- 2013 - December - 13th -

KYN companies get the chance to pitch to investors

By Carole Hawkins, Contributing Writer

The next speaker will come out in a minute, if his startup business hasn't been acquired yet.

The emcee told the joke as the audience waited for each company participating in the KYN business accelerator to appear for their investor pitch.

Hearing about the companies' successes over the past quarter, though, made the joke seem more plausible each time it was told.  

KYN wrapped up its inaugural class Thursday with a Demo Day. The accelerator program, financially supported by Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan, had selected the startups from hundreds of One Spark exhibitors.

After 16 weeks of mentoring, the companies' progress reports were impressive.

MenuAt, a web-based application that allows restaurant owners to update an onsite digital menu screen in real time, saw its sales increase from one per month to two per week.

Artific Games, which develops computer games for phones, tablets and PCs, revamped its strategy by selling developer tools to other software companies for early cash. It now sells eight game component packages on a popular online marketplace and will use the seed money to fund full-scale game development with the help of modest financing.

Original Fuzz, which manufactures high-end gear for musicians, presold its first run of handwoven Peruvian guitar straps in two weeks. The company also picked up 20 wholesale customers over the quarter in such markets as New York, Chicago, Nashville, Miami and Atlanta. 

"Acceleration is the key term describing the KYN program," said Original Fuzz co-founder Lee McAlilly. "Doing presales allowed us to grow more quickly."

Of the 70 people who attended the KYN Demo Days, about a dozen appeared to be investors.

One financier was already hooked.

Community First Credit Union announced it would offer a $50,000 line of credit to KYN graduates who could demonstrate a sound business plan.

The deal features payments of 2 percent of the outstanding balance each month and an interest rate equal to that offered to established small businesses.

"We expect businesses coming out of this program are going to be on a trajectory for growth and profitability," Community First CEO John Hirabayashi said. "We're hoping this modest effort on our part will lead to some great things."

All business accelerators offer the same basics — a program, funding, office space, a mentor network and a demo day. What makes KYN different is its hands-on approach, said founding partner Elton Rivas.

The organization has a 10-to-one mentor-to-team ratio.

"At KYN we … really work side by side with our teams and provide them with the access to the human capital resources that they need," Rivas said. 

That approach was a bit unnerving at first, said Artific Games co-founder Brian Marshburn. The company's entire business plan was taken apart in those first weeks, and it made Marshburn nervous.

"But, it helped us to get to solvency faster," he said. "Under our original model, we'd still be developing games right now."

MenuAt co-founder Emily Charette said KYN helped the company stop developing new ideas and scale up what was already working.

"They said, 'Find the smallest piece that has traction and build on it,'" she said. "For us, that was just the fact restaurant owners can update their menus themselves." 

Each of the businesses received seed money from KYN and $50,000 in design, development and launch resources. MenuAt used their money to hire a salesman, Charette said.

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