If you spot a blur speeding through the bright, airy space occupied by Comcast NBCUniversal LIFT Labs Accelerator, powered by Techstars, it’s probably Danielle Cohn.
She’s the Executive Director of Entrepreneurial Engagement and the Head of LIFT Labs for Comcast NBCUniversal, and she moves fast. Officially, she’s the corporate liaison, but her true role is so much more. As she explained, “Really, our team was side by side with the startups the whole time they were in the program.” She and her team met with the 10 startups in the program every week, helping them refine what they were looking for from their other mentors. “We helped them hone in on the outcomes they were interested in. We’re about getting results.” She also helped them connect with business units within Comcast NBCUniversal that might be interested in giving them feedback.
Danielle is an entrepreneur, as well. “I’ve had a couple of startups myself,” she said. “I’ve always had a side passion project because I’ve found it keeps me fresh.” She’s the first to say how much she learns from other startups. “I work with startups every day, and it gives me a reality check when I have my own. You have to be extremely nimble; you’re doing it all for yourself!”
Her experience on both sides of the startup-corporate divide makes her the perfect bridge between these two such very different entities. She is determined that both the startups and her corporation get the most out of the accelerator—and during the 13 weeks of the program, eight startups got a pilot off the ground, an exceptional success rate. By the end of the calendar year, three companies had additional contracts with Comcast Cable, NBCUniversal, or DreamWorks, and all the rest were still working with some part of the corporation. Three of the companies now have a presence in Philadelphia.
How does she do it? She has four rules for herself—and other mentors. Here’s how to mentor—and Give First—like Danielle does:
1) Have fun doing this.
“Mentoring shouldn’t feel like a burden. It should feel like something you want to do,” Danielle says. If you don’t have the time, be honest—with yourself and with the founder—and bow out. Otherwise, let yourself enjoy the craziness of watching—and helping—a startup grow, change, and find itself over the course of 13 weeks. Or even beyond… Some mentors stay involved with the companies well after the accelerator program ends.
2) Be responsive.
“They only have 13 weeks. You’ve got to be responsive,” Danielle says, and you know she means it. Fortunately, she has some additional advice on how to do this well. “If you need to, bring someone to do your follow up. You’re going to walk out of the meeting with a to-do list of asks.” Someone has to do them—if not you, then your designated representative can look up names, make introductions, find that elusive bit of data that wasn’t at your fingertips when you wanted it. The important thing is that if you say you’ll do something, it gets done—fast.
3) Set expectations.
“Part of your responsibility as a mentor is helping the founder realize that 10 asks just isn’t realistic. They have to pick one to move forward with.” At least one at a time. Yes, you’re a mentor, but that doesn’t mean you have endless bandwidth. You can also help them understand which of their asks is going to do the most to get them where they want to go.
4) Be ready to learn.
“Mentoring is a very rewarding experience, and I highly recommend it.” Along with the pleasure of sharing knowledge comes the very real experience of learning from the entrepreneur you’re supposed to be mentoring. “I learn from startups all the time,” Danielle says.
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I’ve spent the last three months working closely with our program’s first 10 companies (Techstars Class 135), which have convened from all over the world — Singapore, Munich, Seoul, Toronto, Los Angeles, Austin, and New York –- right here in Philadelphia. And I’m thrilled to share just how far they’ve come.
I’ve met with hundreds of companies and worked hand-in-hand with our partner, Comcast, to select these first 10, which collectively fit under our umbrella thesis of investing in companies that tackle big problems in media, entertainment and connectivity. Now more than ever, we are aware of the critical role media has in our daily lives and the need to balance its relentless evolution with its survival. I’m inspired by our mission to help usher in the next wave of companies that will reinvent what media is, how it is consumed, and how it will bring us together.
These founders are driven entrepreneurs who are not only motivated to scale their businesses, but also to build a better world by doing that. As you’ll see below, they have worked tirelessly over the course of our program to achieve meaningful milestones. I’m proud of their traction and excited for their future.
Meet the Companies
Orai is an artificial intelligence speech coach that helps people become more effective and confident communicators.
Orai’s CEO and co-founder Danish Dhamani struggled to communicate confidently when he immigrated to the US from Tanzania. He tried everything spanning from books to online courses and found that the most effective way was through 1:1 coaching, which is largely inaccessible and expensive. He launched Orai, along with his co-founders Paritosh Gupta and Aasim Sani, to create a scalable means of offering 1:1 communication coaching to the masses.
With 100k users and counting, Orai is now the #1 public speaking app in the App Store. The company has also solidified a channel partnership with Mandel Communications, and has enterprise customers including Medallia and Comcast.
Portl is the personalized entertainment platform for rideshare vehicles today and autonomous vehicles tomorrow.
While in the backseat of a rideshare vehicle, 88% of riders opt in to experience Portl’s content and localized recommendations for nearly eight minutes at a time. Drivers also love Portl, as it can increase their ratings and tips.
Following a pilot in Toronto, the company has signed advertising deals with partners including Nestle, Duracell and Phillips and is gearing up to launch in US cities including Philadelphia. Portl also recently partnered with a major telco provider to activate hundreds of thousands of tablets on its nationwide network through 2023.
Thinker-Tinker transforms kids’ screen time to quality, active playtime with a character-based learning platform that blends traditional tactile play and digital interaction.
Thinker-Tinker’s CEO and co-founder, Yuting Su, yearned for a better way to educate her toddler; having a dual Masters in Medical Informatics and Game Design, she understood that his developmental need to learn through tactile play was being unmet with his increasing screen time. To tackle this problem, Yuting teamed up with her co-founder, Ray Chen, a serial entrepreneur with experience in both hardware and software engineering who co-founded an online subscription business that grew to $70M in revenue. Together, they created a smart plush toy that can sense children’s interactions to provide customized learning and emotional feedback. With a tablet tucked inside, a Thinker-Tinker toy also offers educational apps, storybooks, and physical tokens to encourage children to learn by playing games.
After a successful Kickstarter campaign, Yuting and Ray are taking on a unique opportunity to partner with Universal on a licensing arrangement that combines Thinker-Tinker’s play platform with a variety of DreamWorks iconic characters from classic films, the latest theatrical releases, and future animated series.
Eyecandylab enables video content creators to engage their viewers and monetize their media through interactive augmented reality experiences.
After an initial launch in Germany with a major media company that resulted in 365k downloads and a #1 rank in the App Store, eyecandylab debuted in the US successfully with Nickelodeon. With over $700k in revenue this year generated by licensing their patent-pending computer vision technology and live TV matching infrastructure, the company is now focused on scaling their AR experiences via the entertainment, ecommerce and Sports verticals.
Trapica leverages artificial intelligence to optimize targeting decisions in advertising campaigns as they run, allowing marketers to reach the right audiences at the exact time they are ready to convert.
$55B is spent on social network advertising every year, but 70% of those ads are reaching the wrong audiences. Mike Teitelman and Yoav Melamed started Trapica to solve this problem. Using their product, their customers have saved up to 70% off their conversion cost and increased their ROI by 300%.
In the last 6 months, Trapica has grown in revenue by 25% MoM and added some of the biggest advertisers as clients, ranging from Universal Studios to Dirty Lemon. The company will soon apply its homegrown product to other marketing verticals, including linear television, a $150B market.
Polycade turns video games into in-person social events with an engaging, connected arcade console and a curated, digital gaming platform.
Having grown up with a dad who created Atari and Chuck E Cheese, Polycade CEO and Co-Founder Tyler Bushnell remembers the time when people would meet their significant others over a game of Pong. But gaming has strayed from its social roots; nowadays, it’s an isolating experience. Tyler, alongside his co-founder Jake Galler, set out to change that with Polycade.
After successfully raising $120k out of a $20k ask on Kickstarter, the company reached over $750,000 in sales, without any marketing. Polycade’s pilot customers include WeWork,
Grubhub, and Comcast Business. Over the next three years, they plan to deploy 20,000 Polycades, amass a community of over 10 million users, and grow into the largest out-of-home gaming platform — fundamentally changing the way people experience and discover games.
Pium allows you to experience a variety of mood-boosting scents throughout your day with one connected device and a subscription-based scent platform.
75% of daily emotions are affected by smell, and research shows that combining scent with a visual cue strengthens our memory of that visual in the long term.
Powered by patented scent capsules, Pium’s connected device can trigger different scents at different times of day, like a fresh rosemary scent in the morning and a relaxing lavender scent at night. Since the device is connected, a simple Alexa command or tap on a smartphone releases the right scent at the right time. And since the product can sync with other forms of media to create more immersive experiences, Pium is poised to position scent as a new form of media that’s as ubiquitous as sound and visual media – having the potential to encompass the $600B hospitality market and the $2tn entertainment and media markets.
The Pium team is excited to partner with Universal Parks and Resorts and Loews Hotels to offer a sneak peek of the product to hotel guests. The product will be more widely available next fall.
Tally empowers content creators to make and host their own live, interactive shows.
By 2021, there will be 611M viewers watching live video. But, on average, people spend 95 minutes watching gaming livestreams on Twitch for every 3.5 minutes watching non-gaming livestreams.
Tally CEO and Founder Alex Au helped some of the most popular gaming livestreamers grow and retain their audiences by making their content more interactive – building a viewer interaction platform used by 7.5M MAUs and a network of over 35K influencers. Alex saw an opportunity to apply what works in gaming livestreams to make all other content livestreams more engaging. He iterated on different show formats to determine what mechanics drive viewer interaction.
Today, 9 out of 10 viewers interact with shows on Tally and, on average, these viewers engage twice every minute with no monetary incentive.
WiARframe empowers anyone to prototype and share augmented reality experiences in minutes.
The web revolutionized every aspect of our lives. But that wasn’t the case back when only engineers could create for it; it wasn’t until we built tools to empower designers and lower the barrier to entry that we unlocked the web’s potential.
Having spent his career building tools for creators at Atari and designing games and digital products, WiARframe CEO and Founder Jeremiah Alexander believes that augmented reality is having a similar moment. While it is widely held that AR has the potential to be even bigger than the web, currently only people with deep technical knowledge can design for it.
WiARframe changes that, and now notable media companies including SYFY and leading agencies including Huge, EON Reality and Nexus Studios are gearing up to use wiARframe for their next AR projects.
alive5 offers the easiest way for small-to-medium businesses to engage customers and accept payments on any digital messaging channel.
Every day, we collectively send 141B text messages via the top messaging apps. But most small-to-medium businesses struggle with juggling these newer communication channels with their existing ones. Companies without a multi-channel strategy retain customers at a rate of 33%, compared to an 89% retention rate that companies with a cohesive strategy enjoy. alive5 addresses this problem by helping businesses manage their customers on any channel – website, SMS, Facebook Messenger et al — while also offering a PCI compliant solution to help facilitate payments in these channels.
alive5’s platform supports over 800 customers, including 200 of the top pro and college sports teams, major hotel brands, Comcast Spectacor, as well as Spectra Venue Management, which manages hundreds of venues throughout North America.
Thank you speakers and mentors!
During our program, we were incredibly lucky to have amazing guest speakers and over 140 mentors help our companies. Thank you for generously offering your time and continued support!
Special shout outs go out to our top mentors, selected by our 2018 class:
Thank you Techstars team!
It takes a village to pull off a successful Techstars program. I’d like to thank our Entrepreneur in Residence, Andrew Cove, who routinely burned the midnight oil in support of our founders, and our program manager, Rachel Greenspan, who kept on top of all of the moving pieces while we were going a million miles a minute.
A big thank-you hug also goes to our rockstar Techstars associates Will Sanderson, Jamie Fisher, Josh Klein and Emmy Phung! You guys not only worked hard to help our companies, but you made it fun. I’m definitely going to miss our crew.
Thank you to our partner, Comcast NBCUniversal!
Last but definitely not least, thanks to our amazing partners and mentors at Comcast NBCUniversal for continuously offering their time and key introductions that meaningfully helped and will continue to help our companies grow. We couldn’t have done this without you!
CONGRATS to the 2018 Class of our Comcast NBCUniversal LIFT Labs Accelerator, Powered by Techstars!
Join us for the Comcast NBCUniversal LIFT Labs Accelerator, Powered by Techstars Demo Day in Philadelphia as our companies take the stage to present their businesses!
6:00 pm Cocktail hour & networking
7:00 pm Opening remarks & company presentations
8:45 pm Cocktail hour & celebrations
9:30 pm Closing
*Even though this is a free event, you must RSVP to attend. Also note that this event is by invitation only, so do not register for more than one ticket. If you would like to recommend someone to attend or have any questions, please contact Rachel Greenspan, Program Manager at Rachel.Greenspan@techstars.com.
RSVP NEEDED BY SUNDAY 10/7 at 11:59pm LATEST
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Techstars is excited to announce Comcast NBCUniversal LIFT Labs Accelerator, powered by Techstars. The accelerator is an essential cornerstone of Comcast NBCUniversal’s LIFT Labs for Entrepreneurs program and will be based out of LIFT Labs PHL, located in the new Comcast Technology Center in Philadelphia when it opens in early 2018.
Techstars helps entrepreneurs succeed. By partnering with Comcast NBCUniversal, we will deliver our proven mentor-driven methodology to support companies focused on new innovations in media, entertainment and connectivity. Comcast NBCUniversal’s vision for supporting startups through LIFT Labs for Entrepreneurs aligns perfectly with Techstars’ focus on building businesses everywhere. We’re excited to bring our worldwide entrepreneurial network to Philadelphia, our 11th U.S. city and 18th global location.
Applications for the Comcast NBCUniversal LIFT Labs Accelerator, powered by Techstars, will open in January 2018. For more information about the program visit ComcastNBCULIFT.com and to receive an update when applications are available, click here. If you have questions about the program, email us at ComcastNBCU@techstars.com.