Lighthouse Labs shifts focus to fewer, more mature early-stage startups

Startup founders at the Lighthouse Labs spring 2022 cohort’s demo day held at the Byrd Theatre in May. (Photo courtesy of Lighthouse Labs)

For years, entrepreneurs have enrolled in the Lighthouse Labs accelerator program to learn how to grow their startups.

This fall, Lighthouse Labs hopes to learn a thing or two itself.

The Shockoe Bottom-based accelerator plans to focus only on six companies for its fall 2022 class. It’s a smaller headcount than in previous years that will allow Lighthouse Labs to conduct a review of its program and gather feedback to learn how it should move forward as it marks a decade of operation in 2022. And it plans to do the same in the spring.

“It’s a chance to refine and regroup on the experience and the program. So that’s really what started our desire to shrink the cohort,” Lighthouse Labs Managing Director Paul Nolde said last week.

Though there have been classes with six or so participants in the past, the most recent cohorts have been larger, with nine startups in spring 2022, eight in fall of 2021, and 10 in spring 2021.

Exactly what might change in the Lighthouse Labs programming is to be determined. The program is for early-stage startups and takes place over three months. Accepted startups get an equity-free investment of $20,000. Program participants learn how to scale their businesses and get access to mentorship and other resources. Startups also get introduced to the Lighthouse Investor Network for future funding.

“I would say at this point, it’s a marathon not a sprint. What I don’t want to do is make drastic changes all at once,” Nolde said. “The consistency in our program has allowed us to build a respected brand.”

The composition of the fall 2022 cohort also represents a departure from previous years in that the companies selected have moved beyond the creation of their initial business concept, or minimum viable product, and are ready for institutional capital fundraising.

Nolde said future cohorts are expected to be made up of companies in that same stage, even after Lighthouse Labs implements a planned relaxation of the new limit on its cohort size.

Historically, Lighthouse Labs has opened its program to a wider range of early-stage startups.

“For this cohort, the goal was to be a little more selective around the stage of the company,” he said.

The idea is that the new focus will help Lighthouse Labs have more companies that are ready to be connected with investors.

“Our goal is to accelerate companies to potentially get funded for their first formal, institutional round,” he said. “Presumably the outcome will be a better likelihood of getting looked at by funders and funds.”

The fall 2022 group is the program’s 13th cohort and the first fully under the direction of Nolde, who came on as the leader of Lighthouse Labs in April. Conversations about a more limited cohort were happening prior to Nolde’s arrival, he said.

Nolde took over from Erin Powell, who went on to Lighthouse Labs alum Blue Ocean Brain. Nolde was previously the fund manager and managing director at Riverflow Growth Fund, which focused on funding startups in health care, and had also been a director at venture capital firm NRV.

The latest Lighthouse Labs participants include startups from Virginia and three other states in fields like health care, computer networking and more. The fall program starts in late August.

Nolde said Lighthouse Labs received more than 160 applicants for the fall program, which was fewer than the spring’s haul but generally in line with historic application numbers. He said the program gets somewhere between 160 and 230 applications for a given period.

The fall program will be a hybrid of online and in-person activities. Nolde said Lighthouse Labs intends to continue to offer that mixed format as it has become the new industry standard and helps Lighthouse Labs reach more companies beyond Virginia.

Here are the companies in the fall 2022 cohort:

• Mobius Materials, a semiconductor marketplace for businesses. Based in Richmond.

• CRCL Solutions, a wind and solar energy production forecaster for power traders. Based in Fairfax Station.

• Gigzilla, a LinkedIn-like platform for essential workers. Based in Harrisonburg.

• Fourplay Social, a dating app for double dates. Based in New York City.

• TMA Precision Health, a research platform for people with rare diseases. Based in Boston.

• DiaM, an online community for people with diabetes. Based in Plantation, Florida.

Startup founders at the Lighthouse Labs spring 2022 cohort’s demo day held at the Byrd Theatre in May. (Photo courtesy of Lighthouse Labs)

For years, entrepreneurs have enrolled in the Lighthouse Labs accelerator program to learn how to grow their startups.

This fall, Lighthouse Labs hopes to learn a thing or two itself.

The Shockoe Bottom-based accelerator plans to focus only on six companies for its fall 2022 class. It’s a smaller headcount than in previous years that will allow Lighthouse Labs to conduct a review of its program and gather feedback to learn how it should move forward as it marks a decade of operation in 2022. And it plans to do the same in the spring.

“It’s a chance to refine and regroup on the experience and the program. So that’s really what started our desire to shrink the cohort,” Lighthouse Labs Managing Director Paul Nolde said last week.

Though there have been classes with six or so participants in the past, the most recent cohorts have been larger, with nine startups in spring 2022, eight in fall of 2021, and 10 in spring 2021.

Exactly what might change in the Lighthouse Labs programming is to be determined. The program is for early-stage startups and takes place over three months. Accepted startups get an equity-free investment of $20,000. Program participants learn how to scale their businesses and get access to mentorship and other resources. Startups also get introduced to the Lighthouse Investor Network for future funding.

“I would say at this point, it’s a marathon not a sprint. What I don’t want to do is make drastic changes all at once,” Nolde said. “The consistency in our program has allowed us to build a respected brand.”

The composition of the fall 2022 cohort also represents a departure from previous years in that the companies selected have moved beyond the creation of their initial business concept, or minimum viable product, and are ready for institutional capital fundraising.

Nolde said future cohorts are expected to be made up of companies in that same stage, even after Lighthouse Labs implements a planned relaxation of the new limit on its cohort size.

Historically, Lighthouse Labs has opened its program to a wider range of early-stage startups.

“For this cohort, the goal was to be a little more selective around the stage of the company,” he said.

The idea is that the new focus will help Lighthouse Labs have more companies that are ready to be connected with investors.

“Our goal is to accelerate companies to potentially get funded for their first formal, institutional round,” he said. “Presumably the outcome will be a better likelihood of getting looked at by funders and funds.”

The fall 2022 group is the program’s 13th cohort and the first fully under the direction of Nolde, who came on as the leader of Lighthouse Labs in April. Conversations about a more limited cohort were happening prior to Nolde’s arrival, he said.

Nolde took over from Erin Powell, who went on to Lighthouse Labs alum Blue Ocean Brain. Nolde was previously the fund manager and managing director at Riverflow Growth Fund, which focused on funding startups in health care, and had also been a director at venture capital firm NRV.

The latest Lighthouse Labs participants include startups from Virginia and three other states in fields like health care, computer networking and more. The fall program starts in late August.

Nolde said Lighthouse Labs received more than 160 applicants for the fall program, which was fewer than the spring’s haul but generally in line with historic application numbers. He said the program gets somewhere between 160 and 230 applications for a given period.

The fall program will be a hybrid of online and in-person activities. Nolde said Lighthouse Labs intends to continue to offer that mixed format as it has become the new industry standard and helps Lighthouse Labs reach more companies beyond Virginia.

Here are the companies in the fall 2022 cohort:

• Mobius Materials, a semiconductor marketplace for businesses. Based in Richmond.

• CRCL Solutions, a wind and solar energy production forecaster for power traders. Based in Fairfax Station.

• Gigzilla, a LinkedIn-like platform for essential workers. Based in Harrisonburg.

• Fourplay Social, a dating app for double dates. Based in New York City.

• TMA Precision Health, a research platform for people with rare diseases. Based in Boston.

• DiaM, an online community for people with diabetes. Based in Plantation, Florida.

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