From Brad Feld To CES To Obama The Accelerator Pivot

Brad Feld,Sphero,Orbotiz,FoundryIn Brad Feld’s column in Business Insider this morning he talked about the Orbotix team, Adam Wilson and Ian Bernstein. They’re the two guys behind that crazy little ball we all grew to know and love at Thedroidguy offices as The Sphero.  Feld was holding office hours during the 2010 Boulder TechStars program at a pivotal point for the ball. In fact, without Feld’s interaction with Wilson and Bernstein there may have never been a ball.

We first saw the Sphero Ball at Show Stoppers at CES in 2011, a year before almost everyone else saw the ball. You could control the ball with your smartphone and make it dance across the floor. It was right then and there that Russell Holly, a colleague of mine, and I, saw the true potential for the ball. Without any prompting we entered into a conversation with the founders about crazy cat toys, virtual golf, obstacle courses, virtual bowling and a slew of other things that would come to fruition in the following 18 months.

So how did it almost, not happen?

Well Bernstein and Wilson went through what feld called “Mentor Whiplash”. We’ve seen it happen at many accelerators across the country, the accelerator pivot.

From Feld’s account at SAI, Wilson and Bernstein sat down to meet with Feld and looked like whipped puppies. Their fire was gone from Feld’s previous visits with the duo.They had three slides on the table and Feld wanted to hear the ideas. Both Bernstein and WIlson were self-proclaimed robot geeks, and hackers and loved working with robotics all hours of the night.

As Feld tells it in his SAI column, the first idea was a door lock that unlocked with a smartphone. The second idea it seems no one could remember, and the third idea was the robotic ball. Problem is, there was no market for a robotic ball,no way to scale a robotic ball and it just seemed like a fun toy. Feld encouraged Wilson and Bernstein to go for it.

Bernstein, Wilson and heck Feld aren’t alone when it comes to pivoting in the accelerator. In fact, pivoting in the acce

Dave Knox,Brandery,StyleZen

lerator is justpart of the process.  Top ranked Cincinnati accelerator, The Brandery, co-founder Dave Knox told us:

“In the early days of a startup, a company is searching to find a business model that resonates with consumers and can scale.  This search can lead to subtle changes in their direction or at times a complete course correction that we often call a pivot.  It is a process we have seen several times at the accelerator stage at The Brandery. At an accelerator, startups are put into the spotlight with their peer companies, mentors and potential investors.  This leads to a quick determination if their startup is going to have what it takes to make it.”
“A great example of a pivot during the accelerator was Michael Wohlschlaeger in 2011.  He came into The Brandery with a company called Meruni that was a data aggregation and analytics play.  At The Brandery he found that the original business model was flawed but there was a segment of consumers in fashion that were incredibly interested in parts of the plan.  He pivoted the company to StyleZen, focusing entirely on that fashion market opportunity.  And while the pivot happened only 4 weeks before Demo Day, it ultimately led Michael and his team to raise a seed round from the venture firm CincyTech.”

Wohlschlaeger added:

“StyleZen started as Shoptimize, an automated, smart grocery list solution.  The link between Shoptimize and StyleZen was harnessing the power of consumer data to build compelling solutions for the consumer (as opposed to just the brands and retailers).  StyleZen is a personalize fashion discovery platform (truly “me-commerce) that learns a consumers preferences and distills the fashion universe down to a personalized, consumable level.  ”

In Memphis Tennessee at the Seed Hatchery accelerator, Work For Pie pivoted from a website that was looking to link founders to technical co-founders, to an all out social network for open source developers. In fact, the name Work For Pie came from that idea where they would link founders together who would of course work for equity instead of pay (well at least by design). When the concept changed the name remained the same and they quickly took off getting a $300,000 add on funding round led by Solidus.

As for the little robotic ball. After making it’s debut at CES 2011 it was prominently featured at SXSW 2011 and Google I/O 2011 where the Sphero ball was a main attraction at the Google playground. The balls officially went on sale right before the holidays last year and are still selling like hotcakes, or like must have robotic balls controlled by your smartphone.

Check out the Sphero Ball rocking it at Google IO 2011 (1:30 in or so)

The Sphero ball also caught the attention of one Barrack Obama back in April. The President even got a little snippy with passerbys while he was trying to play with the Sphero Ball telling them “Excuse me- give me some space to drive my ball”.


Here’s Brad Feld’s SAI column

Check out Sphero here

Check out StyleZen here

Check out more startup stories from “everywhere else” here




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