Every summer, Gener8tor – one of the top fifteen startup accelerators in the United States according to Seed Rankings – brings in a new cohort of companies to the twin cities. The Harvard Business Review provides an all-encompassing definition of what an accelerator does: “A startup accelerator supports young, growth-driven companies through education, mentorship, and financing. Startups enter accelerators for a fixed period, and as a part of a cohort of companies.”
Gener8tor was founded in Wisconsin and is now in two countries, seven states, and fourteen cities. What makes it unique is that it’s a concierge accelerator meaning it tailors the experience to each individual company. With a cohort size of 5 companies, each company gets a lot of individual attention, mentoring, and guidance. The companies that go through the program are high-growth, industry-agnostic startups.
As one of Gener8tor Minnesota 2019’s associates, I’ve gotten to know the companies quite well. I sat down with the founders of all five startups to learn more about their stories and individual entrepreneurial journeys. Here are the stories of Allison Albert (Pet Krewe), Eric Jung (Y Translator), Jim Lewis (Predictive Health Partners), Walter Montes (Worldsibu), and Vivek Kumar (Qlicket).
Allison Albert: Pet Krewe
Allison Albert grew up in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania – a Mennonite stronghold known for meadow tea, farming, and sewing. Albert began sewing with her grandmother at home, and this skill was reinforced in school. She “rebelled” at a young age by sewing pet costumes instead of table linens and curtains, the norm for a child her age.
Albert went on to attend Southern Methodist University on scholarship where she studied accounting. She become a forensic CPA by day and an amateur pet costumer by night.
Early in 2015, Allison’s life changed forever. “I was run over by a drunk driver and left on the side of the road to die. I literally hit rock bottom,” Albert remembered. While recovering from the horrific accident, Albert found sanctuary in her Mennonite roots. Albert realized she wanted to dedicate her career to her key passion: creating things people love. Allison turned her childhood love of pet costumes into a viable business. Thus, Pet Krewe was born.
Since launching in 2015, Pet Krewe has been growing 270% year over year in the pet costume market with products that include Sesame Street and NCAA licenses, Pet DIY (do it yourself) Kits, and a wide range of entertainment-inspired products. Albert and her team use shelter animals for their models as a way to help them find a forever home. Albert hopes others can learn from her experience, encouraging them to “make sure you are doing something you love.”
Y Translator: Eric Jung
When Eric Jung, the CEO of Y Translator, moved from South Korea to the United States at age 18, he knew little English. “The hardest part about moving to the United States was the language barrier. Frankly, it really sucked,” says Jung. Prior to starting at the University of Minnesota, he studied English and liberal arts for two years. Over time, his English reading and writing improved; however, it was still difficult for him to fully understand native speakers. While attending classes at the university, he struggled to understand his lectures and found himself constantly skipping class. Jung began watching YouTube videos with closed captions.
“Using the English closed captions allowed me to learn the lessons from my classes easier, and it also helped improve my English,” he says. Eventually, something clicked, and he had an “aha” moment; he knew the language barrier problem was one he wanted to solve. He decided to launch a company. Within 24 hours, he had a website built and was reaching out to YouTubers to offer manual captioning services for their videos. He had dreams of one day providing captioning in all languages so that anyone could consume any content. Within 12 weeks, he had a client with over 10 million subscribers (to put that into context Will Smith has 5 million). He had the clients, but Jung quickly realized that manual captioning was not a scalable strategy. “I knew something needed to change. I figured since I already taught myself English, I would teach myself to code and learn how to use AI to automate this process.” Y Translator, as it exists today, was born.
The company is creating AI-powered closed captioning software that offers translations from English to 6 languages with the intent to add more in the future. “I want to solve the problem of language barriers that people face,” says Eric. “I think I can make content accessible to the entire world, which in return will make the world a more educated and better place.” Jung’s drive is evident in how he has approached learning how to read and write English, how to build a business, and how to code. He did have one mentor that he says helped him through his journey. He said that this mentor made him feel like a hero. “Everyone is a hero in their own journey, and I think it’s important for people to remember that.”
Jim Lewis: Predictive Health Partners
Jim Lewis began his entrepreneurial journey in 6th grade when he mowed lawns and delivered newspapers. Since then he’s gathered more than 30+ years of startup experience, founded three companies, and was a two-time Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the year nominee. Lewis considers himself a serial entrepreneur. He says, “to me, it means having a passion for the way you look at the world. You think you can solve problems, fix things, and innovate; it’s a lifestyle.” His current venture, Predictive Health Partners, is trying to solve one of the biggest concerns in the country – affordable healthcare. Specifically, Lewis’ company is looking to make significant changes to price-transparency in health. “There is no other industry where the consumer doesn’t know the price until a bill arrives and then it’s too late,” Lewis says.
“Our product is called Benjamin,” Lewis explains. “It transforms organizations and employees into savvy healthcare consumers. Benjamin gives people the transparency they need to see their choices for routine care and prescriptions based on cost, quality, and location.”
Lewis’ passion for solving significant problems in the world came from his father. “My father is a very righteous, transparent, and ethical man. He was one of the biggest influences on the man I am today,” Lewis says. “I was taught to focus on doing the right thing, and I believe what I am doing today is the right thing for the world.” Jim’s dream is to make price-transparency the norm throughout the healthcare system in the United States.
Walter Montes: Worldsibu
Walter Montes became the youngest Microsoft Most Valuable Professional in Latin America at the age of 19. Montes, born and raised in Costa Rica, credits it to his drive at a young age and passion for learning. While attending a technical high school, Montes began an internship with a local company. They needed help on a project and asked Montes if he knew a specific coding language they were using. He said, “no, but I can learn.” He learned and earned himself a full-time job. He says, “I decided not to go to college, so I acquired all the knowledge that I wanted. The reason I became so successful is that I didn’t say no to knowledge.”
A couple of years later, Montes was part of a strategic partnership to bring IBM Watson to Latin America. Learning about trends of the future, Montes went to the CEO of the IBM partnership company and suggested they started to work with and learn about blockchain because he saw it as the future of technology. His boss denied his ask, so Montes quit and started building WorldSibu. Worldsibu enables the use of Blockchain technology at the enterprise level. His vision is that this technology becomes the norm for everyone. Their mission is to make blockchain (DLT technology) so accessible that it can address business challenges and go mainstream. Montes believes that WorldSibu’s technology could help create the underlying infrastructure for the future of our digital world. He says, “for me, it’s about doing something bigger than myself. With this, I saw a means to do that.”
Vivek Kumar: Qlicket
“I moved to India from New York with a laptop and an idea.” Vivek Kumar, the CEO of Qlicket, started his company eight years ago. Version 1.0 of Qlicket was attempting to give free hot-spot internet to all of India. Version 2.0 included providing a high-quality Wi-Fi experience for hotels while also incorporating easy-to-use feedback systems for their guests. Now Qlicket is on version 3.0.
“We needed to think bigger,” says Kumar. “We weren’t finding the right market.” Their breakthrough came in a meeting with a Fortune 50 company. “They told me that if I could help fix their talent retention issues with their blue-collar workers that they would be very happy,” he says. “It cost them about $1 billion a year.” Qlicket had finally found a market where they could apply what they learned. They started to create kiosks that would gather feedback from workers, collecting data that companies could use to make decisions about their workforce. Transitioning to phase 3.0, however, took a lot of work and a lot of hardship. Qlicket could not afford payroll for three months. Vivek even had to liquidate part of his retirement money. It was stressful for everyone.
“Now, 15 months later, we are closing six-figure deals, working with Fortune 10 companies, and got selected to the five companies in the Gener8tor cohort of the 800 companies that applied,” Kumar says. He continues that the turning point for the company was when they realized they weren’t selling a tool; they were selling a solution. This solution will create happier employees, lower the employee turnover rate, and save companies billions in the process. “Even though I didn’t want it to take eight years, I’m glad we took our time. At the end of the day, you need to see what the market needs. Not what you think they want. What they actually want.”