Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Startup-People of Seattle: Rebecca Lovell (Executive Director at Create33)

The blog-series “Startup People of Seattle” introduces some of the key personas in the ecosystem to learn more about what they are doing, to share their thoughts and ideas, and to promote networking.

In our 11th interview, meet Rebecca Lovell:
“More needs to be done to enable access to resources for underrepresented entrepreneurs, especially women and people of color.”
Rebecca has been involved in several key organizations in Seattle’s startup ecosystem, such as Alliance of Angels, Northwest Entrepreneur Network, GeekWire and the University of Washington. Today, Rebecca is executive director of Create33, a resource center for technology entrepreneurs.

Q: Could you introduce yourself and Create 33?
A: I am the executive director of Create33. Create33 is a resource center for entrepreneurs providing access to customers, capital and talent through educational programming, mentorship and connections. We also provide workspace and a supportive community. However, we’re really in a new category and not a typical coworking space. We have as much in common with an incubator or accelerator.
Q: Having worked with a lot of startups, what do you regularly see entrepreneurs struggle with?
A: Our focus here at Create33 is on seed-funded entrepreneurs. The biggest challenges facing those entrepreneurs tend to be hiring a team, fine-tuning customer-acquisition, and seeking series A funding. Consequently, most of our educational programming focuses on team-building, culture, talent acquisition, customer discovery, understanding the investment landscape, etc. 
Culture is key and should be a high priority to startups very early on. Once a culture has formed it is very difficult to change. A benefit of a positive culture is that it attracts talent, which is important for startups competing with big, financially strong companies that can pay high salaries.
Q: Why does Create33 focus on seed-funded entrepreneurs?
A: In Seattle, many resources exist for entrepreneurs in the idea-phase all the way to raising seed funding. Examples for organizations focused on startups in those very early stages are: Seattle Angel Conference, Alliance of Angels, Techstars and “Ready, Set, Raise” by Female Founders Alliance. After entrepreneurs raise their first institutional funding, however, they fall off a resource cliff in Seattle. 
Q: On LinkedIn you say: “In the heart of Seattle's thriving innovation ecosystem, Create33 is a resource center for technology entrepreneurs.” Why would you describe the ecosystem as thriving and what do you think are its strength and areas of improvement?
A: In Seattle, not only do we have early-stage investors like SAC, AoA, and Madrona, that are located here, but three quarters of the money flowing into Seattle-based companies comes from outside-the-region investors. This demonstrates that Seattle is being perceived as a global hub for innovation and entrepreneurship. In addition to that, the startup community in Seattle is very collaborative offering a lot of mentorship opportunities to founders. Seattle is also the cloud capital of the world which is why a lot of startups in Seattle are enterprise-focused.
Regarding weaknesses of the ecosystem, more needs to be done to enable access to resources for underrepresented entrepreneurs, especially women and people of color. Data shows that nationwide in the last 13 years only 16 percent of first-round venture funding went into women-led startups, “women-led” meaning that at least one woman is on the founding team. In this respect Seattle placed below the national average. One potential reason this is, which the study revealed, is that women-led companies tend to over-index in consumer products and retail. Seattle’s startup ecosystem on the other hand has a strong enterprise-focus. Not only equal opportunities for women should be part of the discussion, but the same applies to people of color or the LGBTQ+ community for example. Some great organizations, like Female Founders Alliance and Future For Us, support under-represented groups in Seattle, and we need much more of that, not just as stand-alone organizations but for all of us to commit to inclusion and belonging in the workplace.
Q: What do you think makes a successful entrepreneur?
A: Founders that I love working with are the ones who have a magical combination of confidence and humility. Those founders have the conviction and passion to pursue a dream, that is just a little short of crazy, but at the same time they are listening to their market and customers. This is the coachability-aspect that many mentors and investors are looking for in a founder. 
Q: What advise do you often give to founders?
A: A classic mistake founders have made in investor pitches is to say that they have no competition. I advise companies to think about alternative ways customers currently solve a problem. If there truly is no competition, there is no market opportunity as there is no problem worth solving.
I also coach founders on the lean startup methodology with respect to customer discovery. Founders start with a hypothesis about what customers need, but before they go to work on the product or write a line of code, they should test the hypothesis by talking to 100-200 potential customers.

Here are some things I learned from this interview:
  • Building a team and creating a positive company culture are crucial to startup success and require a lot of attention from the founders.
  • Strength of Seattle’s startup ecosystem are: Availability of pre-seed resources and collaboration/mentorship-opportunities.
  • Regarding weaknesses of the ecosystem, a lot more could be done to support under-represented entrepreneurs.
  • Every startup has competition.
  • Talking to customers is key.

In the interview Rebecca mentioned some resources and organizations, find out more about them here:
Seattle Angel Conference: https://www.seattleangelconference.com/
“Ready, Set, Raise”: https://femalefounders.org/accelerator/
Female Founders Alliance: https://femalefounders.org/
Madrona Venture Group: https://www.madrona.com/
Future For Us: https://futureforus.co/

About Seattle Angel:
A strong ecosystem creates an environment that allows startups to thrive. Seattle Angel’s goal is to strengthen Seattle’s startup ecosystem by increasing the access to funding for entrepreneurs to push their ideas further.

About the author: Sven Goepfrich

Sven Goepfrich is currently finishing his MBA in Syracuse. His studies focus on technology, innovation and entrepreneurship. At his school, he is working for the department of finance. Sven was actively interning with the Seattle Angel Conference in summer 2019. He is currently looking for full-time career opportunities in this field.

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