Monday, October 24, 2011
Interview with Erik Rannala, MuckerLab
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
One of the biggest complaints you hear from both entrepreneurs and investors in Los Angeles, is the lack of a credible, visible startup accelerator in the Los Angeles area. Accelerator programs--like YCombinator in Silicon Valley, and TechStars in Colorado--have come to the forefront of the minds of entrepreneurs as a way to boost their ideas quickly into the market, find funding, and into existence. To that end, last week, Los Angeles-based MuckerLab (www.muckerlab.com) announced its plans--and a big lineup of local CEO mentors--to start up a new, YCombinator- and TechStars-type program in Los Angeles, headed by former Silicon Valley venture capitalist Erik Rannala, and affiliated with the TechStars Network. We caught up with Erik to hear more about MuckerLab, and its efforts to grow the Los Angeles technology ecosystem.
Erik, thanks for the time. For those not familiar with accelerators and MuckerLab, explain what it's all about?
Erik Rannala: MuckerLab is a new startup accelerator, focused on incubation stage Internet, software, services, and media businesses here in LA. It's a very similar model to YCombinator and TechStars. We're actually launching in conjunction with Techstars, as a TechStars Network Affiliate, which is a network of accelerators around the world that collaborate with each other. We're focused on two things. First and foremost, we're focused on making companies become successful. We're providing seed funding, office space, and put them through a three month, structured program. If you're familiar with YCombinator or TechStars, you know that companies also get access to a deep network of top tier mentors and advisors, who help them with a variety of things, such as product marketing, go-to-market, and funding. Everything they need to launch and grow their business. The second piece, is we want to, more globally, drive the growth and evolution of the technology and startup ecosystem here in Los Angeles. LA has tons of resources in terms of a really great technical workforce--basically the same size as the Bay Area, and it has three of the top ten technical universities, not to mention a long track record of creating great companies and entrepreneurs. Part of what we're building out are more resources and funding opportunities for companies who are pre-series A, which currently has a big gap.
Where did the name MuckerLab come from?
Erik Rannala: The name is a reference, actually, to Thomas Edison and the research lab he created. He created one of the first industrial R&D labs, and hired and brought in a bunch of investors to help iterate, and experiment, and build new products. He literally created new industries and disrupted existing ones. One of the things he did, back in the 1800's, was try to create a better formulation for brick. At the time, that was high tech, and bricks were a combination of mud, hay, and muck. Edison and a bunch of his co-inventors were literally knee deep in muck every day, and the guys started calling themselves muckers, and it stuck. They were really the first hackers, working all day long experimenting, iterating, prototyping, and trying to come up with products and inventing entirely new industries. It's kind of a homage to them as the first hackers.
You were most recently in venture capital, what drove you to move down here to Los Angeles and start this up?
Erik Rannala: We think Los Angeles is one of the most under-hyped, under-funded, and under-appreciated technology ecosystems and markets around. It's a great market, with lots of great resources, great entrepreneurs, and great people, but there is a shortage of resources, in terms of financing and infrastructure around seed and incubation of companies. But, first and foremost, it's a great opportunity. Like other people that live here, I personally love Southern California, and wanted to live here. I also have family connections down here, but it's really a combination of those two. First and foremost, I believe Los Angeles has a great technology ecosystem, and want to be part of what is already happening here, and we also think that Los Angeles is on the cusp of becoming a really great technology and startup ecosystem, which we want to become part of, and help along.
How much are you investing in the companies who are part of the program?
Erik Rannala: The companies that are part of the program get up to $21,000 in funding, office space, legal support, access to the mentor network, and the opportunity to present to investors at the end of the program at the demo day. That's pretty similar to both YCombinator and TechStars.
Both YCombinator and TechStars try to attract companies from outside an area to participate--any plans there?
Erik Rannala: We're open to companies from anywhere, as long as they're willing to be physically located in Los Angeles for the 3 months of the program. And, we'd love for them to stay in LA, if they're not from here originally. However, we think there are probably enough great companies and entrepreneurs in Southern California to full up the classes. We're open to companies outside the area, and love to have them stay here, but we do want to focus on building out this Southern California ecosystem.
You've been in the unique position of being in Silicon Valley for some time. What did you learn there that you think we could learn to make this area even better?
Erik Rannala: I think a lot of the stuff to make things better here is already happening. I think you're seeing more interest around the early stages, and in the past few years there have been a bunch of folks who have started to be more active in angel investing, which is great. I think there is also some density of technology companies in certain areas, particularly around Santa Monica, which is helpful. I've heard people talk about now how they'll go out to lunch, and run into a bunch of other entrepreneurs, which is great. I think the tighter knit the ecosystem is, between investors and entrepreneurs, it really helps.
One of the things that Silicon Valley does really well, is that people are willing to open up and help others, mentor, and make introductions. The more of that there is here, the more relationships that form between people, between entrepreneurs and investors, the more they help each other and who can advise each other and make introductions. That kind of mentality of helping each other out, and viewing that the more successful we are individually, the more successful the ecosystem is, is very important. That's why we want to help companies we're working with directly, but also help the entire ecosystem. An example is we'll be holding events, which will be open to the broader technical community, and will not just be for Muckerlabs.
Finally, for those entrepreneurs interested in the program, what are the deadlines to apply?
Erik Rannala: The application process is open as of today, and we have applications on our web site. We'll be accepting applications through the middle of December, through the next two months. The first class will start in late January and run for three months.