International Accelerator Program Brings Foreign Startups to Austin
Being an entrepreneur is a tough business. Then, tack on an added level of difficulty if that entrepreneur is foreign-born and seeking to enter the U.S. market.
Angelos Angelou, a longtime business development consultant in Austin, TX, had helped entrepreneurs he had met on and off, including Schoox, a software maker founded by Greek entrepreneur, Eleftherios Ntouanoglou. Angelou began working with Ntouanoglou in 2012. In April, the company filed a document with the SEC saying that it had raised $1 million in funding. Seeing that, Angelou says he thought, why not create a more formal program that could help a dozen startups or more?
So began the International Accelerator. “For the most part, our sweet spot is companies that are companies that were started overseas and want to move to the U.S. and fulfill their entrepreneur’s dream: to be in the largest market in the world,” Angelou says.
Unlike traditional accelerator programs, IA doesn’t enroll a “class” of startups for a three- or four-month program. Instead, the startups are accepted on a rolling basis, following pitch days that serve as auditions. Once selected, companies will be evaluated after about a year to see if their U.S. operations are on stable ground.
Catering to immigrant entrepreneurs makes sense. According to the Kauffman Foundation, immigrants are twice as likely to found new companies or be self-employed as their native-born American counterparts.
Earlier this month, the accelerator’s leaders heard presentations from eight of the 80 companies that applied for the pitch day. Three of those companies have been selected to participate in the accelerator. They include Loren Medical Devices, a catheter maker from Italy, and Dextr, an Australian firm that has a replacement for the Qwerty keyboard on smartphones. Angelou says that by the first quarter next year, he expects the accelerator to be home to 15 companies.
The program gives the startups $50,000 cash. In exchange, IA takes a 15 percent equity stake; the higher percentage than most accelerators reflects the additional effort and mentoring necessary to help guide foreign-born entrepreneurs through the American startup landscape, Angelou says. “It takes them three or four months just to get acclimated,” he adds.
The entrepreneurs need to be connected with attorneys and other experts that can help them get visa assistance and access to housing and bank accounts—something already in place for their American counterparts. “We employ ‘country advisers’ to the entrepreneurial scene, a pipeline of projects to consider,” Angelou says. “We act as co-founders of these companies, providing marketing, business development, and do the fundraising for each of our companies.”
As he works with the companies, Angelou says the accelerator is looking at growing, too. So far, he has raised $650,000 of a $3.65 million round of financing to pay for expansion and eventual franchising. He says that despite the added hurdles for foreign-born entrepreneurs, he believes they are a good investment.
“These entrepreneurs are highly educated; they are more determined to succeed,” he says. “Failing is not an option for them. They do not have that culture as we do in the U.S.”