By guest author Irina Patterson and Mridula Velagapudi
I am talking to Paul Bragiel, managing partner of i/o Ventures, which is a three-month accelerator program for technology entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. The partners of i/o Ventures come from companies like MySpace and BitTorrent, and their mentors are from Yelp, Digg, Mint, Mochi Media, and OpenDNS. They invest up to $25,000 if a startup is selected, and in return for the investment and mentorship, i/o Ventures usually gets 8% of the company in common stock.
Irina: Hi, Paul. Could we start with a brief overview?
Paul: Sure. i/o Ventures are based in San Francisco. We started the idea about two years ago, but we didn’t officially launch it until July 2010. We invest in companies every six months.
Irina: Are you an accelerator similar to Y Combinator?
Paul: Yes. We have some things that are very similar to Y Combinator, but we also have a building in the city. That is part of our incubation process. We are really strong with the mentors, and we do only five companies at one time. We are more personal and more focused on each company. We do two groups of companies per year; about 10 to 12 companies a year.
Irina: When do your sessions start?
Paul: The next one starts April 1. The program is three months of intensive mentoring. Then entrepreneurs get to use our space as an office for another three months after the program.
Irina: Tell us more about your space?
Paul: Our space is unique. We have a really good space here in the Mission District. It is kind of a funky tower. We allow a lot of the engineers live inside the building. It is actually in three parts.
One is a full working café, open from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. We allow anybody off the streets and entrepreneurs to use it for the work. We also have a core working space where we rent out desks to companies that are friendly with us.
Then we have a top floor reserved for all of the companies we invest in. So, we have this cool space into which we invite a lot of interesting people from all around the world to work with us. We call it an entrepreneurial clubhouse of the sorts.
Irina: Do your entrepreneurs work in the café or do they work upstairs?
Paul: They work upstairs. Café space is open to anybody to use, but the entrepreneurs have a dedicated space upstairs. In the café they do a lot of meetings and stuff that is more social, but if they are actually working on programming or software development, they tend to do that at their permanent desk with monitors and stuff like that.
Irina: Do you have any industry preference for the companies that are selected for your acceleration program?
Paul: We do consumer Internet, gaming, and mobile.
Irina: At what stage would you suggest companies apply for your program?
Paul: Companies that recently launched and are looking to take the company to the next level, raise funding, or need advice on scaling. So, that is what we do to help. The companies at these stages in their lives [usually] apply to our incubator.
Irina: How about somebody who comes to you with an idea?
Paul: Unless they have multiple entrepreneurial skills or have built something before, ideas are not judged unless we see more of an executed product.
Irina: Would you give an example of an ideal company that would benefit from working with you?
Paul: Usually the teams are two to three people. It will be one or two engineers and a business founder or one engineer, one designer, and one business founder. They usually have built the prototype or even have the product line. That is usually the ideal type of company we work with.
Irina: How many companies have you incubated thus far?
Paul: We have done six so far. Those happened in the past six months.
Irina: What kind of experience do you look for in founders?
Paul: I am looking for a really bright, technical co-founder who is smart and knows how to build a good product, and I am looking for a businessperson who is hungry, scrappy, and willing to do whatever it takes to make a company succeed. They have to be strong-willed and never give up. You get a feeling of this when you meet people and understand how they are.