Q&A with Amanda Eakin of Sputnik ATX

Kennedy Nuñez
Q&A with Amanda Eakin of Sputnik ATX

Are you a startup founder looking for accelerator programs to help you advance to the next level? If so, Austin, TX is home to some of the best accelerator programs in the country, one of which is Sputnik ATX.

Founded in 2017, Sputnik ATX is a venture capital firm and accelerator in Texas’ capital city that funds early-stage founders from pre-seed to Series B, to help entrepreneurs realize their maximum potential. They use a combination of finance, training, and experience to help Austin startups reach the next level.

If you’re interested in learning how to acquire a seat at the table, we sat down with Amanda Eakin, Associate at Sputnik ATX, to see how entrepreneurs can stand out and get accepted into the accelerator program.

Below, Amanda explains what Sputnik ATX looks for in a founder, how to apply to Sputnik ATX (they’re taking applications for their summer cohort until July 3!), and what to do if your company isn’t accepted into the program.

What are the top characteristics you look for in founders who hope to join Sputnik ATX’s accelerator program?

Amanda: To be eligible for Sputnik, the startup has to have a minimum viable product (MVP) and at least one customer. The reason for that is the main focus of our program is how to gain sales and traction, so you have to be ready to sell. We want some small proof that you’ve begun to sell it and people want it. In order to be competitive, if you’re a B2B enterprise, then one big customer might be fine, but if you’re B2C, you may need more traction than that.

We’re also looking for people who are maker-founders, which means at least one founder is the maker of the product. The reason we prefer the maker on the team is because when someone has more skin in the game they can get a lot more done. We often tell founders, “Get missionaries on your team, not mercenaries.” If a maker is on your team, you own the code and your cash can go further. You can use it on marketing rather than outsourced development. A lot of times cofounders will work for equity because they care about the product.

What’s the best advice you would give to a founder looking into any accelerator program?

Some programs may be better for you than others, it depends on what you’re looking for and what stage you’re in. SKU, for example, accelerates CPG startups only. And the Newchip accelerator is self-paced, online, and open to startups from many different stages. Sputnik ATX is 13 weeks of intensive acceleration, in person, and only for early stage startups. Some programs out there place their main focus on pitching and mentor networks. Others focus mainly on growth. The right program for you just depends on what your company needs most at that point in time.

What sets apart Sputnik ATX’s cohort from the rest?

One big difference is the focus of our program. Our main focus is on sales and how to gain traction. We like to say “growth covers a multitude of sins.” We believe that everything else will follow. If your company is growing like crazy, basically you have permission to be less good at pitching investors. Just because you’re a good coder or salesperson, doesn’t mean you’re good at raising money. But if you’re growing then raising money is easier. So that’s why we focus on growth. People buying your product is what matters.

Our funding is also unique. We do 100K investments and will follow up to 400K more, and can even invest beyond that. Additionally, we only invest in Texas founders or those willing to move to Texas. And lastly, we don’t work with paid advisors (again, missionaries not mercenaries) or charge our startups fees.

As Austin continues to become the number one hotspot for startups to excel, how do you see Sputnik’s program changing?

At the end of every cohort we have, we get feedback on the curriculum and the founder’s experience. Then we take that feedback and adjust accordingly. The curriculum and program change with small tweaks over time, based on the founder’s feedback.

For the application process, I think it will continue to get more competitive because we don’t plan on taking bigger cohorts. We’re going to keep it a small classroom. People get a lot of benefits out of a small group because we can give more attention to each startup. Now that a group of our companies are getting into A-round territory as well, we’ll be adding some programming in the future to serve the needs of our older companies.

How has COVID-19 affected the program?

The good thing that happened is we got more applications from all over the world. The fact that we went remote for the pandemic allowed us to do a remote cohort which opened up the possibility of being in Sputnik to a lot more people. We had several international startups that ended up doing really well in the program. One was CribMD in Nigeria, they raised their seed round right on the heels of the graduation last spring. Another was Tidy Technologies in Canada. We also had NITEX from Bangladesh.

The reason that we’re going back to in-person is that even though we figured out how to go remote during COVID, we feel that we work better in person with the founders. There are a lot of small interactions that happen when we’re in the office together. We get to know how their company is doing and what we can help with.

What words of encouragement would you offer to a startup that doesn’t get accepted into the program?

We always take reapplications. We’ve had several companies who didn’t get in the first time and reapplied and got in later. Also, we don’t know everything and we’ve been wrong before. So, don’t let a VC or accelerator’s denial tell you the value of your company. If you believe in it, keep going.

What are some trends you’re currently seeing among startups?

As you probably know, there are a lot of people moving to Austin, specifically from California. So the ecosystem is changing, I think for the better. There are a lot of investors and startups coming from out of town that want to be in Austin and want to work together in the Austin community. As far as startup industry trends go, I’m seeing a lot of solutions relevant to the post-covid era in healthcare tech and remote work.

As far as funding goes, there was previously a lack in seed funding here in Austin, where a lot of Austin founders had to raise outside of Texas. But I think on the horizon that will be a lot better now that more startups and VCs are coming here.

What is your best lifestyle advice for founders?

Protect your energy. One of our Founders, April Dominguez, takes a really disciplined approach to this with meditation which I find impressive. All the ups and downs of running a startup can be exhausting, and there will be many opportunities that come your way, some of which are ultimately distractions — your time, and the energy that you bring to that time, is your most important asset as an early stage founder. So protecting your energy and preventing burnout is about taking time to care for yourself and your family, and saying “no” or “not now, how about a later date” to things that don’t help you achieve growth on your key metrics.

The application deadline for Sputnik’s summer cohort is July 3. You can apply here.

About Kennedy Nunez: Kennedy is a Business Development Associate for Swyft, which is a tech PR firm in Austin and Houston and a top digital marketing and PR agency in Denver since its founding in 2011. Swyft recently opened a satellite office where it offers tech PR in San Francisco. Swyft was also listed as one of the top tech PR agencies in Texas by the B2B services review site, Clutch.co.

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