Below is our recent interview with Trish Halamandaris, Director of the UCLA Anderson Venture Accelerator:
Q: For those who haven’t heard of it, what is the best way to describe the Venture Accelerator at UCLA Anderson?
A: The UCLA Anderson Venture Accelerator at UCLA Anderson is an annual, immersive program designed to leverage UCLA’s resources to enable the success of promising startups across the UCLA campus and the Los Angeles community. The Accelerator leadership provides startups with one-on-one consulting as well as curated connections to Anderson’s prominent alumni network and potential funders among LA’s thriving venture capital community. The Accelerator startups receive customized and actionable programming catered to their vertical and stage, peer support and mentorship, as well as unlimited access to a 10,000 square foot, state-of-the-art co-working space on the UCLA campus.
Success in the Anderson Accelerator means that companies exit in one of four avenues:
1. Sell their company;
2. Receive a pre-seed round of financing;
3. Graduate to an equity investing accelerator;
4. Become self-fund via retail sales.
The Accelerator is experiencing an 85% success rate with four cohorts to date. . Companies from the LA ecosystem can apply to our cohort on our website.
Q: Trish, can you tell us something more about yourself? How did you get to where you are today?
A: I graduated from UCLA Anderson in 1992 to develop a marketing career due to my interested in business, and being an entrepreneur. In 1992, the business climate was very different than it is today with our current cohort’s access to venture capital, angel, and crowd funding. For my 26- year career, I specialized in launching or turning around products and businesses and I had a few stints at various startups. This required strategic and entrepreneurial skills to quickly assess the competitive landscape, determine the sustainable competitive advantage, and launch to garner top market share. I reconnected with the Associate Dean of Entrepreneurial initiatives at Anderson and fellow classmate, Elaine Hagan ’91, at an Anderson reunion and we discussed starting the Accelerator. I thought the accelerator was an amazing opportunity to give back to the next generation by helping companies launch and become profitable, and to build a world-class program that became a donation center for the University. We have been operational for two years and have seen four cohorts successfully complete the program. We will be starting our fifth cohort this February.
Q: Can you give us some further details about the Venture Accelerator and maybe a few success stories?
A: We are different from other accelerator programs in that we provide an extremely rigorous one-on-one program for each company with curated support to their vertical and stage. We are vertically agnostic and have a wide variety of companies we support including consumer package goods, consumer technology, artificial intelligence, SaaS platforms, and health care tech. All of the companies we support are shown in more detail on the website. Because of the significant support infrastructure and access to Anderson alumni, our companies are experiencing great success. Specifically, our metrics are below.
•38 portfolio companies
•$2M received in awards
•$11M sales revenue
•$41M funding raised
•2 companies acquired
EXAMPLES OF SUCCESS:
A. Quantvex (acquired by Hatton Consulting) – Consumer Digital
Founder: Shang Chou (linkedin.com/in/shangchou), Anderson ‘16
Shang is a UCLA Anderson alumni who started his company in school during the master’s thesis program called the Business Creation Option program. This is the capstone project for MBA’s that allows them the opportunity to form a team, conduct a few hundred hours of primary and customer research to validate their idea, and develop the business plan. From this program, Shang forewent fulltime job offers to pursue his startup idea of creating a new wealth management platform for bankers. Shang hired the engineers, developed the platform and during testing, one of his customers evaluated his technology and thought it was superior to their firms and acquired Shang’s company within 14 months of launch.
B. U-Nest – (https://unestapp.com/) – Consumer Digital
Founder and CEO: Ksenia Yudina (linkedin.com/in/kyudina), CFA, , Anderson ‘14
U-Nest is an intuitive and easy-to-use mobile app that in minutes establishes and manages a tax-free college savings plan for your child. Post her MBA, Ksenia spent four years at Capital Group where she managed a $1.2 billion book of business. It is her experience at Capital Group where she learned about the need for an easy way for parents to save for their kids’ education coupled with the rising costs of an education and student debt, U-Nest was born. Her company launched with a Series A of about $3M raised to date. She has garnered significant media for the quality of the idea and traction since launch.
C. Habit Nest – (https://habitnest.com/) – Consumer Goods
Founders: Ari Banayan (UCLA undergraduate, USC law), Mikey Adhoot, Amir, Atighehchi
Inspired by personal stories of failure to create a personal journal system to create a system for personal success. They realized that this system can be categorized and beautifully illustrated into a journal series. This desire to help others launched Habit Nest who launched three years ago and recently won Amazon’s “Small Business Owner Under 30” award “https://www.amazon.com/b?ie=UTF8&node=19900443011”. Habit Nest is self-funded through sales on Amazon or their website.
Q: What advice would you give to early entrepreneurs who hope to scale up quickly and successfully?
A: Slow down. A lot of early stage founders are anxious to build their product and go to market without doing the necessary upfront rigor that will save them time and money in the long run. Specifically, it is important to thoroughly understand your market and competitors, why your product/service needs to exist now, what is the sustainable competitive advantage, how you will differentiate yourself to garner market share, and have at least a business and technical lead. Once a company has this defined and resources aligned, then they can speed up. Most entrepreneurs who have a successful exit have actually been working at their company for many years. There are very few “overnight successes”. Being an entrepreneur is difficult, a daily job, and requires immense committed. It is years before a company is ready for acquisition or to go public typically. Thus, having a plan that you can execute and iterate the learning’s is best. A lot of companies fail at the early stage due to lack of funding or not being able to address the market need fast enough, and then hire and scale.
Q: When is your favorite part of your role at the accelerator?
A: Success is exhilarating. When a company reaches a significant milestone, be it a funding round closed, a launch, or becoming profitable, is great fun! Working with founders is rewarding as it is a mutual exchange of knowledge to create a greater win, or impact, for the company. Entrepreneurs are a unique breed of smarts, ambition, and creativity who like risk and pace. This personality type is a lot of fun to advise. And because we are industry agnostic, we have a large breadth of verticals represented in each cohort that pushes us to also learn. My favorite part of the program is our Showcase event. Showcase is where our top 10 companies present a demonstration of their product followed by a networking event. I love this event as it brings the LA startup community together to support the next generation of entrepreneurs. When a company has a successful Showcase that is followed by funding or media, this too is really rewarding for me.
Separately, bringing my contacts into play with the accelerator and/or our companies is also fun as it allows me to leverage my past life in the private sector as a CMO and my current role in advising early stage startups. This is fun as it is an immediate impact supporting a company’s trajectory.
Q: What are your plans for the future of the accelerator program?
A: Deeper integrate with the rest of the UCLA campus and the LA ecosystem. We have created a program that is competitive with the top universities in the U.S. and because we are a public university, our charter is to support the business community within which we operate. Thus, we accept companies into our cohort program from across UCLA and early stage startups who reside in Los Angeles. The early stage is difficult as a lot of the support resources in the U.S. have moved upstream to support Series A companies with inherently less risk. Thus, support resources are in high demand at this stage, mainly funding, digital customer acquisition know how, and legal. We have a mentor program and continuing to deepen our bench and breadth of funding sources for the companies is a focus. Lastly, our program is solely focused on supporting smart startups. If there are companies who are interested in applying, please contact us or review the information on the website.
Creating corporate partnerships is of interest where their vertical expertise can offer mentor opportunities for their employees and potentially serve as either a recruiting opportunity or access to new ideas. Corporations are starting to develop in house accelerators to drive innovation. We can function in a similar fashion curating student from across UCLA’s campus to solve problems companies are having by providing new thinking from UCLA students in our graduate and PHD programs. If a company is interested in partnering with us to develop products or services, please contact us as we are interested in talking with them.
About the interviewee:
Trish Halamandaris, MBA
Director of the Anderson Venture Accelerator
Trish Halamandaris returned to UCLA Anderson in 2017 as the Director of the Anderson Venture Accelerator. Trish is an award-winning chief marketing officer and accomplished manager, with an exceptional track record of achievement in organizations that have ranged from startups to Fortune 100 companies. Most recently, she was head of cloud marketing for Amazon’s video game vertical. Previously she was CMO for XPRIZE, where she developed a number of corporate partnerships that stimulated innovation and investment.
Earlier in her career, she served as vice president of global marketing for the Walt Disney Company and MGM, and in marketing roles for such iconic brands as Electronic Arts, Dreyer’s Ice Cream and P&G. Her entrepreneurial endeavors have included management roles in high growth startups in the digital health/wellness and recreational vehicle sectors. Trish earned a BS in finance and accounting from the Haas School of Business at the University of California Berkeley, and her MBA in marketing and finance from UCLA Anderson.