Tech Ranch Austin helps move startups forward

Every Tuesday, Arthur Chong drives 144 miles from the Houston suburb of Katy to Tech Ranch Austin.
He’s part of Venture Forth 12, an 8-week $495 class at Tech Ranch Austin that covers everything from creating a three-year financial forecast to putting together a pitch deck, a set of 10 slides to pitch a company to investors. Each Venture Forth program has 10 to 15 entrepreneurs. The weekly sessions require the entrepreneurs to do homework, upload documents to a class website and present them in class. They also get feedback from a network of mentors during a “meet the mentor” night.
“The Venture Forth class has certainly helped me plan my next step,” said Chong, founder of Alpha Cares, a web-based childcare management system. He’s currently deciding whether to seek venture financing or continue to bootstrap his company. He found out about Tech Ranch Austin while attending a Bootstrap Austin event.
Tech Ranch Austin is an incubator, accelerator and co-working space for early stage entrepreneurs, which offers special programs to help entrepreneurs.
“There is certainly nothing in the Houston area that speaks to seed level ventures,” Chong said.

At the end of the party at Tech Ranch Austin

Kevin Koym, who has founded several ventures and worked for several companies including NeXT, which is now part of Apple, founded Tech Ranch Austin three years ago with Jonas Lamis. About a year ago, Lamis left to join one of the Venture Forth companies: Piryx, a fundraising platform for nonprofits, political campaigns and personal causes. It’s now known as Rally.
The idea for Tech Ranch Austin first surfaced in 2003 when a close friend committed suicide, Koym said. Tech Ranch Austin honors their friend’s memory, he said.
So far, 300 entrepreneurs have gone through Venture Forth and hundreds more have attended Tech Ranch Austin’s “campfires,” which it holds twice a month on Friday afternoons. The informal sessions invite entrepreneurs to gather to discuss a wide range of topics.
TechRanch also rents office space to startup companies. Teamtopia, a Capital Factory 2011 winner, rents space there. Tech Ranch Austin’s staff also rents out office space for other events and offers consulting services.
“The thing that is making this place work is community,” Koym said.
Tech Ranch Austin held a “ranch warming” party Thursday night that attracted around 300 people to its headquarters at 9111 Jollyville Road. The crowd included many past Venture Forth participants.
Breanne Hull, with the Venture Forth 10 class, credits Tech Ranch Austin with helping the former schoolteacher learn business fundamentals. She launched Educlone, an online training site, last May.
“I didn’t know what a sales funnel was before Tech Ranch,” she said.
The collegial environmental and interaction with the other entrepreneurs also helped her refine her business ideas.
“It gave me a great forum where I could throw out a crazy idea and say what do you guys think,” she said. “They are really forward thinking people who are really supportive. Even now, I’ll e-mail someone from my cohort and ask their advice.”
Vivian Wied, president of Sagepoint Solutions, graduated from Venture Forth 11. Her company provides fundraising tools, signup sheets and scheduling tools to parents and volunteer groups. The tools are all free and supported through advertising. Wied launched her venture in September of 2009.
“Tech Ranch is a very supportive environment,” she said. Her classmates helped her refine and change her business plan.
Joe Gilson, founder of AnalyzIt.com, a fleet data analysis company, attended Venture Forth 9 and he credits the experience with focusing his business.
“It helped me to pivot from where I thought my product had traction to a point where my product had traction and customers.”
Other people in his class had transportation knowledge and experience and could help him with his venture.
“Now I have a viable business,” he said. “Tech Ranch helped take my venture from hey I’ve got this product to hey I’ve got this product people want to buy.”

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