Jenny Fielding Talks Plans for Next R/GA Techstars Accelerator Class

A few things have changed at the R/GA Accelerator in New York.

When it was created last summer through a partnership between Techstars and New York-based digital marketing agency R/GA, the focus was on new ideas in connected devices. But for the forthcoming class, the scope has broadened a bit to include the Internet of things.

In June, Jenny Fielding was named the new managing director of the accelerator, taking over from Calvin Chu. She spoke with me recently about her new role and what to expect with accelerator’s second class (the deadline to apply is Aug. 25).

Xconomy: How quickly did you have to get up to speed after joining the accelerator?

Jenny Fielding: I am heads-down talking to companies. It’s been quite a roll-in. I started on this project five weeks ago and I’ve already talked to more than 200 companies. My background is in digital media; I was heading up the venture group at the BBC. My perspective on hardware, devices, and the Internet of things is I come at it from a content and data-oriented side. The hardware is a component of it, but it’s really about the transfer of information through that device.

That’s what I have a lot of experience in, investing in, and helping to build business models around. That was my interest in doing something in the hardware space and devices.

XC: What do you hope to bring to this next class of the accelerator?

JF: Being in the hardware scene is a great place to be right now. If you look at how crowdfunding has transformed the industry in the last few years, what I’m calling hardware 2.0, that’s blown it open for lots of people that couldn’t get into hardware.

In New York, we’re seeing lots of interesting companies leverage the things that New York is historically really good at. We have a history of manufacturing here and fashion. All of those things make for a great breeding ground for hardware and device companies. I’ve been in California for the last few years; coming back to New York where there is momentum around this industry is what drew me to it. We’re seeing companies like Canary, who raised a lot of money on Indiegogo, really set up shop in New York and makes some progress.

More established players like MakerBot, Adafruit, and Quirky are all New York-based.

I’m looking to … focus on not just the hardware side, but the building of the business. What’s kind of amazing about the R/GA program is that you have access to R/GA clients, who are mentors. [We’ll be] focusing on partnerships that the startups can leverage with those clients and having exposure to them.

XC: How have things changed in the realm of hardware and connected devices? How has 3D printing helped in creating prototypes?

JF: There’s a company called SOLS, which does 3D printed orthotics. You have companies that wouldn’t have been able to get started so quickly if they didn’t have access to 3D printing. The ability to prototype, the ability to quickly turn around on [printed circuit] boards—it’s all transformed in the last few years. That’s this new wave of hardware.

Costs have come down; the maker movement has helped put these resources in the hands of everybody. People that were tinkerers can actually start proper businesses and it’s not so expensive. There’s a company in Brooklyn called the BotFactory and … Next Page »

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