teams back to San Antonio ... We had to bid them farewell SoftLayer style. We scheduled a quick detour to SpeedZone Dallas where a few hours of unlimited eats, drinks, games and go-kart races were waiting for them.

We couldn't have had a better time with the participating teams, and we're looking forward to seeing the amazing things they'll continue doing in the near future. If you want to see even more data center coverage from Friday, be sure to check out "TechStars Cloud Visits SoftLayer" on Flickr!

-@PaulFord

February 21, 2012

Startup Series: Distil

As you may have read in one of my previous posts, SoftLayer partners with various startup accelerator programs around the world. This gives us the incredible opportunity to get up close and personal with some of the brightest entrepreneurs in the tech industry. Because SoftLayer grew out of a classic startup environment, we have a passion for helping new companies achieve their goals. From C-level execs all the way down the chain, we're committed to finding the best innovators out there and mentoring them on their way to success.

We're planning a pretty big public debut for the SoftLayer startup program in the coming months, but we want to start introducing you to some of the killer startup companies we already are working with. Today's incredible business: Distil.

Distil

Distil is currently enrolled in the TechStars Cloud Accelerator program, where SoftLayer CSO George Karidis, CTO Duke Skarda, and I serve as mentors. After meeting the guys at Distil, I couldn't wait to get them set up with us as well.

Here's a quick insight into the company from a quick Q&A with the brains of the operation, Rami Essaid, Founder and CEO of Distil:

Q: Tell me a little bit about Distil and how you got started.

A: Distil is the first content protection network that helps companies identify and block malicious bots from harvesting and stealing their data. We started after talking to online publishers about their security needs, and we quickly realized that digital publishers had no control over their content once they put it on the web. We started working to create the first platform aimed to help them protect and control their information.

Q: When was the moment you first recognized you had a big idea?

A: It happened after presenting our proof of concept to a couple digital publishers, the enthusiastic feedback we received made us instantly realize that this was it.

Q: How did you build your company?

A: The company started as an after-work hobby. As the platform picked up momentum, we slowly started leaving our jobs to devote all of our time to Distil. We quickly raised seed capital to help fuel our growth.

Q: What are the keys to your Distil's success?

A: The team I have at Distil is absolutely the reason for our success. Each person's hard work, energy, and dedication allow us to accomplish twice as much in half the time. This group of guys is the most intelligent and keen I have ever had the pleasure of working with.

Q: How would you describe the market for your product?

A: Distil is a technology solution to a problem that traditionally only relied on laws and litigation. Copyright infringement has been an issue on the web since the World Wide Web was started, but up until now most companies treated the data theft reactively. We are disrupting that way of thinking and creating a new market, protecting data and content proactively before it is ever stolen.

Q: How did you arrive at SoftLayer and how have we helped?

A: We were connected to SoftLayer through the TechStars Cloud Accelerator program. We were introduced to SoftLayer's leadership team, and they worked with us to improve our platform performance and tweak our designs to utilize both dedicated and cloud servers. By using this hybrid solution, we've been able to gain the power and speed of dedicated servers while still having the flexibility to burst and scale on demand.

Q: What advice would you give to other startups?

A: The best advice I can give to any startup is to make sure they're passionate about what they're doing. Startup life is not easy. You work 16-20 hours a day, seven days a week, have very little money, and are always worried someone else will beat you to the prize. Passion is the only reason you get up in the morning.

Learn more about Distil at distil.it.

In my short conversation with Rami, I could hear his passion. That's exactly what we're looking for in companies who join the SoftLayer startup program. We can't wait to see what the future holds for Distil.

If you enjoy reading about cool new startups, bookmark the Startups page here on the SoftLayer Blog or subscribe to the "Startups" RSS feed to meet some of the most badass startups in the world.

Calling All Startups!

Companies in our program receive mentoring, best practices advice, industry insight, and tangible resources including:

  • A $1,000 per month credit for dedicated hosting, cloud hosting or any kind of hybrid hosting setup
  • Advanced infrastructure help and advice
  • A dedicated Senior Account Representative
  • Marketing support

If you're interested in joining our program and getting the help you deserve, shoot me an email, and we'll help you start the application process.

-@PaulFord

October 14, 2011

Incubators - Beyond Middle School Science Class

The first thing that comes to my mind when I hear the word "incubator" is my middle school science class. I can't remember if we did a project or just read about it, but I am positive it was a point of focus for way too long. We learn about incubators as containers in which environmental conditions may be controlled and maintained to provide a suitable place for growth. In my middle school science class, incubators helped eggs embryos grow, develop and eventually hatch. When I heard the term getting thrown around in our offices, I was pretty confused.

As it turns out, incubators programs like Tech Wildcatters and TechStars do the same thing ... only with startups (and fewer egg shells).

As Paul mentioned in Fueling Startups with TechStars, TechStars has a series on Bloomberg TV that follows a few startups in TechStars New York from the application stage through their 3 month program and Demo Day. While I understood the basic premise of the incubator programs, seeing the way they documented it was like a crash course ... So much so that when I talk about it with family and friends (and see their confused faces), I just pull up the first episode:

Just like a science class incubator that provides an egg with light, movement and an environment to mimic conditions required for growth, startup incubators give young businesses seed money, opportunities to pitch businesses to investors, and access to mentors and sponsors who are all there to provide support. In the short program term, the companies get exposure, guidance about funding and access to every other service a they could need to succeed. Piecing together that experience outside of the dedicated incubator environment would require a lot more time, effort and capital.

These incubator organizations are also referred to as startup accelerators, and they're like a golden ticket to entrepreneurial success ... And that's why it's so difficult for a startup to get accepted to participate in one of them. The value a startup brings to the table is not just in the idea; it's also in the people behind the idea.

Recently, I attended the kick-off party for the new class of Tech Wildcatters startups, and I got a chance to meet some of these passionate startup owners. Their energy is contagious. My first-hand experience immediately reinforced to my why SoftLayer is so interested in helping foster companies that could redefine and reinvent the future.

All of these comparisons between about incubators and eggs have made me pretty hungry ... If you need me, I'll be down the street getting an omelet.

-Rachel

October 13, 2011

Fueling Startups with TechStars

One of the coolest things that we get to do as a company is support the growing and thriving community of technology entrepreneurs.

Programs like TechStars provide us with the perfect opportunity to directly plug into some of the best and brightest tech talent anywhere in the world. As the number one startup accelerator in the world, TechStars receives applications from thousands of companies each year, and they only select the best of the best to be members of the program. Member companies receive perks like top-notch mentorship, free hosting, funding and the chance to present their products to venture capitalists and angel investors at the end of the program.

Several SoftLayer executives serve as mentors for TechStars, which allows us to share some of the knowledge (and some of the mistakes) we've gathered along the way. In fact, the inaugural class of the new TechStars Cloud in San Antonio will have access to SoftLayer's CSO George Karidis, our CTO Duke Skarda and me as Mentors. Not too long ago, SoftLayer was a startup, too — just a bunch of guys with a great vision, a few credit cards, and not much more. We understand how important it is to get good help and advice from others who have traveled the road before.

That's why we created the SoftLayer Startup Program. Companies in our program receive more than just advice, best practices and industry insight from us; we also provide tangible resources. Every selected company gets a free year of hosting with SoftLayer. This includes:

  • A $1,000 per month credit for dedicated hosting, cloud hosting, or any kind of hybrid hosting setup
  • Advanced infrastructure help and advice
  • A dedicated Senior Account Representative
  • Marketing support

The selection process for the SoftLayer Startup Program is pretty competitive as well, but because Tech Stars member companies had to beat the odds to get into that program, they are granted automatic admission to our program. Several of the companies who've gone through TechStars and through the SoftLayer Startup Program have become loyal customers, and you can see many of them in our Technology Partners Marketplace, where we spotlight innovative ways members of the SoftLayer community are building their businesses on our platform.

Calling All Startups!

If you're involved in a startup right now, and you're looking to get the help you deserve, email me, and I'll help you get your application submitted for the SoftLayer Startup Program. If you're focused on Cloud Infrastructure or Cloud Tools development, you have an even bigger opportunity: Priority-consideration applications for the inaugural class of TechStars Cloud are due October 21. The first class will run in San Antonio Texas from January through April of 2012. If you need just a bit more time to apply, the final application deadline is November 2. Head over to TechStars Cloud to get more information and to apply to join the latest, greatest edition of TechStars ... And you get guaranteed admission into our program where you'll enjoy all of the SoftLayer-specific benefits above!

-@PaulFord

P.S. If you want some insight into what it's like to work in a technology incubator, we recommend the TechStars series on BloombergTV that has documented the ups and downs of a few of the participants in TechStars New York.

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