Lakshmi Shenoy, CEO of Embarc Collective, isn’t going to let a little thing like not having a completed office space get in the way of serving early-stage technology startups.
Even though Embarc’s 32,000-square-foot office in downtown Tampa is still under construction, the nonprofit started working with 25 young companies in March, providing coaching and specialized services.
While a handful of companies have already self-identified as being Embarc members, the organization made it official Wednesday, unveiling the names of the companies.
“It’s funny. We sort of organically just launched, and then after a month we said, oh we probably should tell people,” Shenoy told the St. Pete Catalyst.
Click here to see the names and more information about the first 25 Embarc members.
In a blog post, Shenoy called the March launch “Phase 1” for the Jeff Vinik-backed initiative to elevate the startup community in the Tampa area.
She’s previously described Embarc’s aim as bringing together entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and other funders and academic resources in one space.
“When I realized the space would take longer than impatient me wanted it to, I took a step back and thought about what are we offering these companies. I realized the space, the physicality is a big part of what we’re doing, but it’s not the only thing that we’re doing. What we’re offering is really about the support,” Shenoy said. “We are an extended member of these startups’ teams, and that’s what makes us different.”
Applications for members opened in November, and each company was carefully vetted based on several factors: viability, ability to scale, coachability of the team and how they would be a good cultural fit.
“Any of these companies could be a breakout success for the region. What you want is people who motivate each other to do that,” Shenoy said.
There are five “executive advisors” on staff, each assigned different companies in Embarc’s portfolio. About half the companies currently have an executive advisor, or coach, who works with the companies on a weekly basis to help them identify milestones and hold them accountable for those milestones.
Accountability is key, said Shenoy, who previously was vice president of strategy and business development at 1871, a tech entrepreneurship hub in Chicago that at any given time had up to 500 companies.
“You would see a lot of companies with great ideas and great founders fail on execution,” she said. “It’s because building something from scratch is overwhelming. What do you prioritize? How do you create order out of chaos that is startup life? I realized the companies that were most successful were the ones that had that sense of accountability.”
A coach who holds founders accountable serves as a precursor for a board of directors.
“When these companies grow and take on institutional capital, they will have a board of director who will take on the role we are sitting in now,” said Shenoy, who has herself taken on some coaching duties.
Embarc also has startup function specialists — people who can help startups with tasks such as automating their milestones on a dashboard or boost search engine optimization.
Since the Embarc space is not yet ready, Embarc staffers will go to members’ offices, or members can come to Embarc’s temporary space in Industrious, a coworking space in downtown Tampa. Sometimes they’ll do a Zoom call and meet virtually online.
“It depends on what’s best for the company. That’s our motto – whatever is best for the company is what we’ll do,” Shenoy said.
There’s now a wait-list for additional Embarc members. The organization is very hands-on, and Shenoy doesn’t want to sacrifice the quality of the startup coaching product for quantity.
“Running a startup is hard. It’s emotionally draining. Sometimes you just need someone sitting right here, who doesn’t need to learn about your business, but they care about you as a person and they care about your team and the viability and sustainability of your business.”
Embarc currently has six full-time employees and three contractors, with a handful of hires still to come on board. In terms of revenue, the organization, which is slightly over a year old, is “meeting expectations for 2019 numbers,” according to Shenoy.
She stressed that Embarc is not out to recreate the wheel. The team has been aggressive about developing partnerships and collaborations with more than 30 existing support organizations in the area.
“I was able to develop partnerships and recognize strengths of other organizations. I’m not going to redo what they’ve done. This market is not big enough,” she said. “I want to make sure that at the end of the day what we are doing is additive to the company and the company is getting what they need from this community to move themselves forward.”
Although construction is still going on at the Embarc office, Shenoy will give a sneak peek at the work in progress when Steve Case’s Rise of the Rest tour stops in next week for a hard hat tour. The facility is scheduled for completion by the end of the year — what Shenoy said will be Phase 2 of the launch — and will include public event space for conversations about technology, entrepreneurship and innovation, as well as spaces dedicated to the startup members.