Newly launched startup accelerator expands innovation economy in Memphis

Before launching the startup she brought to Memphis as part of 2018’s “Summer of Acceleration” startup accelerator programming, Stephanie Cummings was working in health care information technology. She was constantly busy, traveling across the country.

She’d come home and see clothes piled up, laundry needing to be done. No groceries stocked or food in the fridge. She needed help, in other words, with the minutiae of the daily grind she kept falling behind on.

That was her light bulb moment.

“I started looking for a solution to help me stay on top of my day-to-day while I was working,” said Cummings, the CEO and co-founder of Please Assist Me, one of six startups in this year’s new Launch Delta Home Services Accelerator, powered by ServiceMaster and Start Co.

It’s how the idea for her company was born and how it started Cummings and her team down a path that eventually landed them in the new startup accelerator. The goal of this new partnership between ServiceMaster and Start Co. is to find game-changing companies and ideas in the home services market.

“Please Assist Me is a mobile app that allows users to outsource all their weekly chores - from groceries, laundry, even washing dishes to their own dedicated personal assistant,” Cummings said.

Her company, along with the five others in the new home services accelerator, have their own dedicated space in ServiceMaster’s “Ground Floor” innovation center. That’s a combination co-working space and startup hub in ServiceMaster’s Downtown Memphis corporate headquarters. As part of the program, accelerator participants get an undisclosed financial investment from ServiceMaster and Innova Memphis.

Startups coming through the accelerator focus on everything from smart home data to customer service platforms and the home services supply chain. The inaugural teams, besides Please Assist Me, include:

-- Pest Pulse, commercializing a smart device that attaches to snap traps mostly for rodents and monitors them for activity.

-- ServiceBot, a software tool to manage home service businesses and automate most back office and customer service functionality.

-- SecondKeys, a platform that helps homeowners, landlords, tenants and vendors find reliable maintenance workers.

-- LawnTap, an app that automates the lawn care process.

-- eCINCHal, a subscription box service for automating home maintenance needs.

“What’s exciting about this year’s ‘Summer of Acceleration’ is we’ve added the new industry vertical, with the focus on home services,” said EPIcenter president Leslie Lynn Smith. “We’ve also seen ServiceMaster step up and lean into investing in programming and teams, which I think is huge as other corporate partnerships shift toward being more supportive of innovation and entrepreneurship. We’re hopeful more and more corporate partners are going to jump on board.”

Smith said it was ServiceMaster’s high-profile decision to keep its corporate headquarters in Memphis but move it Downtown to Peabody Place - and the subsequent investment that followed into that space - which led to the company’s involvement in the accelerator. “When they were designing their space,” Smith continued, “they did a series of community interviews to talk about what kind of valuable innovation space could be added to their footprint Downtown.”

The new accelerator is a key offering that’s part of Memphis’ so-called “Summer of Acceleration,” now in its third year, which sees partner organizations like EPIcenter, Start Co. and the Memphis Bioworks Foundation team up to lead startups. In this summer’s case, 12 startups through 100 days of educational programming. That programming, and those high-growth startups, are focused on specific industry sectors: home services, medical devices, supply chain and logistics, and agriculture technology and innovation.

Over the course of the summer, Start Co. will lead what amounts to centralized programming that forms the core accelerator curriculum. That means walking the startups through the essentials, regardless of their sector, like how to build a business model, customer discovery and sales pipeline development.

The individual accelerator partners, like ServiceMaster, will offer their teams sector-specific programming, connections to mentors and more. And while the home services accelerator will have space inside ServiceMaster’s headquarters, where they will get their programming tailored to them, all the teams across each accelerator will co-locate at Start Co.’s Downtown space throughout the summer.

Besides the new accelerator, Start Co. also operates Sky High as part of the joint programming, geared on education-focused technology solutions. This summer, EPIcenter is hosting Truckish, a startup that provides hardware for trucks as part of EPIcenter’s recruitment of supply chain and logistics startups, while the Memphis Bioworks Foundation operates ZeroTo510 - a medical device-focused startup accelerator.

AgLaunch, a joint initiative of Memphis Bioworks Foundation and the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, operates a year-long acceleration program that supports agricultural technology and innovation startups. Meanwhile, female startup founders going through any of those programs can also participate, if they want, in Start Co.’s parallel Upstart track, which provides networking and mentorship opportunities to women entrepreneurs.

The Summer of Acceleration will culminate on Aug. 16 with Demo Day, a day when the startups get the opportunity to pitch their ideas to investors, network with community leaders and hopefully put themselves in a position to score follow-on investment funding.

Partners and sponsors for the Summer of Acceleration include Launch Tennessee, American Airlines, Archer Malmo, AutoZone, IBM, Baker Donelson, Mosaik, The Marston Group and ServiceMaster, among others.

“I feel like we’re about to lift into the future we’ve imagined for Memphis,” Smith said. “I’m more optimistic than I’ve ever been. I really see it all coming together, and I think we’re going to start seeing some interesting outcomes in our portfolio and attract some really significant investment - which are great signs for Memphis.”

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Read more articles by Andy Meek.