BEAR NECESSITIES: Sproutel's Hannah Chung and Aaron Horowitz show off a prototype for a bear that aims to help kids learn how to self-treat diabetes. Under a Betaspring program, the startup is working with business leaders and financial advisers.
Forty-one entrepreneurs, some in their mid-20s and others more than twice that age, are working under one roof, pooling knowledge and know-how to help launch their businesses.
Far from the latest fad in reality television, the newest class at Providence-based Betaspring’s startup accelerator fosters a strong sense of community and collaboration while working to meet their goals.
Over a mentor-driven, 12-week program, 16 teams will work with experienced business leaders, financial advisers and legal counsel to help turn their fledging startups into viable and fundable companies. Yet despite the competition for funding, the teams have found support not just from Betaspring mentors but also from their fellow startups.
“Sixteen teams sounds like a lot, but … it’s really like a school classroom,” said John Bittner, founder and CEO of Splitwise, one of this year’s Betaspring teams. “For anything you ask, there’s a really broad range of ideas and opinions right there for your team.”
Since its inception in 2010, the accelerator program has launched 28 companies and supported almost 100 entrepreneurs, including Max Winograd, CEO and founder of NuLabel Technologies Inc. – a company commercializing liner-free label technology. Winograd was part of Betaspring’s inaugural 2009 program and said that the mentors offered “unconditional support” to his company and helped them prepare for “all the future problems that we – as first-time entrepreneurs – couldn’t possibly anticipate.”
This year’s class includes companies from as far away as California and Tel Aviv.
“It’s really fun, and I think that it’s a community where age doesn’t matter, being male or female doesn’t matter. You are driven by ideas and getting a really positive experience out of it,” said Hannah Chung, chief creative officer and co-founder of Sproutel – a group that creates interactive toys to help children deal with chronic illness.
The group’s first product, Jerry the Bear, is focused on helping children with Type I diabetes learn to live with their disease. Jerry – named after a burly, bear of a man that Chung and co-founder Aaron Horowitz used to work with – teaches kids how to eat healthy, check their blood glucose and insulin levels, and even use an insulin pump by practicing with the bear before they’re old enough to regulate themselves.
Sproutel is one of three groups with a health care focus in this year’s spring class.