Fifteen startups are gearing up for launch camp with nonprofit tech accelerator Exponential Impact — more than double the number that participated in 2018.
It’s just one of many changes underway at XI, which this year is adding staff and apprentices, introducing two new programs to serve later-stage entrepreneurs, and expanding its physical footprint.
Work has begun on a 9,000-square-foot space in the same North Nevada Avenue facility occupied by the National Cybersecurity Center. XI will be in the new offices, CEO Hannah Parsons said, in time for the 2019 XI Accelerator cohort kickoff on June 12.
“It’s a very open and collaborative workspace. It’s shared, and this will open up,” she said, gesturing to a wall, “so the NCC can overflow that direction.
“It’s going to let us expand everything that we do. We’ll be able to set up really consistent mentor days, for example,” Parsons said, “and there’ll be space to house some student employees. … We’ll be able to host a lot more programming. We’re talking with a group about hosting niched programs for some of the minority populations we’re also trying to reach, so we’ll start to have meetups.
“And I think, honestly, it will help to have a physical presence because we’re 18 months into Exponential Impact, and still people say, ‘What is that?’ or they misunderstand and think it’s a part of the NCC and it’s not — we’re just co-locating.”
XI Program Manager Ethan Lavin said the space “allows us to build our own ecosystem, so we actually have a concrete foothold. So it’s more than just two of us: We have the organization, we have the staff, and now we actually have the facility.”
Lavin joined XI just over a year ago and is now stepping into the Program Director role as XI adds two new programs.
“That’s probably one of the biggest changes, is when we started, we had one program — the Accelerator program,” Parsons said.
Then in December, XI was awarded i6 grant funding from the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s Regional Innovation Strategies program — an award Parsons described at the time as “a game changer for XI and entrepreneurship in southern Colorado.”
Parsons said the grant funding, a total of $750,000 over three years, is allowing XI to grow programs.
“They all start with ‘A’ to keep it easy,” she said. “We have XI Accelerator, then Amplify, and Ascend … for later-stage programs.”
Amplify is open to ventures that are post-accelerator, bootstrapping or moving to Colorado Springs. Ascend prepares companies for high growth and expansion, coaching them to raise $5 million or more of institutional venture capital.
Parsons said XI Accelerator alumni are “not expected to [go on to Amplify and Ascend], but they would be good candidates.”
Bytable Foods, for example, came to XI from Iowa last spring as part of the 2018 cohort and is still here.
Co-founder Jacy Rittmer said Bytable came to the program “as a validated idea that needed support, structure, resources and guidance to grow into what it needed to be.
“XI was able to give us all those things in such a way that we could run with it — in whichever direction it was we needed to go,” she said. “Many programs try to shoehorn startups onto a road that might not always be the best fit for the company or its founders. XI made a point to understand what it was we needed and adapted to us, which allowed us to go further, faster.”
Rittmer said she and co-founder Brett Dugan had been impressed that XI mentors were “willing to put themselves all-in to help in whatever way they could — even before we were officially in the program.
“The emphasis they put on building good people and business owners, good companies and good culture resonates throughout the program and into the startups lucky enough to be a part of it,” she said.
Bytable will continue to work with XI as they establish a comprehensive startup-building program, Rittmer said, adding the company has hit several milestones in the past few weeks.
“We successfully demoed our food traceability and transparency technology in stores earlier this month with specialty eggs, showing consumers every step their eggs had taken to reach them,” she said. “And on April 3 we will be launching the very first online marketplace for regeneratively grown food products, delivered right to your door — featuring extremely rare and sustainably raised purebred Wagyu from [Colorado Springs company] Callicrate Beef.”
(Regenerative agriculture uses technologies that revitalize the soil and the environment.)
Other 2018 alumni are also meeting with success, Parsons said.
Springs startup Barn Owl, which provides real-time camera surveillance for farmers and ranchers, took first place at a veterans pitch event in November, earning $25,000 of non-dilutive funding.
International blockchain tech company QBRICS is in the growth and scale stage, hiring employees and expanding across Southeast Asia.
Mandy AI, which uses deep-research artificial intelligence to create “the ultimate feedback tool,” ran successful pilots with Chick-fil-A and is now on the fast-food chain’s approved vendor list. The startup’s co-founders, who came to the XI Accelerator from Dubai and Kentucky, have both moved to Colorado.
XI’s website features a quote from Virgin Group founder Richard Branson: “Train people well enough so they can leave. Treat them well enough so they don’t want to.”
“So we like to point out that 13 months after we started, one of our teams already purchased a home and has moved to Colorado Springs,” Parsons said.
XI’s third employee, an executive administrator, will start in May, and an entrepreneur-in-residence contracted position will be added before the summer.
XI is also working on building an apprenticeship program — “it’s not fully funded, but we’re getting there,” Parsons said — in which apprentices would work for XI and be deployed to help startup teams on an allotment of hours.
“We’re trying to see if we can bring on additional expertise that doesn’t cost [the startup teams] so that they can keep growing before they take on employees,” Parsons said, “because I think sometimes early-stage companies can get desperate … and be tempted to bring somebody on for equity — and give away equity. So we’re just trying to see how many tools we can add to our arsenal before they have to do that.”
What will XI look like by the end of this year?
On Parsons’ wish list: Some of the startups in the 2019 cohort will still be in Colorado Springs; Amplify and Ascend will be fully up and running; the apprenticeship program will be fully funded, with at least five students available; and, ideally, XI will see a surge of community involvement.
“We’d really love for the community to save the dates and attend kickoff,” Parsons said. “It’s the time for everybody to get to know who the companies are and to start to think about the connections that could be valuable [to the startups].
“I had several people last year say, ‘Well, I don’t have anything to help these people with’ — but then they get to know them. For example with Barn Owl, one of our investors said, ‘I don’t have any connections for them,’ and then when he met them, he was like, ‘Oh, I totally see how this could be applied to XYZ industry,’ and he made a bunch of introductions.
“Colorado Springs is kind of this big small town, and most of the community members who met with the companies ended up saying, ‘I have something that I think would be potentially valuable.’”