All of us here at Morrissey Goodale would like to wish you and yours a Happy Holidays! Look for the next Word on the Street on Monday, January 8.
“Shark Tank” for the AE Industry
We’ve added a ton of new features and content to our symposiums for 2024. (You can check out what’s new here.) One of the most exciting additions is the Innovation Incubator for the AE Industry, which showcases some of the industry’s most exciting new start-ups and business ideas. The concept is based on the popular TV show “Shark Tank” (except these new businesses are focused on making a big splash in the design and construction industries and we don’t have anyone who goes by the moniker “Mr. Wonderful”).
Attendees at our Southeast M&A and Business Symposium in Miami this March will not only have the opportunity to see these start-ups make their pitches from the stage, they’ll also get to vote for which is the most likely to be a break-out success. (And, who knows, one or two attendees may choose to invest in or acquire one of these start-ups.)
We’re producing this new session in collaboration with our pals at Shadow Partners (Atlanta, GA), whose mission is to drive innovation for the built environment through education, community, and thought leadership. Shadow Partners is the sister firm of Shadow Ventures, a thematic venture capital firm that invests in seed-stage ConstructionTech and PropTech companies disrupting the built world.
Shadow Partners annually runs a pre-seed incubator for start-ups and corporate start-ups. In Miami this March, the Innovation Incubator for the AE Industry will provide a “Demo Day” opportunity for these start-ups to present their business ideas to decision-makers from the AE and environmental industry.
I had the opportunity to sit down with (if by “sit down with” you mean “email back and forth with”) Jeff Echols—senior director of marketing at Shadow Partners, self-proclaimed “innovation evangelist,” and host of the Shadow Partners Incubator to discuss its genesis, how it works, and what’s going to happen in Miami.
Mick Morrissey: Jeff, can you tell us how the Shadow Partners Incubator came to be and a little bit about its history?
Jeff Echols: The incubator started over on the Shadow Ventures side as a natural outgrowth of the continuous stream of pitches (from start-ups) the fund receives. Most weeks, KP [Reddy, founder of Shadow Ventures] and Matt [Ohlman, CTO] are reviewing around 10 pitches, so one way to service the most promising of those requests is to feed them into an incubator program.
Morrissey: I know you’re quick to emphasize that the incubator includes not only start-ups but also “corporate start-ups.” Can you explain the difference? And why is it important that both are included? Can you give us some examples of corporate start-ups?
Echols: Technically, both are start-ups, but we distinguish between the two. One group is the pure or traditional start-up, and the other is a project that’s either coming out of a corporate innovation group (typically an ENR Top 500 Design Firm or an ENR Top 200 Environmental Firm) or a start-up that a firm is investing in. Either way, it’s essentially sponsored by the corporation. One reason to include both in the incubator is that the corporates have a lot to learn from the speed and flexibility of traditional start-ups. Many times, the eventual goal of the traditional start-up founders is to either be acquired by or serve the corporate as a customer. They also have a lot to learn about the systems and structures that dominate the corporate world.
Morrissey: Thanks for that explanation. So, those CEOs of AE or environmental firms reading this who have an internal start-up in the works that could use some development should reach out to you?
Echols: Yes, absolutely!
Morrissey: Typically, how many start-ups are in each incubator cohort? How many cohorts do you run a year?
Echols: We typically start with 10 to 12. Naturally, we expect some attrition as we go through the program. It takes a lot of work. It’s a grind. If you look the same coming out as you did going in, you’ve ultimately failed. Not everyone understands that. This year our goal is to run an incubator per quarter.
Morrissey: How do these start-ups benefit from participating in the incubator?
Echols: They benefit in several ways. First, and probably greatest, is their access to experienced mentors and advisors. Each team of founders has an embedded mentor who is working with them throughout the program. They also have access to what we call “office hours” with advisors who have specific expertise. So, they’re working on customer discovery throughout the program, and a specific go-to market question may come up. Their mentor is guiding them through the customer discovery work, and they may jump on a call with an advisor who’s an expert in go-to market. Another big benefit is exposure. We highlight founders and their projects in content like our Shadow Shorts podcast, in posts on social media, and inside the Shadow Partners online community—and, of course, by pitching at Demo Day. I’m really excited about our 2024 Q1 cohort because we’ve partnered with you and the Morrissey Goodale team to bring Demo Day to your Southeast M&A and Business Symposium in Miami. That’s great exposure for these start-ups to be on the stage at an event like yours in front of potential customers and investors.
Morrissey: What success stories can you share with us of start-ups that have been through the incubator?
Echols: Just yesterday I was talking with one of our founders from the fall 2023 cohort, and they have two venture capital (VC) pitches this week, so they’ve gone from idea, through customer discovery, to having a handful of beta partners, to now pitching to VCs for real funding. That cohort pitched in the Demo Day at our Shadow Summit in Atlanta in October, and it was encouraging to see the founders surrounded by audience members after the pitches, answering questions, making connections, and setting up meetings and calls.
Morrissey: I understand that you’re now accepting applications for this spring’s cohort. What are the requirements for a start-up to apply? And how can start-ups get in the mix?
Echols: Well, the incubator is open for founders (traditional or corporate) who have a product-based start-up—meaning no services companies. Start-ups must be focused on solving a hard technical problem in the AEC or CRE space. Applicants must have a full team, meaning they have a technical co-founder. And they must be able to dedicate at least 20 hours a week over the 6-week program. We’re accepting applications here.
Morrissey: Thanks, Jeff. We’re super excited to partner with you all in this first for the industry!
The Innovation Incubator for the AE Industry takes center stage at the Southeast M&A and Business Symposium in Miami on the afternoon of Wednesday, March 21. From 4:30 PM to 5:30 PM, five start-ups will make their pitches to the audience of AE and environmental industry executives and investors and a panel of judges. There will be real-time polling and Q&A. The vibe will be loose. (There’ll be an open bar—which is now becoming a staple of our symposiums by popular demand!) And the incubator will be followed immediately by a networking reception where you can meet with the start-up teams before heading out to enjoy everything that Miami has to offer at night.
If you’d like to apply to participate in the Shadow Partners Incubator this spring and have the opportunity to present your start-up idea in Miami this March, you may apply here.
See you in Miami! (Early bird pricing for the symposium expires this Friday at midnight Eastern, so register now to save.)
To connect with Mick Morrissey, email him at [email protected] or text him at 508.380.1868.