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Spark Bureau Incubator announces second cohort and shares lessons learned

Hot on the heels of its inaugural cohort, which graduated in June, Spark Bureau Incubator announced this week its second cohort of local, innovative startups.

Zach Johnson, Spark’s co-founder and CEO, was thrilled at the quality of applicants, citing the non-profit’s community focus as one of the key drawcards for this round’s applicants.

“Our full calendar of public events since we opened last November, has definitely helped attract a high quality of incubator applicants. We’ve had 800 people visit Spark already and thanks to recent Sunshine Coast Council funding, we’re excited to be planning even more events at Spark in the coming year.”

The lucky five

Spark Bureau’s August incubator will host the following five early-stage companies:

Epicuest – An omnichannel platform integrating beacon technology with marketing, loyalty and social media solutions for bricks and mortar businesses

Xandra Labs –  A design-led tech startup developing interactive experiences in conversational interfaces like Facebook Messenger. Their first product is a room booking chatbot. The team is currently delivering a program of work for a major infrastructure project in Maroochydore which will be unveiled in the coming months.

Lifestyle Laundry – A service which taps into home-based laundries to pick up, wash, fold and return your laundry within 24 hours

Chilli Docs – A low-cost, cloud-based system that can be configured to store information on all of your business entities (including relationships between entities) without needing an expensive line of business applications

SafeSmartPickUp – A technology platform to improve traffic flow at school pick-ups

Lessons learned from the first cohort

Johnson – a former U.S. Army special operations soldier and survivor of the first dot-com boom, with nearly 20 years of digital innovation experience – runs Spark’s incubator on the same lean and agile principles that he teaches to startups.

“We knew our incubator program wouldn’t be perfect the first time, but we launched anyway, so we could test it, get feedback, learn and iterate.”

Johnson elaborated on three key lessons learned:

“Our first mistake was running a four-month, part-time program, which made it tricky for the cohort to maintain collective enthusiasm and develop strong ties when participants were so dispersed during the extended period.”

Class one participant Brian Keayes, a co-founder at fintech startup Promis, agreed.

“Spark’s incubator program delivered 100 percent on what we wanted: personal connections and the opening of doors…But if I had a suggestion for improvement, it would be to repackage the incubator into a shorter, more intensive program requiring all cohort participants to sit together at Spark, every day.”

Johnson listened. Class two participants started this week in a one-month, intensive, full-time program.

The second lesson learned was to better consider the cultural fit when selecting cohort participants.

“Our last cohort experienced some interpersonal challenges that proved an unnecessary distraction. This time around, we’ve made more deliberate decisions about personality fit and we’ll be setting out clear expectations of conduct to all participants.”

Thirdly, Johnson’s class one experience reminded him of the importance of focus.

“The first cohort comprised nine companies with very diverse offerings, who were at very different stages of the startup lifecycle. This was not optimal for cohort cohesiveness, so we’ve elected this time to go with a more focussed grouping for a more coherent cohort.”

Cue cohort two: five innovation-oriented, tech-focussed companies who are all at the early stage of their lifecycle.

Johnson hopes to run a separate incubator in the future, focussed on e-commerce businesses (and potentially youth-run businesses), based on some strong applications in this round. 

Keayes concludes, “The calibre of coaches and material in Spark’s incubator program is definitely on par with conferences I’ve been to in the United States and with major companies I’ve been involved with in Melbourne. It’s exciting to see programs like this in regional Queensland and I look forward to hearing about the success of the second cohort.”

Disclaimer: Andrea Martins is a TSJ writer and sits on the Spark Bureau Incubator Board of Advisors.

About Andrea Martins

Andrea Martins is a startup founder, writer and passionate participant in the Sunshine Coast and Brisbane startup ecosystems. Say hi to her on Twitter at @andreaexpat