How Startup Runway works: an overview

How we started

Startup Runway was created by Lisa Calhoun, general partner at Valor Ventures, an Atlanta venture capital firm. Her vision was to create a platform for connecting top minority led startups to seed capital, like Valor and others. She reached out to Ryan Wilson at The Gathering Spot and he shared the same vision, volunteering the venue that is the home for our pitch screening events and our Showcase events. Lisa built an application process, the initial web site, the curricula, and recruited leaders, sponsors and investors to surround the organization. It has become the largest pitch series for minority led tech startups to meet seed capital in the Southeast. It incorporated as a nonprofit foundation in 2017.

Startup Runway has a unique peer-reviewed pitch coaching process with a signature “showcase” event at the end of the series. It is also unique in that its prize check, provided through donations, is 100% strings free (the program takes no equity). Here’s how it goes.

  1. Application review

    After startups apply through F6S, they get reviewed by someone (and sometimes more than someone) from our Mission Control team. We score applications on team, traction, diversity and hypergrowth business model. Only about 20% of those who apply are being asked to attend one of our simulation sessions.

  2. You pitch in our “pitch simulation” and meet more founders

    Companies that are invited to a simulation get to practice their pitch in front of peers. It’s a five minute pitch based on the classic startup pitch deck as presented by Canaan Partners. (You can get the sample here.) We only have a few slots for flight simulations, but to make it to the final stage, you have to go through this process. We understand many startups can’t be in Atlanta for the pitch simulation, so you can video in for this. At the simulation, important things happen:

    a. You get to pitch in front of a room full of super smart startups like you, from diverse perspectives and with valuable connections.
    b. You learn how investors think. You don’t just pitch your company. You participate by scoring EACH company in that day’s simulation. Our scoring is simple, and we have an explanation on that you might want to check out.

    c. You get a score! How do we figure out the top 10% of minority led startups in the Southeast? We let the brilliant founding teams make that cut through this peer scoring process. It’s fun and competitive and you learn a lot. (If you want to pitch again, if there’s time you can score higher by pitching at a later simulation date. You can go through this process a few times.)

    Startup Runway scores pitches on 4 major elements: Team, Traction, Inclusion, and Hypergrowth.

    Here’s how:

    Ranking the Team on a scale from 1-5.
    A 5 means you cannot possibly imagine a stronger team to do this mission.

    Ranking how visible the product is and how well customers are responding on a scale from 1-5.
    For example, a concept with no code is a zero on this scale. A company onboarding 200 users a day in their first two month is a 5.

    Ranking the business model’s Hypergrowth Potential on a scale from 1-5.
    For reference, a services firm would score zero for hypergrowth potential since even top growing services firms run at 20-25% year over year growth. A product company with ecommerce distribution could score a 1. A product company with some kind of highly preferred distribution might score a 2. A services business with a software backbone, like Uber, could score a 2-4. A pure software business would score a 5.

    Ranking the  founding team’s inclusion  on a scale from 1-5
    We believe the strongest startups need real world roots and broad perspective to become tomorrow’s top companies. We score diversity on the founding team. Racial, gender, bi-racial, immigrants and other minorities on the founding team come together to create this score. At our first pitch practice, one startup had a gay Cuban male founder and a female white founder–they set our bar pretty high!