Nonprofit steers startups with funding

A handful of fledgling companies have a fresh round of cash to guide them through the startup waters.

Todd Nuckols

Todd Nuckols

Lighthouse Labs, a local nonprofit that helps early-stage companies get off the ground, said on Tuesday it will give five startups $20,000 each as part of the organization’s three-month business mentorship program. Four of the companies are based in Richmond and the fifth is based in Arlington, Va.

The Richmond companies are Tenant Turner, Blue Ocean Brain, Foundation, and Nudge. The fifth company is Arlington-based Kyndi. Lighthouse Labs is a Richmond-based nonprofit.

“We pick companies that we believe could scale quickly and could serve more than a regional audience,” said Todd Nuckols, the founder and managing director at Lighthouse Labs. “Lighthouse Labs focuses on helping high-growth companies that usually require additional financing after the program.”

This is the second year of Lighthouse Labs’ accelerator program. Last year the non-profit did a pilot program with no application process and no funding for the eight companies that eventually participated. Nuckols said six of last year’s participants are still operating and they have since collectively raised $600,000 in outside capital.

The money this year is being given with no strings attached. Private investors and corporate sponsors financed the program. Nuckols said the sponsors will be announced in September.

Brandon Anderson, top, James Barrett and Chris Stewart of Tenant Turner.

Brandon Anderson, top, James Barrett and Chris Stewart of Tenant Turner.

“The money is really designed so they can participate full-time in the program,” Nuckols said.

Nuckols said 122 companies from around the world applied to participate in the program. A 12-member committee whittled the application pool down to 40, and then 12 companies were interviewed before the final five were selected.

Tenant Turner is an online tenant screening tool for landlords. Blue Ocean Brain offers an online brain training application. Foundation offers business services like bookkeeping, collections and office management. And Nudge is an application that aggregates data from other health and fitness-related applications.

The Lighthouse Labs program is led by more than 30 experienced local businesspeople. Participating companies attend classes and one-on-one meetings that cover business topics like getting customer feedback, tech development, and financing.

“We do not put them in a curriculum-based environment,” Nuckols said.

Classes are held in a co-working space on the ground floor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch office at 300 E. Franklin St. and at 804RVA, another co-working space at 1657 W. Broad St.

Nuckols said there were more qualified applicants this year than there was money to finance their participation. Next year, he said he hopes that 10 companies will be funded.

The Lighthouse announcement marks a good month for local startup fundraising. Shockoe Bottom shirt maker Ledbury closed on a $4.5 million capital raise, and CarLotz just finished a $5 million raise of its own. Still, Nuckols thinks the region’s investment environment has room to grow.

“It’s still challenging to find capital in the Mid-Atlantic region, but great strides have been made in the past three years,” Nuckols said. “It’s possible but it’s difficult.”

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Mark Deutsch

Congrats to Lighthouse Labs & all of these companies. Especially the folks at FOUNDATION – as regulars at GangplankRVA, it’s fantastic to see them take another major step in their evolution. Go #RVA!

Brandon Anderson

Congratulations to our fellow Lighthouse companies; lightkeepers Todd, Graham, and Larkin; and all those supporting the fall 2014 class. Cheers!