Entrepreneurs Roundtable Joins Clan of NYC Tech Incubators, Graduates First Class of Startups

10/17/11Follow @arleneweintraub

When Entrepreneurs Roundtable started up in New York four years ago, its mission was to offer networking opportunities and monthly pitch events, where startup execs could describe their ideas to potential financiers. A couple of years later, the tech scene exploded in New York, and entrepreneurs were hungering for more, says Jonathan Axelrod, a serial entrepreneur and longtime advisor to the Roundtable. “We decided there was an opportunity to create the first business accelerator that would be managed by New Yorkers for the New York tech community,” Axelrod says. “It was about building New York as a center for young startups to grow.”

So Axelrod co-founded Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator along with fellow entrepreneur and computer scientist Murat Aktihanoglu and VC Charles Kemper. The incubator is based in the heart of Times Square—a couple of subway stops north of the epicenter of the city’s startup community. It recently graduated its first class of 10 startups and held its first demo day for venture capitalists. The program has started taking applications for the next class, which will begin in January.

Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator is far from the only incubator in the Big Apple, though. Other contenders for entrepreneurial energy range from TechStars (which will hold its second New York demo day tomorrow) to Blueprint Health, a brand new incubator focusing on health IT startups. The Roundtable program is similar in some ways: It goes on for three months, it includes a seed fund that puts $25,000 into each new company accepted into the program, and it relies on a network of mentors to guide the entrepreneurs through the startup process.

But Axelrod contends there are a few key differences between his incubator and all the others. For example, the 10 companies that just graduated will be doing a second demo day at the accelerator 500 Startups in Mountain View, CA on November 1st. They’re getting there thanks to asponsorship with American Airlines, which is providing the entrepreneurs with free flights. “The trip wouldn’t be possible for such early-stage companies unless we had the American Airlines sponsorship,” Axelrod says.

The access to such a wide array of investors on both coasts is designed to help the companies progress faster than they might in another incubator, Axelrod says. In fact, he adds, companies are chosen for the accelerator based on how well-equipped they are to go from concept to product quickly. The concept alone isn’t enough, Axelrod says. “They all have to have at least one technical co-founder,” he says. “We thought the companies that could actually take the mentoring advice and iterate quickly—within a three-month program—would be the ones that would benefit most.”

The founders of Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator bring a wide range of startup experience to the venture. Aktihanoglu founded and sold Centrl, a location-based social network. Axelrod most recently founded digital-media company MusicGremlin and sold it to Sandisk in 2008. Kemper is a managing director at Revel Partners, a VC firm focused on digital media and advertising.

Nik Bonaddio and Sean Weinstock of NumberFire—an analytics program for fantasy-football players—say the Entrepreneurs Roundtable program gave them contacts and experience that they wouldn’t have had the wherewithal to find on their own. “It’s good life experience to be thrown into the deep end of the pool,” says Bonaddio, who built the first version of NumberFire after winning $100,000 on Who Wants to be a Millionaire? in 2010. The company is now “well on the way” to raising its first round of funding, Weinstock adds.

Axelrod and his partners made a deal with the startups that they can stay in the accelerator until the next class arrives in January. The entrepreneurs are reluctant to leave—so reluctant that several of them are trying to figure out how to stay together. “The overall energy of being part of the incubator is awesome. This space creates a fantastic sense of collaboration,” says Elizabeth Fastiggi, co-founder of LetGive, a platform that allows Web publishers to incorporate charitable applications into their sites. Adds co-founder Josh Abdulla, “A lot of the companies are going to be staying in New York and getting an office space together.”

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