I am talking to Kerry Rupp, managing partner at DreamIt Ventures, which is an intense three-month location-based program where entrepreneurs receive seed funding, mentoring and peer support, and introductions to potential investors and partners. DreamIt’s goal is not only to support entrepreneurs’ efforts but to truly challenge them to reduce key risks, prove their customer segmentation, and develop strong revenue models and customer acquisition strategies. Founded in 2008, DreamIt currently runs two sessions a year, in New York City in the summer and Philadelphia in the fall.
Irina: Hi, Kerry. Let’s start with a brief overview.
Kerry: Sure. DreamIt Ventures was founded in 2008, but we ran our first program in 2009. The first three years the program was only in Philadelphia, and in 2011 we will run a program in Philadelphia and in New York City. So, summer in New York City and fall in Philadelphia.
We run it like a fund, so we have limited partners who invest in the fund. We have a pretty different approach in terms of being very hands-on, and a lot of it has to do with the community of entrepreneurs being in the same space 24/7 and working together toward a goal for a defined period.
Irina: Do you focus on any particular industry?
Kerry: We don’t restrict [ourselves] to any particular industry, but there are practical things that make it such that we often end up investing in software and the Internet.
The program is three months long, and during that three months we want to see the companies make a measurable change in their status, get through a new inflection point, so there are certain industries that just don’t position themselves for that. So, obviously we can’t do anything involving biotech or pharmaceutical drug research, that kind of thing.
We make an open call for applications, and we are interested in looking at all kinds of different businesses; our only criterion is to identify the best business opportunity with the best team.
Irina: At what stage would you suggest entrepreneurs apply for your incubator?
Kerry: We have companies across the board. We have companies that are purely an idea where they have a strong team with the background in the space and where we think they could do something interesting.
We also have companies that have customers and revenues, so we can provide a lot of input in those early stages of growth and helping businesses to scale and ramp. They tend to be within their first year of existence generally, but we don’t have a specific stage we are looking for.
Irina: Would you describe an ideal company that would benefit from your incubator?
Kerry: One of the key criterion for us, as with any investment, is often about the people. A major focus of the program is mentorship. Entrepreneurs get a lot of advice and direction from people who have been in their shoes, so we clearly need a team that is not only strong in terms of being intelligent, having good experience behind them, and having a good idea and opportunity in front of them, but they really need to be coachable and open to mentorship, so that means they need to be good listeners.
But they also need to be good at discerning how to take the various types of advice they are going to get and make the right choices. So, perhaps it is as much about the people and their ability to operate well in this environment as it is about anything else.
Irina: How many companies have been incubated to date?
Kerry: We have helped to launch 36 companies in the past three years, and this year we expect to do another 30 or so, probably 15 in New York and 15 in Philadelphia.
Irina: How many companies have been incubated in the past 12 months?
Kerry: In the past 12 months, it’s fourteen.