A selective startup accelerator created by the Columbia Organization of Rising Entrepreneurs is looking to launch the next generation of entrepreneurs.
Known as Almaworks, the accelerator promises to improve upon prior startup assistance from CORE by providing consistency and connectivity in programming.
Through an eight-week intensive program, selected entrepreneurial teams will meet weekly with professional mentors in preparation for a Demo Day on November 21, when the teams will present their products and ideas to investors in hopes of securing funding.
Almaworks—which was founded by some of CORE’s leaders—seeks to provide students with an outlet to discuss their problems as a team and check in with and get feedback from mentors.
“We are trying not to admit the most impressive startup. We are trying to admit the startups that we think our mentors can help the most,” Almaworks Executive Director George Liu, CC ’17, said.
The mentors, who are all volunteering for free, come from a variety of backgrounds and include venture capitalists, heads of products, legal and finance experts, and startup founders.
“People are at different stages of ideation and working on their company,” Almaworks Tech Lead Zachary Gleicher, CC ’16, said. “We need to provide the resources so that if a team needs help with a specific thing they can get that help.”
Notable mentors include J.J. Colao, the founder of a PR firm for venture-backed technology companies, and Austin Knight, a user experience designer, speaker, and author at HubSpot.
In contrast to the club’s previous efforts, Almaworks requires strict commitment from participants, providing specialized help through the structure of individualized “office hours” with advisors and mentors.
“Entrepreneurs in this program will get to tailor their time to their problems,” CORE President and Almaworks Community Lead Simon Schwartz, CC ’17, said. “The idea is that you will have problems, but you will be able to identify them and cut them down quickly and over the eight weeks achieve really, really significant growth.”
CORE’s experience last semester organizing Columbia Launchpad, a series of workshops held on campus for student entrepreneurs, showed them that the varying times and locations of workshops resulted in inconsistent student engagement.
“We found there was a lot of interest from the community in assisting startup efforts and in offering ‘office hour’ programming for groups,” Schwartz said.
Almaworks is open to any New York City-based student entrepreneurs of any age, including alumni and dropouts who have been out of school for fewer than two years.
“The entrepreneurial ecosystem at Columbia is vibrant now to a point where we are actually able to pull in a lot of interests from outside of the community,” Liu said. “One of the large steps in making Columbia the entrepreneurial leadership center of the U.S. is really getting the name out of how it benefits the surrounding ecosystem, not only the entrepreneurs and students within Columbia.”
More than 30 applications from startups have been received so far. Submissions will be accepted through September 19 and no more than ten teams will be selected to participate in the accelerator.
CORE Vice President and Almaworks Outreach Lead Kimberly Hou, CC ’16, said that while the Columbia Startup Lab tends to be suited for business students or alumni, Almaworks uses CORE’s network of professionals to provide greater opportunity for undergraduate students to participate and benefit.
“Shifting that audience age was part of our target,” she said.
Almaworks receives backing from Columbia Entrepreneurship, an administrative body that supports entrepreneurial groups on campus. It is also in the process of securing support from several other entrepreneurial groups on campus and beyond.
Ultimately, the founders said that Almaworks allows CORE to achieve its three keystones: inspire, educate, and launch.
“We have done a really good job of inspiring and educating the past, throwing a lot of events on campus and having some really incredible speakers,” Gleicher said. “What we really needed to work on was launching. We really want to see students that have ideas bring those ventures to market.”