Startup Accelerator Spotlight: Elmspring Accelerator


Elmspring Accelerator understands the #1 reason companies fail is lack of market penetration. If you can’t get customers, you are done. And that’s a tough thing to get entrepreneurs to focus on.

ElmspringName of Accelerator: Elmspring Accelerator

Location: Chicago, IL


Executive DirectorBob Gillespie

This article is part of our Startup Accelerator Spotlight Series featuring accelerators from around the world. We hope these spotlights will assist the entrepreneur should they consider attending an accelerator program.

In two sentences or less, tell us about your accelerator and its objectives.

The Elmspring Accelerator is a venture accelerator that invests in technology startups who aim to disrupt the real estate and housing industry. Real Estate as a vertical has been lagging behind in adopting technology and we are changing that.

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Why is your accelerator program unique? Please describe the benefits of participation in your program.

Our accelerator partners are really what makes the difference. Elmspring investor partners are huge players in the real estate space. Waterton has over $ 5 billion invested in assets. Harrison Street has over $ 10 billion in real estate assets under management. Elmdale Partners operates several companies, a wide spectrum of real estate functions including a Century 21 affiliated brokerage, a mortgage company, title, financing and management. We don’t just throw those partner logos on our website. Elmspring has active involvement from the C-Suite executives from those companies.

They are active in selecting our participants. You can get accepted, and one week later be in a meeting with the CEO of one of our partner companies who can make a few calls and move the needle. It’s happening. We have the ability to take early stage companies and plug them into a massive customer base, distribution partners and investors. We really believe that accelerator has the word “accelerate” in it for a reason. We need to take our participants and get them from point A to B, then to point C, D and eventually Z. We can help you scale and grow very quickly.

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What is the most difficult part of working with startups?

No question, that it’s getting them to understand that customer acquisition needs to be the focus. Rarely is a concept or the technology the reason a company wins, that’s just a ticket to the game. I am constantly asking, “How do you get customers? What does that cost? How do you scale?” Too often, new entrepreneurs want to just talk about their product or their technology. Unquestionably, the #1 reason companies fail is lack of market penetration. If you can’t get customers, you are done. And that’s a tough thing to get entrepreneurs to focus on.

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What do you enjoy the most; what do you find most appealing about working with entrepreneurial startups?

The excitement of building something new. Getting past hurdles and seeing the possibility. Taking something in your head that is just an idea and then a few years later you see that you created something viable. You’ve created jobs and had an effect on people’s lives. Taking a chance, being resilient, going for it – it’s you against the world.

Tell us about your success stories; which are the most interesting companies to have participated in your program?

A few examples of companies entering the market with disruptive ideas, getting traction and attracting funding:

  • Camp Native
    After graduating from Elmspring in April 2015, Camp Native opened a $750k seed round, and in November 2015 was able to oversubscribe their seed round with a $1.3M raise. They have grown the team to 14 FTEs plus the 3 co-founders. Today, Camp Native is the fastest growing campground directory and reservation platform in the nation, with over 200 campground clients and 12,000 campgrounds listed. Camp Native went post revenue in February 2015 and has since seen consistent 200-300% month over month growth in revenue. Optimism is high that Camp Native will become the market leader in the $10B campground reservation market.
  • CondoGrade
    Utilizing her extensive experience with condominium associations, Lauren Peddinghaus founded CondoGrade to provide vital financial data for property sales that isn’t available through any online search site. The product was fully launched at the beginning of 2016 and the company has recently partnered with a major national lender. They are poised for explosive growth in 2016.

What are the three most important factors startup entrepreneurs should consider when contemplating attending an accelerator?Elmspring

  1. Everyone used to have a startup, now everyone is an accelerator.
    Make sure the accelerator you are considering can help you move the dial. Do they have the right leaders, mentors and partners? Can they actually accelerate your company?
  2. Are you actually interested in the full offering of the accelerator?
    Elmspring often sees companies who think they already have it all figured out and just want our rolodex (which I don’t think is a thing anymore, so why do we still use that word?). We are going to tear apart your model, question your assumptions, disagree with some of your strategies and push back on things you take as fact. If you are just in it for the contacts, you aren’t a good fit. It’s a program. Participate in it.
  3. Understand the accelerator’s thesis and focus.
    Much like approaching a VC, you don’t apply to them all. It sounds simple, but if you are a social app, don’t apply to a food sustainability accelerator. Find a good fit for you. Don’t alter the way you talk about your core business to try and trick your way in. You wouldn’t believe how many times someone says to us, “Well, my business could be a real estate tech company, just not yet, but we’d love to explore that.” We have a vertical focus for a reason and we are going to stick to it, so be selective and don’t waste time on accelerators that aren’t a good match.

What else would you like to share?

Remember that hopefully your company will grow and evolve. Build a good network. If an accelerator passes on your application, it doesn’t mean they don’t like your business. You could be too early, they could have a competing product in their portfolio or your company is just really similar to 10 other applications they have and they don’t think they can pick which one is best. Use it as a contact in your network.

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Follow up, keep them posted, let them know as you hit milestones, keep on their radar and build relationships. We often will pass on a company the first time and then reengage with them in the next cycle as they have moved forward. We all know how hard this is and love to help. That’s why we do this.

Read about other accelerators in the Startup Accelerator Spotlight.

Are you familiar with other Startups you believe should be spotlighted? If so, we would like to hear from you. Tell us about them, sharing your comments below!



Pam Goforth

Pam Goforth is Research Manager for FundingSage, which provides valuable information, tools and resources to entrepreneurs seeking to start, grow and fund a business.