InTeahouse Accelerator Wants Startups to Think Globally, Build Locally

There’s a new startup accelerator program in town, and it’s got an international flavor.

This week, InTeahouse announced the launch of its “InSeven” investment program that will provide capital, office space, and other resources to startups working in robotics, advanced materials, life sciences, cleantech, telecommunications, new media, and financial technology.

In a crowded field of Boston-area early-stage investment funds and startup accelerators, InTeahouse aims to differentiate itself, in part, with a strong connection to China.

InTeahouse was founded in 2015 by entrepreneur and investor Xin Liu (pictured above), a native of China. The organization is trying to build a global network of entrepreneurs, investors, businesses, academic institutions, and other groups. It currently operates five “teahubs”—tea house-inspired office and meeting spaces—in the U.S., China, and Germany, with more locations planned around the world, a spokeswoman says. For a $300 annual fee, members of InTeahouse’s network receive access to its office spaces, events, and business services.

InTeahouse also runs a $30 million venture fund. With InSeven, it’s adding new offerings for startups.

The plan is to invest in seven startups this year through the InSeven program. InTeahouse will invest $70,000 in equity funding in each company, in exchange for a 7 percent stake in the form of common stock. (That’s a lot of sevens.)

InTeahouse is accepting applications for the program, and the selection process will include a pitch competition on May 13, a spokeswoman says.

Selected companies will get to work out of InTeahouse’s office in Cambridge, MA, for a year. After that, they can apply for a loan of up to $300,000 and additional equity funding, or both, InTeahouse says.

Additional perks include access to InTeahouse’s other locations around the globe; connections with mentors, investors, and industry experts; a trip to China to meet with manufacturers and potential backers; and access to financial, marketing, and other business services.

“The money is important, but more important to folks is … we help them with an ecosystem of services,” Liu says in a phone interview. And, she adds, the support for portfolio companies will last beyond their year housed at InTeahouse’s space in Cambridge’s Central Square neighborhood.

InTeahouse’s $30 million fund is one of at least 15 new early-stage, primarily tech-focused venture funds that have popped up in the Boston area in the past two years. With InSeven, InTeahouse joins an already-long list of organizations running startup accelerators and incubators here. Others include the local Techstars outpost, MassChallenge, LearnLaunch, and The Engine.

InTeahouse’s emphasis on forging international connections could make its startup accelerator more attractive to companies seeking a gateway to China and other countries. InTeahouse has already made efforts to foster business partnerships between the U.S. and China, including through a trade mission last fall that brought executives from 11 New England robotics firms to several cities in China.

Liu grew up in China, and she was a partner at an investment firm in Beijing before moving to the Boston area a few years ago, she says. Besides her work with InTeahouse, she is also the CEO of Hipower Energy Group, an Acton, MA-based maker of batteries for electric vehicles.

“I have a very strong connection in China,” Liu says. But that’s just the first step. If all goes well, she wants InTeahouse to become a reliable resource and connector in more countries around the world. “That’s the next step.”

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