Laila Partridge, Managing Director of the STANLEY + Techstars Accelerator, spoke with MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price about her new role and the impact the Hartford-based accelerator can make in our economy.
NAN PRICE: Congratulations on your new position. What experience are you bringing to the role?
LAILA PARTRIDGE: Thank you. My background has a little bit of everything related to startups. I’ve been a tech investor, serial entrepreneur, and startup mentor.
My tech startup experience began more than 20 years ago, when I was working for Intel Capital. In 2006, I founded my first company and from there was involved as founder or co-founder of several startups. I’ve raised a venture fund for Intel, I’ve made investments in startups, and I’ve helped startups sell themselves. So, I’ve done it all.
A lot of my experience comes from being an entrepreneur. As an entrepreneur, you get help from other entrepreneurs, and then turn around and help the entrepreneurs behind you. I’m a big believer in mentoring, which is the core of the Techstars program.
NAN: Tell us a little about your new role.
LAILA: As Managing Director of the STANLEY + Techstars Accelerator, my role is to select 10 global early-stage startups, bring them to Hartford, and put them through the accelerator program. It’s a very intensive program designed to help accelerate their performance and get them to the next level very quickly, in 13 weeks.
I’m excited about working with the leadership in Hartford, including Stanley Black & Decker and all the entrepreneurs. What I enjoy most is working with entrepreneurs and helping them engage within a community and within larger corporations to make their companies successful. I get immense satisfaction from seeing companies grow and develop and add to the community and the local economy.
NAN: How does an accelerator help accelerate a company?
LAILA: That’s a great question. There’s often a lot of confusion about what an accelerator does versus an incubator. Incubators generally don’t have ending dates. Participating startups are sometimes co-locating and collaborating. Sometimes they’re around a similar industry or vertical, or sometimes they’re simply sharing workspace.
In contrast, an accelerator is a program with a definitive start and a definitive end and, at the end, there’s a deliverable. In our case, that’s a Demo Day, where our startups present about what they’ve accomplished during the accelerator program.
With the STANLEY + Techstars accelerator, we select 10 companies from all over the world. In our last program, we had companies from throughout the United States, as well as one from India, one from Spain, and one from Germany. We bring them together in Hartford for a very structured 13-week program that covers anything a startup needs to know to grow its business. We utilize a lot of external resources. We work closely with Amazon and Google and several other supporters in the startup community that are knowledgeable and interested in helping startups get to the next level.
The program’s uniqueness and capabilities come out of the partnership we have with Stanley Black & Decker, which is the global leader in advanced manufacturing. In many instances, they’re paving the way by demonstrating how to think about bringing artificial intelligence, machine learning, and new emerging technologies into the factory floor.
NAN: Earlier, you mentioned mentorship at the core of the program.
LAILA: Right. The accelerator program begins with Mentor Madness, a three-week period where each founding team has 20-minute interviews with 100 to 150 mentors. These are people, like me, who have launched multiple startups or people who have functional expertise, such as finance and marketing. We also draw from industry experts, like Stanley, and the investor community. From there, the teams select three to five mentors they want to work closely with to for the remainder of the program.
NAN: How is your programming being affected by the global pandemic?
LAILA: We had to make the difficult decision to postpone Techstars Startup Week Hartford, which was supposed to take place at the end of March. We’ll be in touch regarding new dates and look forward to delivering this important event when we’re able to.
We’re committed to minimizing the risk of COVID-19 and helping everyone get through this crisis, which not only includes postponing Techstars Startup Week Hartford, but adjusting many of the accelerators across our network to operate virtually. The STANLEY + Techstars Accelerator is slated to begin in September and, at this time, will continue as planned. We’re continuing to monitor the situation closely and want our Hartford community to know they’re top of mind during this troubling time.
NAN: Why Hartford?
LAILA: Hartford provides a phenomenal opportunity for startups. When we bring our companies into Hartford, we can easily pull resources from New York City and Boston. At the same time and in contrast, the Hartford community here isn’t overwhelmingly large. They can get to know the local environment and make connections with larger companies headquartered in the region, like Stanley Black & Decker.
NAN: How does having an accelerator here in Hartford contribute to overall economic development here in the region?
LAILA: There’s a conscious effort in Hartford to promote innovation. It’s a unique city in terms of its commitment from the startup community, government, corporate, the universities, and a host of other people committed to investing in and developing that innovation community. There’s enormous opportunity in the years to come, because innovation tends to breed more innovation and tends to breed more jobs and a better outcome for the economy overall.