Lisa: Welcome to the Atlanta Startup Podcast. I’m Lisa Calhoun, General Partner at Valor Ventures, and I have a very special guest today. Joining me is Kim Shriver. She’s with Strategy and Corporate Development at Cox Enterprises. Welcome, Kim. 

Kim: Hi, Lisa. Thanks so much for having me today. 

Lisa: I am so happy to have you today. I invited you in because we are about to have a fantastic first ever virtual Startup Runway, and Cox is the presenting sponsor of Startup Runway. Thank you so much for that. I really, really appreciate the way Cox has put itself forward behind the foundation.

Kim: We’ve really appreciated partnering with Startup Runway as well. We’ve been partners for several years now, and looking forward to several more years together.

Lisa: So excited about that. For our listeners who haven’t heard of Startup Runway — where were you? — but happy to share a little bit more. Startup Runway, with the support of partners like Cox (and Cox was the first), has become the largest pitch event for underrepresented founders in the country. When they say “look at your early investors,” I feel like we were really blessed at Startup Runway to have Cox involved from the beginning in 2016. Tell us a little bit more about how that happened, Kim.

Kim: Yeah, so we got involved really from the vision of our CEO, Alex Taylor. He’s a fourth-generation family member. Several years ago in 2015, when he was serving as the Chief Strategy Officer, he did a kind of a look back on his family’s life legacy. One of the things he saw was that when the company was founded in Dayton, Ohio over 100 years ago, Dayton was a hotbed for innovation. He recognized that a lot of what his great grandfather was able to capitalize on when starting Cox Enterprises was kind of that innovation ecosystem that really drove him to being an entrepreneur. Cox has been a really innovative company over the last hundred years, moving into new areas like cable, or TV, or radio when those things weren’t as common places we think of them as now. When Alex was the Chief Strategy Officer, he really wanted to make sure that Atlanta was known for being a really innovative city, recognizing that the innovation in this city would trickle back into Cox and make us a stronger company, make the city a stronger place to live and work.

We started down a path — our team working with unique partners in our city to bring the city of Atlanta to the next level of entrepreneurship. As part of that, we recognize inclusion is incredibly important in that ecosystem if it’s going to be first class. We were incredibly lucky to be connected to Lisa through one of the members of our team, Tim Howe. At the time they got together, they had this idea about starting Startup Runway, and our team really just fell in love with the concept and how we could work with these entrepreneurs who are typically underrepresented to help them connect with early-stage capital and mentors and put them at an advantage that they might not have otherwise. We’ve been partnering now since 2016, and it’s been a really great partnership and it’s one of my favorite events every year.

Lisa: Kim, I love having you speak at it and we’re looking forward to having you speak in the next one. One of the things that I think is so impressive is with Cox’s support, we’ve really been able to make a difference, a real difference. Now our latest numbers revealed that finalists — people who’ve gone through our program and been through our stage — are six times more likely to raise capital than non-program founders. That’s an incredible takeaway. I think a lot of that stems from some of the mentoring and coaching they get from the program. I know Cox has been incredibly involved in our mentoring program. Frankly, I feel like we co-invented it together because the first mentors were from Cox and you’ve participated twice a year for every year now. What are some of the takeaways from being behind the mentorship program that you could bring to our listeners?

Kim: Yeah, I think mentorship for early stage startups is so critical. We love being able to have a lot of our executive or senior directors be able to come to the Startup Runway events and be able to work with these entrepreneurs. I know I’ve participated in four Startup Runways now, and just being able to hear the enthusiasm of the entrepreneurs to be able to help them with key issues that they’re working on at the time. Startup Runaway is focused in a way that creates a mock board session. Sitting in those mock board sessions, the entrepreneur brings an agenda for the session, and you’re usually tackling one key issue. I sat with an entrepreneur and helped him actually at the end of that week pitch to a new customer. It is really tactical advice and everyone around the table — it was such a mixed group. We had investors, we had potential customers, we had executives from Cox there, and so you have all these people who were able to take 20 years of experience or 30 years of experience and then provide that to the entrepreneur. That’s invaluable advice. A lot of times, entrepreneurs when they’re getting started, especially if it’s their first business venture, it can be really tough to have those connections and have connections to that level and caliber of expertise. It’s really great experience with entrepreneurs, but also really helps you learn a lot, especially if you’re coming from a corporate environment, helps you maintain that level of enthusiasm that entrepreneurs tend to have.

Lisa: Well, and it makes such a difference. To your point about the inclusive innovation ecosystem, there was a recent Kauffman study that pointed out in the last 10 years (it studied over 20,000 startups), it found out the diverse teams return 30 percent more capital to their investors. It’s kind of mind blowing. Yet, as we all know, and I think our listeners know, most of the time, diverse founders have a really tough time raising capital, and collectively, less than 5% of people who’ve raised capital are underrepresented founders. That’s an amazing opportunity gap. I can definitely see, time after time, when we run this program that it is words of wisdom from mentors that make a difference in our startups’ ability to go get those customer checks, increase their revenue pool, and compete on the market. It’s really important. 

One of the interesting things that you brought up in our earlier conversation before this program was that one of the silver linings of going virtual this year is going to be the caliber of mentors who couldn’t necessarily drive to spend the afternoon with our founders, but can be there for them on Zoom.

Kim: Yeah.

Lisa: I’m excited about that. I think there’s a lot of potential silver linings in the situation. But I wonder what you think. How do you think inclusion is playing in this COVID-19 sort of sensitized world? Is it going to become less important because people’s minds are on other matters? Is it going to become more important? What do you think?

Kim: No, I definitely think inclusion is only going to become more important. I think with COVID, I think you have actually seen that it has disproportion effects in certain populations. I think there’s so much research, like you’ve kind of mentioned, like Kaufmann reports, I think, over time, we’re only going to see even more some of the disparities that exist in our country. I think that’s actually going to, hopefully, catalyze a lot of recognition of how we should be viewing all aspects of our country, especially the venture ecosystem as well.

Lisa: What role, if any, do you think Atlanta has to play in that? I mean, I think we’re both super familiar, but Atlanta is one of the most diverse cities in the United States. What do you think — what role we should play? What role we could play? How are you looking at it?

Kim: I think Cox, and I would agree as well, that we believe Atlanta should be one of the, if not the most, inclusive ecosystem. Atlanta has so much diversity, and we really want to see that come alive in our venture ecosystem.

Lisa: Absolutely. So as Startup Runway has evolved, you’ve seen it change a little bit. Let people in. If they attend on May 20th, with us, what are some of the highlights, some of the things that you enjoy or that you would say, “Hey, come to Startup Runway and pay attention! You’re going to get to enjoy this” or “I’ll see you there, and that.”

Kim: Like I mentioned earlier, I think from a mentor perspective, I love seeing the enthusiasm of the entrepreneurs. It really gets me excited. The room — even if it’s not physical this time, it’s virtual — will be filled with that passion. It’s something that it’s really hard to replicate. Now, I think, additionally, the companies being able to do their pitches. It’s so great to be able to see those 10 companies and hear their stories to see what the future of innovation is going to look like. There are so many companies that we met with three years ago and just to see their success now, and so you’re going to be on the forefront of being able to see them in their early days. That’s a really exciting thing to be a part of. 

Lisa: We’ve had a lot of healthcare startups, actually, take away the prize. I was thinking about this Resuture out of New Orleans that was one of the last winners. We had Reciprocare Jobs providing jobs to frontline health care workers a couple of sessions ago. Do any of the startups stand out for you that you would say, “Hey, these were a couple of the ones that I found inspiring”?

Kim: Oh, well, one startup I would love to bring up is actually Civic Dinners. Civic Dinners actually was a startup that we found from Startup Runway and is actually now part of our TechStars 2020 Impact Spots, and so that was a really interesting partnership that we were able to see an investment we were able to see come to fruition. That was how we knew about Civic Dinners. When Jen applied to TechStars, I knew, “Oh, wow, I saw her! I think she won the Audience Choice Award.”

Lisa: She did. Yes, she did.

Lisa: Jen is so great and she’s just been such a phenomenal part of our TechStars program and just to see the amount she’s grown. I think she won a year ago at Startup Runway and just the amount of traction to get over the next year, and then being ready to join the TechStars class, and just how much traction she’s gotten the last three months. Just such an incredible job herself just pivoting during this time taking those physical, in-person dinners and switching that and making it virtual. I just think that company really stands out for me in particular just because I’ve just been able to see Jen grow so much and Civic Dinners change over time. 

Lisa: She is a rockstar. If y’all are listening and you haven’t checked it out, go to that website. You will not be disappointed. If you’ve ever had a time when you wanted to bring people together but really hear a diversity of opinion and be able to capture it in a meaningful way, Civic Dinners has an incredible technical solution. Totally affordable, well worth doing. User reviews are off the charts. I’m so glad you brought Jen up.

Kim: Just from the inclusion stamp standpoint as well, they’re curating conversations around these topics. I think that’s just so important this time.

Lisa: I am just like you — every time I go into Startup Runway, I am inspired by the diversity and the wisdom of these entrepreneurs who are taking the stage, most of them for the first time, in public and presenting what they’re working on.

In fact, if you’re listening to this program, and you’re thinking of a founder that hasn’t been connected to investors yet, hasn’t raised significant capital, and is led by a person of color or a woman, Startup Runway is your first pitch event. Please apply at startuprunway.co. Our very next session where we will be giving away a $10,000 grant provided by our presenting sponsor, Cox, is May 20th. Any last words or thoughts about May 20th and what we’re putting together and getting ready, Kim?

Kim: Well, I’m just really excited for the event. I’m excited for the next batch of companies that will be pitching at the competition.

I’d love to see other corporates, if they’re interested, come and get involved. Bring your own mentors and come alongside us. I just would just really encourage anyone to check out more about Startup Runways if you’re not familiar. Apply, get involved, and you can even reach out to me on LinkedIn if you have questions or you want to talk directly about what sponsoring Startup Runway has been like.

Lisa: That’s awesome. They’ll find you at Kim Shriver on LinkedIn. 

Kim: Yeah. 

Lisa: Kim, thank you so much for all you do for this inclusive innovation ecosystem. You’re such a champion. It’s been a pleasure speaking with you today.

Kim: Awesome. Thanks, Lisa for having me. I really appreciate it.

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