Last Thursday, investors gathered for a different kind of demo day. In one room, a continuous loop of pitch videos were running, while in a room next door the most recent Techstars NYC graduating cohort were set up at separate booths, waiting to answer any questions.
Montreal startup and Founder Institute graduate Lean Systems was among the Techstars graduates. Lean Systems is a cloud platform for transportation companies that optimizes complex routes and schedules. Customers submit raw data into Lean System’s cloud via API, and Lean Systems’s backend then applies a set of rules and algorithms that include column generation, novel shortest path problem implementation, and auto-tuned branch and bound to optimize massive amounts of routes and schedules in just a few minutes. The result is hours of planning time saved, increased fleet efficiency (typically greater than 30%), and a scalable planning process that allows companies to grow.
MTLinTECH had the chance to talk to Lean Systems co-founder Graham Mann about his experience with the program and how it compares to other accelerators.
“I was with Techstars Boston as an associate, and Boston had a typical demo day. But starting with the last cohort here in New York, they’ve started a new format, where they bring in a bunch of investors a few weeks before the end of the program and call it the ‘investor preview’,” Mann told MTlinTECH.
The event is invite-only, and the investors there have previously invested in Techstars companies or have spent time mentoring or helping out with the program.
“When they come in they watch the recorded tapes for each company, and then they can dive right into the conversation. So you don’t have to pitch each person and get them up to speed.”
This past Thursday, the final day of the program, was the demo day. Or rather, the updated version of demo day.
“Instead of the demo day, they split it into two portions. The morning was investor day, and there was two or three hundred investors that came, but it was the same sort of style. All the pitches were playing in a separate room on loop. So they could go there, watch all the pitches, then go talk to founders already having the context. It makes it a lot easier on the founders, not having to pitch as many times, and it’s also more personal. I really liked it.”
It also works to the advantage of companies like Lean Systems, that operate in a niche space, by connecting them more directly with investors already familiar with the sector.
“We’re in the logistics space, so typically investors are either familiar with the space or they’re not. That’s not always the case, but usually the most interest and understanding we get is from people who are familiar with the space. We had lots of great meetings, and I’m sure the followup meetings are going to continue here for the next weeks and months.”
Something that differentiates Lean Systems from others in the logistics space is their decision to focus entirely on the optimization rather than building its own user interface. The results can be delivered to a customer’s existing software, or just straight into Google Sheets.
— Sergio Escobar (@SergiusEscobar) April 6, 2017
“A lot of companies spend a lot of time developing a communications system, so like a fleet management system for ground logistics transportation so they can communicate with drivers and so on. Particularly for the types of mid-tier companies that we’re targeting, they often already have a system in place that they use, and we don’t really want to replace that whole thing. That’s not what we want to focus on. Usually there’s a step in the process with the software they’re currently using where you have to do the scheduling. So our computer schedule actually develops that, and essentially we just want to replace that step. In terms of product development, it gives us a lot more time to focus on the actual optimization, improving that rather than developing a user interface that is flexible for multiple industries, which is very difficult.”
Lean Systems has participated in both the Founder Institute Montreal chapter and the most recent Techstars NYC cohort, and Graham also had an inside look into Techstars Boston. While he enjoyed all three programs, he noted some key distinctions:
“The Techstars programs are all similar in format, as are the Founder Institute ones. What really differentiates them is who the managing director is. You really see it in which companies are selected, how the program is run, how the actual programming, the workshops and lectures, are put together. So for example, Alex [Iskold], who’s the managing director here, really likes tech oriented companies, deeper technology I guess. There’s lots of people who have PhDs, or they’ve spun their research off into companies. Or the products they’re developing require a lot of research and development before they actually go to market, which is kind of abnormal compared to some other Techstars programs. In general, too, we’re given a lot of freedom in terms of time and flexibility in how we go through the program. There’s not as many workshops, not as many lectures, and I think that’s really a reflection of his philosophy. Which is great, I enjoyed it.”
Mann had the following final advice for anyone considering applying to an accelerator:
“I think there’s been lots of talk of Techstars coming to Canada. And having seen two programs now, all the management, I would highly recommend it. I would definitely recommend Techstars for anyone thinking about doing an accelerator.”