QA with John Dascher, CEO of Wichita’s first business accelerator
John Dascher is the new CEO of the E2E Accelerator, which is launching this year in Wichita, Kansas. Dascher has been involved in venture capital and business acceleration outside the Valley since 1997, when he started with the Ben Franklin Technology Partners in Philadelphia. Most recently, he worked as Investment Director for two venture capital funds in…
John Dascher is the new CEO of the E2E Accelerator, which is launching this year in Wichita, Kansas. Dascher has been involved in venture capital and business acceleration outside the Valley since 1997, when he started with the Ben Franklin Technology Partners in Philadelphia. Most recently, he worked as Investment Director for two venture capital funds in Denmark with a combined capital base of over $200 million. SPN caught up with Dascher over the phone.
SPN: You’ve been involved with startups for almost two decades now. Tell us a bit more about how you got into the field.
JD: I started my career as an aerospace engineer for about a year in Philadelphia, where I grew up and where I went to school. I just knew I didn’t enjoy engineering work in a factory environment. I got this wonderful opportunity to work for an organization that was funded by NASA and other organizations to take federal laboratory technology and put it into old economy industry like the Rust Belt in Philadelphia. That was with the Ben Franklin Technology Partners, one of the most famous state-run seed capital funds in the world, and there’s where I got into venture investing. I did engineering consulting, technology transfer, early stage investing, got an MBA, and then moved down to a startup venture fund in south Florida near the end of the Internet boom.
SPN: With a background in aerospace, was Wichita particularly interesting to you because of that?
JD: The secret sauce of any accelerator is no longer a playbook—that’s open source now—it’s the strength of its mentors. What mentors we have here will drive what companies come to the accelerator because that’s how we best serve them. Therefore, if an aerospace or advanced manufacturing company comes through, it would probably be a good fit. That’s the first answer. The second answer is that it’s purely coincidental that I started my career in aerospace engineering. Even though I really like the industry, it really wasn’t a factor in me coming here.
SPN: It also sounds like you also have experience taking traditional R&D and turning it into a business. Do you see that as part of what you’re doing in Wichita or will it be a more traditional accelerator?
JD: It will be somewhat nontraditional. One unique aspect of us, relative to a lot of organizations like accelerators, seed funds, or anyone that does technology based economic development—they have some kind of public funding or they are paid by governments to do something for them. We want to be entirely private, and we are entirely private. We want this to be a community-driven organization. Therefore we will have the flexibility to do what is best for the entrepreneurs. With that in mind, my goal is to create a custom process for everybody that comes in. They start when they are ready to start. I don’t want to have a class that runs for 12 weeks with another one after, where if you come to me at Week 1 you have to wait 12 weeks. That’s not what we’re doing.
When you hear the word “accelerator” you think early, pre-revenue, seed stage companies. Ours is going to have a broad portfolio of companies that come in. We want to have the best of those [seed stage companies] as well as companies that may have half a million, 2-3 million in revenue but for some reason can’t get above that ceiling, as well as a few companies in between. It won’t be 12 early stage entrepreneurs with great pitches and business plans and not much else.
SPN: Having seen a lot of different communities, what are you looking for when you look at a place like Wichita?
JD: In Denmark, the Danes are very proud. There’s a lot of healthy nationalism. In the business environment, that translates to everybody being extremely well connected. I see that here in Wichita. I see community members spending many hours before I got here conceptualizing this when it was never clear they would get anything out of it themselves, just out of a sense of, “This is our town. We need to do something good.” I have been bombarded with deal flow and mentors from the day I got here, with people saying, “I want to contribute.” I’m blown away by it in a very, very good way.
SPN: What are you looking for right now and what do you need? Is there any application process yet?
JD: These are the great questions. I have a great army of volunteers putting together an analysis of the best practices for an incubator, and we will be building our playbook. Those are the kinds of questions we will be working on, so I can’t give you a straightforward answer. Our first goal is [to raise] $1 million in operating capital in the first 90 days and a million more 90 days after, so $2 million to seed fund our organization in 180 days. Two, we want to have 4 companies in the accelerator by summertime.
SPN: What motivates you to work on a project like this?
JD:Not only is no day ever like the other, no company is ever the same. Everyone is unique, and the energy is contagious. It’s wonderful to interact with everybody in the employment spectrum, to interact with PhDs, engineers, accountants, lawyers, human resource experts. I need to be knowledgeable and able to speak all their languages at any given moment. It’s wonderful to be privy to so much great, broad experience, often at a very detailed level. Venture is one of the best ways to do that.
Ryan Pendell is the Managing Editor of Silicon Prairie News.
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