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Tech Ranch Austin works with pre-seed and seed-stage Startups that it believes “can change the world.” It serves as an incubator for Startups in the central Texas region, and offers a series of events focused on building community, increasing collaboration, and accelerating entrepreneurial activity.
Q: Tell us a little about how you started Tech Ranch Austin and your mission?
I've been in high-tech Startups my whole career. I started my first company in 1994 based here in Austin, and my first Austin claim to fame was as a consulting business building the Dell e-commerce engine, the one that they've used to sell a few billion dollars of computers. To make a long story short, I'm definitely a big fan of Startups. I've been involved with seven Startups either as a founding team member or a founder. In fact, I’m really passionate about that whole process, and it's been, of course, a life changer for me.
In 2003, I decided I wanted to share my ideas of making entrepreneurship available to many, many more people. I developed an early- stage model that I took down to the country of Chile, and working with a Senator in Chile who was a presidential hopeful at that time, I brought this program —or an early stage of what was to become the Tech Ranch—to around 1,000 entrepreneurs in Chile. Based on that experience, I then worked with about 1,500 entrepreneurs in Mexico where I refined the model even more. And then, at the same time, I started using some of the same models here in Austin informally. I finally realized, wow, this is a business. And about a year-and-a-half ago, I partnered up with my present business partner, Jonas Lamis, and started moving very quickly to building out what has now become the Tech Ranch Austin.
Q: When did you first hear about the Microsoft® BizSpark™ program, and how were you recruited into it?
Somebody at Microsoft contacted us, I believe it was Christian Thilmany who had heard about what we were doing. Tech Ranch Austin was getting a lot of buzz. Our mission is to accelerate technology entrepreneurs. So the recruitment process was easy because one of the things we do is go out and find resources for Startup entrepreneurs, technology entrepreneurs specifically. Our mission and that of the BizSpark program matched perfectly.
Q: What do your portfolio companies or your customers think about the program and how is it helpful to them?
They think it's great. We do have a number of companies in our portfolio who have leveraged the BizSpark program. There are three sets of entrepreneurs who have been involved with us. One set we call our portfolio companies, we have 12 companies in this group.
The second and third are kind of the same. We have a program that we call Employed Entrepreneur (EE) Program; it's a structured program for helping entrepreneurs over an eight week-period make the transition to driving their own company. Instead of teaching about business, we help them launch a venture during that timeframe.
Q: Is there a particularly interesting or successful Startup that you’re currently working with that you’d like to highlight?
Yes, in fact, we’re intimately involved with Piryx — a company that is empowering democracy. In fact, they are making it easier for someone who is not a career politician to enter politics and make a difference. They are also dedicated to the Microsoft stack — and were one of our early-stage BizSpark sign-ups. They have had an impact on more than 100 campaigns so far. And then BG Alert is a much earlier stage company — it is a proactive diabetes management solutions provider, all based on the Microsoft stack. Mike Gromer, the founder and CEO, reached out to us for help. As the parent of a Type 1 diabetic, he knew the day-to-day challenges of caring for a child with this devastating disease. He’s building a whole company around his passion. Providing resources to a guy like this that is determined to make the world a better place, as well as build a business, is actually really great.
Q: What are some of the things you have been doing successfully for Startups?
We think of the Tech Ranch as a community center so we support a number of events. Recently, we held the Smart Phone Dev Camp here at the ranch. We’ll have events like that, where it’s not even a Tech Ranch event, we just make the space available to them. We’ve had a number of conferences here—the doors are always open to entrepreneurs. Another example, every two weeks we have what we call a Tech Ranch Campfire meeting. At the Tech Ranch Austin Campfire meetings, we mention all the resources we have available for entrepreneurs including the BizSpark program where entrepreneurs can easily take advantage of Microsoft’s applications and tools. The Microsoft program is one of the primary resources on our list; it usually drives the most interest too.
We also have a partnership with Door64—an online high-tech employment site for Austin and the Central Texas area. We’ll be posting blogs that will help entrepreneurs identify and launch Startup ideas. Door 64 is just another window into the Tech Ranch — and part of our community outreach program. We’re working with Matt Genovese, the main guy behind Door 64, on this. How does this all tie into BizSpark? We believe that we’ll attract even more Startups and entrepreneurs by building out this community. These potential entrepreneurs will be oriented by someone at the Tech Ranch either on the Web site or at one of our orientation campfire events. And then based on that, a number of them will plan to build their next application on top of the Microsoft stack. A lot of these people who have lost their jobs, want to use the Microsoft stack again because of their familiarity with this platform.
We engage at the very earliest stages in a conversation with an entrepreneur. We want to encourage these conversations way earlier than any other incubator or accelerator. And once we attract them into the Tech Ranch orbit, we get a high percentage of those entrepreneurs into the BizSpark program. Again, they are familiar with the Microsoft stack, and they are very interested in using it again.
Q: On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest, how would you rate the program?
I’m really ecstatic about the fact that I have access to this program. It’s great.
For more information, contact Kevin Koym or call 512-339-3242.