MergeLane – An Accelerator for Women-led Startups

I have been talking, writing, and helping advocate for women in technology for a long time. While my most visible role is as chair of National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) since its inception in 2006, I’ve tried to be actively involved and supportive of as many initiatives as I can. My partners and I are focused on promoting diversity in our fund (here’s a run-down of our stats) and have recently back several female CEOs, with a few more about to happen. At Techstars, we’ve put a huge amount of energy into building a pipeline of female founders and getting women involved in Techstars in many roles, especially at the leadership level in companies and the program.

Six months ago, two Boulder entrepreneurs and angel investors approached me and my partners about investing in a new accelerator targeting women-led companies. We’ve known and worked with both Elizabeth Kraus and Sue Heilbronner and deeply believe that each are committed to the “give before you get” ethos of our startup community in Boulder.

Our respect for Elizabeth and Sue, combined with our passion for their objective, led us to invest personally in MergeLane, which has secured strong support from a tremendous group of mentors, investors, media, and the Boulder startup community.

In order to be considered for admission into the 12-week program, which begins on February 2nd, companies must have at least one female in a leadership role. The program is industry-agnostic, but startups need to have some level of traction. MergeLane requires only three weeks of residency in Boulder in hopes of accommodating founders that can’t relocate for a full three months.

The deadline to apply for MergeLane is December 15th. Take a look and apply at www.MergeLane.com.

  • Excited to have @mergelane in the Denver/Boulder area!

  • Ben

    Brad, you might be interested in Innovation Women, a new initiative being launched by the founders of Mass Innovation Nights that is aimed at supporting women entrepreneurs: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/innovationnights/innovation-women-technical-and-entrepreneurial-spe.

    • Awesome – I just supported the Kickstarter campaign.

  • Rick

    What’s the story with the aversion to idea stage? Starting a biz, not operating or growing it, is quick, easy and cheap. So it can’t be just the fact that the biz hasn’t been legally formed.
    .
    I know when working with programmers it’s a real aggravation to need to get rid of many of their preconceived notions. I would think that partnering with people as early as possible is a good thing.
    .
    If Elon came to you at idea stage would you turn him down?

    • Nothing is wrong with the idea stage. MergeLane just decided that being beyond the idea stage (in their words – “with traction”) is part of their filter and strategy.

      Over the past 20 years of investing, I’ve funded plenty of companies at the idea stage.

      • Rick

        Cool thanks.
        .
        Hey… Juggling web personas, while at first exciting, eventually gets tiring and boring. I need a break. I know you hate phones. But you have my number. Call if you wanna’ chat about something awesome!
        .
        Catch ya’ later.

      • I’m so thrilled to see this accelerator get formed and it seems terrific. I wonder, however, if the numbers should be adjusted given “traction” – 6% seems like a lot in that case. I’m also unclear what they mean by tracation – the latest blog post makes it seem looser than the home page. We are beyond “idea” – have a prototype, not sure if that qualifies.

        • Elizabeth Kraus

          Hi
          Laura. Great questions! Hope this helps:

          1) Traction: First and foremost, we are looking for awesome teams who can make meaningful progress during our program. It is more likely that companies
          with some degree of traction will be able to make meaningful progress and attract investment capital at the completion of our program, but “traction” is
          a variable term that applies differently to different sectors. So for a natural foods company, we want to see a product that has been created and marketed in
          some form. For a technology product, we want to see some evidence of the product versus just an idea. And, yes, we will be flexible in evaluating the full range of factors in evaluating a prospective company: team, experience, market size, product to market fit, proof of concept, potential to scale, and other softer variables that we evaluate in looking seriously at the finalists out
          of our application pool. We have designed our program to meet the needs of more established businesses, but because women are statistically less likely to apply for things unless they meet every criterion, we want to make it very clear that we will weigh ALL factors carefully.

          2) 6%: 6% can, in some instances, be a greater sacrifice for companies that are further along, but later stage companies may also have more to gain. Companies with traction may be better able to execute on introductions and to implement the ah ha moments produced through the accelerator. The real question to ask is: Will this accelerator increase the value of my business by 6%? If the answer is yes, I think it is a no brainer.

          Perhaps the most important thing for you to think about it is: Do you believe your accelerator
          participation will importantly and geometrically accelerate your growth? If your answer is a strong “yes”, you could be a great fit for the program.

  • Lucas Point Ventures

    Thanks for promoting this great initiative Brad. I was honored to be asked to be a Mergelane mentor and am looking fwd to be part of the action in Boulder next Feb!

  • Founderette

    A new unknown accelerator insisting on traction just cut it’s qualified applicant pool drastically. Though I guess it is their perogative to be very risk averse. If my startup has traction, then I and my cofounders/staff would just double our hustle and grow it ourselves. The exception would be if we decided to go for a top accelerator like YC, whose connections (funding, sales funnels, partnerships, etc) are indisputable. In discussion with a group of female founders, many agreed.

    On equity, @Elizabeth Kraus says below that it’s a no brainer if you see that they can grow your startup at least 6%. But that’s the point: There is no guarantee that they can; there is no track record or related data to assess, whereas with a YC or 500startups or even TechStars, you can make a close calculation based on available data. For this reason alone, Mergelane shouldn’t be asking as much equity until they’ve established similar results. #JustSaying

    • Elizabeth Kraus

      Hi Founderette. We encourage our applicants to do as much due diligence on us as we will do on them, and to take any grant of equity very seriously. While this may be our first year, my partner Sue and I have a proven track record of producing results for startups and an extensive combined network – I’ve developed mine from founding and growing an angel network over the past five years. Sue has developed hers from founding and working with early growth startups for 15 years. We chose our $20k + mentors/resources for 6% equity stake to be in line with the average figures reported by the Global Accelerator Network. We felt our existing network + our combined experience could deliver at least comparable results to other accelerators when we chose this equity structure four months ago. Since then, the level of interest and support from high-quality mentors has far exceeded our expectations. I hope this helps. If you have any inclination to apply, I would suggest you do so by the deadline Monday and we’d be happy to connect you with people who could attest to our track record. Thank you for your diligence – Elizabeth

  • Guest

    Wonderful news. A group in Arkansas is working hard to grow women led startups, as well as women angels.

    I won’t make this deadline, but have a few companies / ideas that would be ready in 3 months. Is there a second cohort planned?

    Best wishes! Thank you for being part of the solution!

    *oops, can’t get my giant picture out of here*

    • Elizabeth Kraus

      Nice to see your smiling face 🙂

      We haven’t announced plans for second cohort yet, but if you email me at elizabeth at mergelane dot com, we can make sure to keep you informed. Thanks for all of the great work you are doing!