SURGE Accelerator Program Opens In Houston

Posted on November 14th, 2011 by

Kirk Coburn, Co-founder and Managing Director of the SURGE Accelerator in Houston, discusses the kind of start-up entrepreneurs that he’s looking for as he builds his team’s inaugural accelerator class.

Full Transcript:

Ben lack: The SURGE Accelerator Program has announced the official opening of its spring 2012 program application. Give us a little bit of insight about what the organization does and what types of entrepreneurs you’re looking for.
Kirk Coburn: The SURGE Accelerator is a mentor-driven start-up accelerator. We’re looking for the world’s best entrepreneurs that are solving the world’s energy problems using software. We give these entrepreneurs a little bit of seed capital, provide them with about $20 to $30,000 of in-kind services like free legal and free banking, locate them in a great working environment, and most importantly, we connect them to the energy industry’s best mentors. They’re executives from energy companies, entrepreneurs that have sold companies themselves; they are venture capitalists that invest in energy. The value of that is unquestionable and helps an entrepreneur take an idea and a team and go from good to great.
Ben Lack: Why is the focus on energy software and within the software component, how much variation are some of these solutions or companies focused on?
Kirk Coburn: We believe in software because with software you can massively produce ideas very quickly. What used to take 6 months and a $150,000 can take 3 days and $1,500. Both the development timeline and the cost is significantly reduced. When we talk about energy software, we’re talking about everything from the upstream, finding oil and gas, seismic software all the way down to the Smart Grid, how to make our electricity more efficient and more reliable and then in the middle of that, are all of the energy traders, so even the energy trading and waste management platforms. The entire energy ecosystem we’re looking at from a broad spectrum because you have the same customers across that entire supply chain.This is our inaugural class and we are looking for the 10 companies to be our first 10.
Ben Lack: Why Houston, Texas?
Kirk Coburn: Because Houston, Texas is the energy capital of the world. We have over 5,000 energy companies located here. The major energy companies are based here. We’re also one of the largest IT services economies, so you have a bunch of software developers in Houston that come from the energy companies themselves. We have the banks and we have the trading houses that have their infrastructure here. Then you have companies like HP or Compaq and BMC software and many enterprise software people, so it’s a really good environment for software developers. So, talent is in Houston.  When you look at Houston from a utility perspective, it’s the largest deregulated utility market and it’s   the largest generator of wind energy. The City of Houston is also the largest purchaser of green energy.  So from an alternative energy perspective, Houston in some way is the world leader in this space.
Ben Lack: Talk to me a little bit about the team that you put together to operate and run the accelerator itself. Where do these people come from and what types of experiences are they bringing to the table?
Kirk Coburn: We have over 80 mentors that will be part of the program on a day-to-day basis helping our companies. From an operations perspective, it’s myself, 3-time entrepreneur from idea all the way to exiting companies. We have Blair Garrou who is a Managing Director at DFJ Mercury, one of the only early stage VC firms in Texas; Brett Perlman who was a public utility commissioner in the state of Texas when the utility business was deregulated; Brian Landrum, the former COO of Reliant Energy; and then Kerri Smith who is our liaison from Rice University who is very involved with running Rice’s prestigious business plan competition. So, we really put together a world-class team that knows how to not only run an accelerator but also has experience in the energy space.
Ben Lack: Why are you in this space and why have you chosen to do what you’re doing?
Kirk Coburn: I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur and when I started my first company, I started out at UT’s business planning competition called Moot Corp and I loved it. What I realized, after my third company, was I loved start-ups, and I love the process of helping other start-ups. My dream job was kind of running a business plan competition but I really wanted to do it and figure out a way to make money doing it. When Y Combinator and TechStars created this business plan competition for professionals, it really caught my attention and it seemed to me the perfect set of investing in something you believe in, helping other entrepreneurs and creating an ecosystem that can really thrive. Ultimately, at the end of this, 20 years down the road, we want to look back and say ‘Houston has a thriving ecosystem of entrepreneurs that are focused on solving energy problems.’ And why energy? Because it is one of the most lucrative businesses on our planet. I think it is ultimately fascinating and it’s really what we’re good at here.
Ben Lack: Kirk, talk to us a little bit about how companies can apply for inclusion into the program.
Kirk Coburn: The best way for companies to apply is through our website and there are plenty of opportunities to connect in and apply. Once someone goes to our website, they can hit the ‘Apply Now’ and then we know who they are and we’ll reach out to them. Or, if they know one of our mentors, they can always reach out to them and they will put them in touch with me since I personally review every candidate into our program.
Ben Lack: How many programs are you wanting to do each year?
Kirk Coburn: Right now, we are focused on doing 1 a year. If we get really good at it, we might go to 2 a year, but really what we’re focused on is finding 10 of the best companies in the world and doing that once a year.
Ben Lack: Before we let you go, is there anything else that you want to let our audience know about?
Kirk Coburn: This is more of an energy statement, but I don’t think people realize what a great place Houston is to do business. Not only does Houston have all the great energy and technology assets but it’s also a very business friendly environment with a lot of entrepreneurs. It’s really is a very friendly environment for entrepreneurs to succeed in. When you add energy, software and entrepreneurism together, you can only generate success in Houston. We hope that companies from all over the world will come here. They do not have to stay here. We’d love if they did but we really want them to experience the ecosystem here.

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