By Ben Penchas
Stanford has built a legacy of entrepreneurship that is deeply woven into the fabric of the community. This ecosystem of innovation transcends every aspect of day-to-day life on The Farm. Start-up ideas can be found everywhere from dorm hallways to the manicured lawns of the Business School. But where do these ideas become companies?
Since 2011, an answer has been StartX. Created by Cameron Teitelman ‘11, and originally a part of Stanford Student Enterprises (SSE), StartX is a non-profit accelerator for Stanford-affiliated start-ups. In batches of 30 to 40, accepted companies take part in a three-month program that features guest speakers, networking events and workshops. StartX culminates in a demo day where founders present to venture capitalists, press and members of the Stanford community.
In addition to the professional network, StartX founders have the ability to pursue funding from the Stanford-StartX Fund. StartX companies that successfully raise more than $500,000, with at least 30 percent of that money from professional investors, are given the opportunity to raise up to 10 percent of their capital from the StartX Fund. This fact sets the StartX Fund apart from traditional venture capital funds.
“What’s so great about the fund is that it’s not discretionary,” said Teitelman, explaining that companies did not need to compete for funding amongst their other StartX peers.
This unique access to funding and mentorship has proven successful for many Stanford-affiliated entrepreneurs. In 2013, WiFiSLAM, a former StartX company, was acquired by Apple for $20 million. In particular, StartX has had great success with medical startups, prompting Teitelman and his team to look closely at how medical startups navigated the program.
“We realized these companies are unique,” Teitelman noted. They operate on much longer time scales and require custom resources in terms of FDA and HIPAA consulting.”
After noting the need for a medical track within StartX, Teitelman launched StartX Med in 2012. A vertical of StartX focused on startups looking to disrupt the healthcare industry, StartX Med boasts faster FDA approval times than the national average.
Despite the success of StartX and StartX Med, a gap has always existed in the Stanford startup space.
“StartX never focused on students doing companies on the side,” Teitelman admitted.
Prompted by their discovery of this unrepresented niche within the entrepreneurial community at Stanford, Olivia Moore ’16 and Justine Moore ’16 created Cardinal Ventures in 2014. Cardinal Ventures is a student-run accelerator for Stanford company founders looking to stay in school and build their companies up simultaneously. Cardinal Ventures has already graduated several successful companies.
Olivia Moore cites the demand for a less time-consuming accelerator as the impetus for their idea. “We had heard both from students and from people that were working with incubators that a lot of these incubators like StartX…are looking mostly for people who can do it full-time,” Olivia said.
Courtney Buie M.A. ‘16, the Cardinal Ventures operations manager, champions the start-up mentality of the seven-person team and its role in providing students with a refreshing atmosphere to grow their companies.
“We’re trying to recreate [our culture] for our companies,” Buie said, describing the importance of a scrappy get-things-done approach.
Buie described Cardinal Ventures as an incubator for incubators.
“Some people say the space is saturated but we had over 60 applications for our fall session,” she said, adding that this demand was indicative of an unfullfilled need.
The program provides their companies with resources that aid in solidifying a strong foundation for these early-stage companies. One of the largest components is workshops and speaker series, which include twice-weekly conversatiosn with Venture Capitalists, entrepreneurs and professors. The program also provides companies industry-specific mentors, in addition to a $1,000 grant. The quarter-long program culminates in a series of pitches to investors.
Blink Eyewear, a company in the fall class that provides eyewear, is one of the beneficiaries of the program.
“The most helpful resource has been the fantastic mentors with different expertise ranging from IP to branding and investment,” explained Sophie Edelstein ‘17, one of the company’s co-founders.
Edelstein is one of many students who will soon graduate from the program’s first official class.
The Moore sisters have big plans for the future of the program.
“We really want to enrich the resources that we’re able to provide in terms of speakers we’re bringing in, mentors we’re pairing them with, the kind of recruiting help or incorporation help or design help we can give them,” said Olivia Moore.
Whether in pursuit of the full-time StartX experience or the Cardinal Ventures journey, Stanford students are in the world’s entrepreneurial epicenter — resources abound on a campus where companies grow alongside students.
Contact Yael Lederman at yael3 ‘at’ stanford.edu and Ben Penchas at bpenchas ‘at’ stanford.edu.