Grant to accelerate professor’s startup study

Susan Cohen aims to find out what makes certain business accelerators better than others.

Susan Cohen aims to find out what makes certain business accelerators better than others.

An advocate of Richmond’s startup scene is getting a boost in her research of business accelerators.

University of Richmond professor Susan Cohen has been awarded a three-year grant from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation to aid her study of effective accelerator programs, such as Richmond’s own Lighthouse Labs.

The grant, which totals about $95,800, will be put toward Cohen’s research on what components of various programs correlate with higher startup success, such as the number of companies a program provides assistance to at a time, or services provided, such as one-on-one counseling.

“We know overall that some programs are more effective than others, and what I’m trying to determine is what makes some of these programs more effective,” said Cohen, an assistant professor of management in UR’s Robins School of Business.

A co-director of the annual U.S. Seed Accelerator Rankings Project, Cohen has been researching accelerator programs since 2012. She was an early employee of Priceline.com and has helped build other companies. She joined UR in 2013.

Cohen lauded Lighthouse Labs’ success in assisting startups since its launch in 2012. She noted the nonprofit is on the low-end compared to other accelerators in terms of the number of startups assisted at a time. For the last three years, it has chosen a class of six startups and provided them with funding, business classes and mentorship. Last year’s selections each received $20,000 without having to give equity.

Other accelerators can range as high as 125 companies assisted at a time.

“We have the beginning of a strong accelerator here, and I’d love to see more local support of our own accelerator,” she said, noting support could range from financial assistance to providing mentoring services.

Cohen also noted the success of local startups such as Tenant Turner, a real estate tech company that raised nearly $400,000 in capital last year, and fellow Lighthouse Labs alum Painless 1099, a tax withholding service for freelancers that was lured to New York as one of 11 finalists in a startup competition.

Citing Painless1099’s departure as an example, Cohen said Richmond needs to do a better job of keeping its startups in town.

“One thing that concerns me about our local ecosystem is the fact that some of our best startups have left Richmond,” she said. “We’re actually losing some of our best entrepreneurs, which is really a concern for me personally.”

Based in Kansas City, Missouri, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation supports entrepreneurship and education through grants and other programs.

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