NextCorps will soon begin work on launching a new accelerator targeting the software industry in the nine-county Rochester region. It marks the third accelerator program to be administered by the nonprofit.
The goal: to empower talent at Rochester Institute of Technology and the University of Rochester to help non-technical founders in jumpstarting new businesses and economic growth.
NextCorps received a grant through the federal Economic Development Administration’s Scaling Pandemic Resilience Through Innovation and Technology Challenge for this purpose. The grant money—$743,000—will be combined with matching and in-kind funds of roughly $241,000 to support the nearly $1 million program. NextCorp’s application was among 238 others from 25 states and Puerto Rico.
In total, $29 million in grants have been disbursed. These organizations will also leverage some $9 million in additional matching funds from various private- and public-sector sources.
Software entrepreneur Matt Foley, director of startup incubation at NextCorps, will run the program at the Sibley building in downtown Rochester. NextCorps plans to hire additional team members to support the program.
“Over the past three years since opening our downtown incubator, we’ve seen a continuous uptick in the number of local software startups,” says Jim Senall, president of NextCorps. “But there are no accelerator programs dedicated to this growing sector.”
When the Boston Consulting Group worked on a regional strategic plan for the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Council, he says, it also identified the software industry as a growing sector with high potential. The software accelerator aims to tap this potential by combining several components, NextCorps says.
■ Leveraging the “no-code” movement to help non-technical founders build scalable web and mobile applications, and help these companies generate revenue within a year without external funding.
■ Engaging students from RIT and UR to work closely with entrepreneurs, with the hope of retaining talent.
■ Encouraging partners involved in the initiative to create a software cluster.
Partners in the accelerator include RIT and UR, Excell Partners, and local software, professional services and investment companies that will provide mentoring to founders on a pro-bono basis. Some of these businesses are Datto, Live Tiles, ITX Corp, Innovative Solutions, Armory Square Ventures, Bonadio Group, Nixon Peabody, T4 Verge, Rivet CX, OneSpark, VisibleMR, Advise.us, and FocusGroupIt.
While details have yet to be finalized, Senall says the program will have an application process with roughly 20 participants that will go through the program as a cohort over a nine- to 12-month period. The first cohort is expected to start in the fall.
“A unique aspect of this program is that it will support ‘non-technical founders,’ Senall says. “So, they do not need to know how to code to be a part of this. They just need good business ideas, and the program will help them test the market for these ideas, develop prototypes without needing to code, or raise outside money, and launch companies based on market interest. This is a very unique model that Rochester can be a leader in developing.”
The NextCorps program will give non-technical founders a framework for testing their business ideas, he adds, and help with identifying market opportunities and building prototypes.
“Once they do that, we can introduce them to angel and venture funds to help scale the growth, or work with the founders to bootstrap the companies without external funding,” he says.
EDA’s Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship administers the SPRINT Challenge, which funds the program, as authorized through the CARES Act. The SPRINT Challenge awardees are projects that address the economic, health, and safety risks caused by the coronavirus pandemic through regional innovation and supporting the growth of scalable, technology-driven businesses, officials say. The challenge was designed to support programs that rev up technology-based economic development and respond to the challenges caused by the pandemic.
Senall hopes the program will offer support to an already growing software sector in the region and serve as a launching pad for many new businesses.
“Software companies are known for being able to scale quickly—look at Datto, ACV Auctions, and many others—and for being able to scale without the need for large capital investment at the early stages,” he says. “For NextCorps, this is another way that we are filling gaps in the local startup ecosystem, and supporting new company and job growth in a sector that is projected to see rapid growth in the future.”
The no-code movement, which includes web and mobile applications without custom software code, has been gaining ground. It has opened the door to many entrepreneurs without experience in the software realm.
No-code, zero-code or low-code conferences have been attracting attendees, unearthing possibilities for businesses. In the past, events like these have largely drawn a select audience of technologists and developers. Though some software developers worry about the fate of programming, experts predict the no-code movement is likely to increase the need for specialized work.
Gartner estimates the low-code development technologies market will reach $13.8 billion this year, a 22.6 percent increase over 2020. The uptick in remote development during the pandemic is likely to boost adoption of these technologies.
Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor.