Imagine being able to use science to choose the right music for an advertising campaign or being able to order food and groceries on a military base from a veteran-owned small business.
Hampton Roads startups are bringing these ideas and more to this year’s 757 Accelerate program. In the midst of a global pandemic, the region’s startup accelerator is moving its entire program online and implementing a new abridged program for three more area startups.
“We’ll be using the same structure to connect pretty aggressively and offer robust programming for 12 weeks, but we’ll be doing it virtually,” said Evans McMillion, the program’s executive director.
Almost all of the program’s events will be able to make the switch to online unchanged, McMillion said, including workshops and meeting with mentors. Only a “roadshow” trip to meet with investors in five cities will have to be altered. Instead, the startups will present during an online demonstration day.
“The real value there is connecting startup teams to as many investors as possible,” McMillion said.
The nonprofit program was formed in 2017 through a $500,000 federal i6 Challenge grant sought by the 757 Angels investor network, Reinvent Hampton Roads, the National Institute of Aerospace, TowneBank and several other regional cities and universities.
The Virginia Beach-based startup Secret Chord Laboratories will be working with 757 Accelerate to help scale its music-based science software. Using neuroscience research, the company predicts the response a piece of music will have on the brains of a target audience.
“We have spent years successfully investigating quantifiable factors leading to music enjoyment,” co-founder David Rosen said in an email. “The ability to model, quantify and predict how a given song leads to a pleasure response in the brains of listeners brings countless benefits to any industry that relies on music.”
Through the accelerator program, Rosen said his team is eager to work with expert mentors on financial models and potential applications in the health care industry.
“We believe this program will help Secret Chord lay the foundation for success as we scale our products and business in the music industry and vertical markets,” he said.
Other startups in the program this year include Chesapeake’s ChowCall, a veteran-owned food and grocery delivery service. Canduit wants to connect recent college grads from underserved populations with their first job through employer projects. Grid Fruit plans to use algorithms to optimize refrigerator operations and eliminate food waste. Lastly, Norfolk’s Mayfair Project will use experts and machine learning to help insurance companies make sense of current litigation.
757 Accelerate is also debuting a shorted version of its program this year called 757X. Stemming from a desire to help more startups, the program will give three more companies access to its mentors and staff. McMillion said the 757X startups will have access to almost everything except the $20,000 that each startup in the full program receives. Companies in the 757X program include software startup 3DXtremes, driver service Senior Runs and automation business Splyc.
During its first two years, the accelerator program has helped 11 startups. Those companies have raised $10 million in capital and created 50 jobs.
“We continue to rely on the 757 Accelerate staff and network as we grow our business,” said Josuel Plasensia, co-fouder of Forefront and a program graduate, in a news release. Forefront is a software company that creates automated recruiting tools for young jobseekers.
757 Accelerate has focused on diversity and inclusion since the very beginning — 70% of its startups have founders that are either women, a veteran or a person of color. In a year where companies in all sectors are being scrutinized for their diversity efforts, McMillion said 757 Accelerate has always been intentional in selecting founders from underrepresented groups.
“We always put (program goals) up against being inclusive and impactful,” she said.