We are one-third of the way through the Kinect Accelerator. Through the first month of working with a great group of mentors, many companies have adjusted their business and technical strategies to line up with the best opportunities. Kinect development is challenging, so although it’s okay to fail fast and learn from it, it’s even better to get pretty close on the first try. 

Consistent with the TechStars’ mentor-driven approach, the network of mentors supporting the Kinect Accelerator is an essential component of the program. The 11 Kinect Accelerator teams have been meeting daily with mentors. Some of the external advisors include Adam Doppelt from Co-Founder UrbanSpoon, David Cohen, CEO of TechStars (of course), Paul Goodrich from Madrona Venture Group, Andy Sack, Executive Director of TechStars Seattle, Kwindla Hultman Kramer, CEO of Oblong Industries (the guys who designed those cool “Minority Report” scenarios) and the ever-present and engaged serial entrepreneur, Robert Kapela.   One mentor mentioned seeing this kind of innovation was like getting an adrenaline shot in the brain (that’s a good thing).

From the Microsoft side, I have been truly impressed by how my peers have engaged.  Dan’l Lewin, Corporate Vice President of Strategic and Emerging Business Development at Microsoft reflected on his own startup experiences and gave a compelling presentation that I’ll summarize as:

  • Know your customer, deeply.
  • Know yourself, as an entrepreneur, your strengths and especially your weaknesses.
  • Know your team, and get your team ready for some tough but rewarding work.

Many others across Microsoft have been visible on a weekly, even daily basis.  From leading game developers such as Jeff Matsushita and Rick Martinez, both Executive Producers at Microsoft Studios, Craig Eisler, General Manager for Kinect for Windows, Dennis Schmuland, Chief Healthcare Strategy Officer, many from the Kinect for Windows team such as Emma Grant, Steve Seow for Azure, as well as Sam Rosenbalm, Director for BizSpark and Microsoft Accelerator programs.  The Microsoft teams have been very engaged and responsive, helping connect Accelerator companies to customer prospects, transferring industry knowledge, providing best practices on Kinect development, responding to development tool issues and more.

Honestly, this first Microsoft Accelerator has been a bit of an experiment.  But the quality of the program has been consistent with the core TechStars programs. The mentor-intensive approach has driven the teams to mature quickly, refine their product vision, comprehend technical barriers and opportunities and allowed these 11 companies to do more, faster.  Microsoft teams, even outside of the Kinect arena have been engaged.  For example, we needed more PCs for the Accelerator teams for dev and test, the ask went out through multiple channels and loaner equipment started flowing in: monitors, workstations, and keyboards.

Mentors, as they get engaged, learn as much from the companies as the companies are learning from them.