Startup pre-accelerator Atto has secured $125,000 in grant funding from LaunchVic, the Victorian government’s startup agency, as COVID-19 sees swathes of women turning to entrepreneurship.
Founded last year by CloudPeeps founder Kate Kendall, Atto is a women-only, remote-first pre-accelerator, focused on an ‘indie’ approach to running a startup.
It’s focused on building profitable and sustainable businesses, rather than chasing funding and growth at all costs.
Since then, the first cohort has completed the 12-week course and graduated. One founder has achieved an exit, and another has joined Startmate and gone on to raise capital to grow her business further, Kendall tells SmartCompany.
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Now, applications are open for the second cohort. But, Kendall is also using this funding to build out what Atto has to offer.
“We really want to build our female founder tech school, that teaches people not just the theory of startups, but also how do they practically build a startup,” she says.
She’s also looking at building out an online library of educational tools.
“We also hope to start doing a lot more with our online coursework and education materials in the future.”
And, finally, there’s a network of mentors to be tapped.
Already, for the 2020 program, Kendall has the likes of Startmate’s Sam Wong, M8 Ventures founder Alan Jones and Pick & Shovel founder Matt Allan on board as ‘educators’.
For Kendall, Atto is not about ‘crushing it’ or exponential growth. It’s about helping women build the skills they need to run a startup.
“I never set out to build an accelerator, that wasn’t my goal,” she says.
“However, I noticed there’s a lack of really quality education on how to build a startup in practice — it’s not just about corporate governance or how to raise your Series A or B — but what does a female founder who’s starting out today need to do in the next 90 days?
“That’s why I started doing this.”
The ‘indie’ way
Kendall and Atto are all about “championing the indie way”, the founder says, rather than raising money at all costs.
And, in a way, securing state government funding validates that as a valid business proposition.
“We’re seeing this bootstrapped or indie way … being a legitimate form of scalable companies,” she says.
Businesses such as BuildKite, for example, grew steadily while operating under the radar for some seven years, before securing $28 million in funding, at a $200 million valuation.
“It’s not about having to never raise money,” Kendall says.
“It’s just, if you want to start, and go a bit slower, and be a bit more meaningful and purposeful, to figure out what you’re really building in the early days, that’s completely fine now.”
The more stories we hear of businesses like BuildKite, the more the people with financial power — the governments and VC firms — will see these are not people who are tinkering on a side-hustle as a hobby, Kendall suggests.
“These are people that are really interested in raising scalable global companies on their own terms.”
Atto has been remote-first from day one. In a year when every other accelerator in the world has had to quickly pivot to online, Kendall was way ahead of the pack.
She does note that people are suffering from “COVID fatigue”. With education, shopping and socialising all suddenly moving online, they’re sick of Zoom calls, she suggests.
However, she sees Atto, and entrepreneurialism in general, as providing an opportunity at this time.
The accelerator doesn’t require women to have an MVP ready, or any tech skills, or experience running a business. Rather, Kendall is looking for people with ideas, and helps them build on those ideas to create a product.
Having that structured environment can make all the difference, she says.
“It’s a great way to be accountable, and have the knowledge and skills to make 2020 worthwhile.”
We know women have been disproportionately affected by job losses during the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve also seen a trend of women launching businesses, and creating new sources of income for themselves.
Kendall says it’s more important than ever that there are support and resources available to these women.
Programs such as Atto can also provide a sense of community.
“There is a certain level of isolation going on with COVID … people who are working from home for the first time, or realising they might not have access to traditional employment opportunities,” Kendall says.
“Having access to global mentors, global experts and operators … it’s fantastic for finding that community.”
They also form a group of like-minded women entrepreneurs who are experiencing similar challenges, she notes.
In the first cohort, the founders were quick to step up and support each other, she says.
Now, for women who have found themselves out of work or under-employed, or who can’t run their regular business, it’s “a great time” to take the plunge and create something new.
“Maybe they’ve got a taste of this flexibility now and what it can mean to be able to work on your own hours, and from your own home,” she notes.
“It’s becoming a lot more accessible … anyone, anywhere, should have a go at tech entrepreneurship.”