Constant Contact, known for their email marketing platform, has started an accelerator program to help small businesses and entrepreneurs develop new products and services and market them effectively. It’s called the Small Business Innovation Program – SMB Innoloft for short (“Innoloft” referring to “Innovation Loft”) – smbinnoloft.com. At this point, enrollment is closed for the July session, but you can sign up to hear about how to apply for the next session, which is scheduled for next January.
It may seem like a big stretch to concern yourself with something that won’t be available for almost a year, but this looks like a great opportunity from a great company. It never hurts to do a little long-range advance planning, and this isn’t a spur of the moment thing anyway, since it requires relocating to Massachusetts for four months during the program’s duration. Taking a look at the program is informative all by itself, so let’s do that.
Who Can Participate?
The program is limited to three to five participants. They are looking for is companies with products or services on the market (no required minimum of sales, though), and that “create solutions that fuel small business success” and “create value” for small business. Other than the part about having something on the market, which is easy enough to understand, the requirements are somewhat subjective and call for judgment, and the company along with “industry, technology and marketing experts” will make that judgment and decide who among the companies that apply meet their criteria best. That means no one is guaranteed a spot at the table, but if your company has a product or service on the market and you feel you create value for small business, it might well be worth applying. You’d have a chance at some very valuable learning and contacts.
How to Apply
At the moment, you can’t apply as the deadline for the next session starting in July has passed. What you can do is to register to receive notification of the next time that applications are open, which will be for the session starting in January. Once that enrollment period begins, you can apply on the website.
Application can be written or in video form, the latter no longer than one minute in duration and posted either to YouTube or to Vimeo; applicants would submit a link to this video (which should describe and if possible demonstrate the company’s product or service) to SMB Innoloft. I have a suspicion that video applications might be given priority over the written kind.
What Do Participants Get?
Some pretty cool stuff, in fact. You get four months of hands-on coaching from experts, free office and meeting space in the program’s headquarters in Waltham, Massachusetts (which somewhat eases the sting of having to relocate there for four months), contact with other small business participants in the session and with businesses that have opted in to check out the offerings of participants, and a $10,000 marketing budget along with coaching in how best to spend that money. Not bad! Potentially, this means valuable knowledge and expertise, plus some contacts that can make huge differences to your business down the road.
On top of what you get during the session itself, afterwards you will have ongoing support from Constant Contact’s AppConnect program and participation in an alumni group that will grow richer and more varied as more sessions are held in the future and more companies participate. The networking benefits alone are potentially huge.
Do You Really Have to Move to Massachusetts?
Well, yeah. Sorry. It makes sense, because these are hands-on, in-person, in-depth training sessions, and there’s just no substitute for doing it face to face, or so Constant Contact has decided. The next session starts in January, too. Massachusetts in January probably includes lots of snow on the ground, so if you’re relocating there from, say, Georgia or California or Hawaii, you may be in for a shock.
You really do get a lot for participating, though, and as noted above they provide you with office and meeting space, so it’s not as steep a requirement as if you had to foot the entire bill.
Will I Have to Sell My Soul (Or My Company)?
No. Constant Contact is not taking an equity share of any small business that participates in SMB Innoloft. All ownership of your company is retained by you. The main cost of the program is time, plus of course any expenses involved in relocating to Massachusetts for four months, and what you get for that is potentially huge.
You can find a lot of information about it at the FAQ page.