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We grow companies.

 

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Assess Viability

Rapid analysis of the addressable market, unique value proposition (“UVP”), key success drivers, competitive positioning, required resources, and distribution/sales channels occurs over a four- to eight-week period leading to a “fast fail” or plan for launch. Insights are enhanced through the proprietary, real-world data and experience available through the 80amps network.

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Build Teams

Every venture requires a strong team to maximize the likelihood of success. Whether a new business comes with a pre-existing team, or arrives alone with only a concept, 80amps provides a full range of assistance with human resources—from consulting and coaching to providing leadership from our extensive network of recent alum and seasoned professionals.

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Provide Resources

From legal advice to a PR plan—from setting up financials to building a brand—80amps team members and mentors have the experience and resources to help get a business off the ground. And, if the time comes to raise additional funding, 80amps’ network of over 500 capital sources gets the process started quickly.

Who We Are

80amps is a world-class team of successful entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, creatives, and subject-matter experts dedicated to growing brands, products, and the technologies that support them. Our interests leverage 80amps’ contacts in the retail, media, manufacturing, and technology industries. Here are some of the spaces in which we have particular interest:

> Content and platforms beyond traditional media

> Contemporary consumer goods, often enabled by or enhanced with modern technologies

> B2C technologies and communications that can be reapplied to B2B

> Under-exploited opportunities within university primary research

> Identified consumer needs left unfulfilled by existing advertising and technology models

 

The 80amps team was instrumental from the beginning in helping us determine our new project’s viability and guiding us to a more powerful business model. 

- Dusty Rhodes, Founder of PodSpot





Interested in 80amps?
Get in touch to learn more.

Contact Us

Our Team

Eric Martin

Eric Martin

Founding Partner
Charles Merritt

Charles Merritt

Partner
Denton Freeman, Ph.D.

Denton Freeman, Ph.D.

Partner
Brendan Richardson

Brendan Richardson

Partner

Founding Investor

TMA LOGO black

 

The Martin Agency is a leading full-service advertising firm with offices in Richmond, Virginia, and in New York. Part of global advertising conglomerate Interpublic Group, the agency offers unified advertising, strategic planning, media, direct response, interactive, data analytics, design, branded content and local lead generation. Clients include BFGoodrich, Discover, GEICO, Hanes, Kraft, Manpower, Mondelez International, Morgan Stanley, PING, Pizza Hut, the American Cancer Society and Walmart.

Out of the 10,000 advertising agencies in America, The Martin Agency has consistently been ranked among the top five by national publications and industry leaders alike. In 2010, Adweek Magazine named The Martin Agency “U.S. Agency of the Year,” and Forbes recently named Martin one of the “Ten Great Ad Agencies of 2012.”

“Our investment in 80amps is part of our overall growth strategy,” according to Neil Patel, The Martin Agency’s Senior Vice President of Content Strategy and Development. “We have experimented with internal efforts and studied external models for developing new products, services and revenue streams. We’ve chosen to work with 80amps for two main reasons: first, it provides a path to innovation that allows us to continue to focus on our core business of creating world-class advertising; second, 80amps’ focus on consumer products and services is in perfect alignment with our core competency.”

Our Mentors

Earl Cox

Earl Cox

EVP, Chief Strategy Officer
The Martin Agency
Neil Patel

Neil Patel

SVP, Content Strategy and Development
The Martin Agency
James Klaus

James Klaus

CEO
Children's Wear Digest, Inc.
Cabell Harris

Cabell Harris

CEO
WORK Labs

How We Work

Concept Origination:

80amps’ concepts are generated by The Martin Agency, by 80amps staff and mentors, and, selectively, by students, professors, and entrepreneurs in our network.

Our Process:

Initial Screening

All concepts undergo initial screening by the 80amps team.

For-profit ideas must have the potential for national or global sales as well as a path to profitability. Not-for-profit concepts should have the ability to serve at least the local community at large. As importantly, 80amps backs people — people who are persistent, intelligent, passionate, flexible, and who get along well with others. Only a handful of concepts are in development by 80amps at any given time.

Viability Assessment

Concepts that are approved begin a venture viability assessment leading to a “fast fail” or  first-stage execution plan. This process, which may take up to eight weeks, involves:

  • Establishment of initial unique value proposition
  • Market sizing
  • Business model development
  • Early-stage financial modeling
  • Identification of critical success factors
  • Determination of funding requirements and approach

Execution

The first stage of execution is customized based on the concept under development. This stage may involve anything from rapid prototyping of a minimum viable product and market testing, to substantial fund-raising and team-building for more advanced efforts.

Regardless of the execution approach, the emphasis is always weighted toward gaining rapid marketplace feedback. Even concepts requiring substantial build-out can be structured to gain customer insight throughout the process. With one exception, 80amps does not undertake efforts for which big, sticky, clumpy investments are required in advance of an ability to judge market acceptance. That exception is 80amps’ willingness to execute the commercialization of research developed by university professors under technology transfer licenses from universities in selective cases.

 

Want Us to Review Your Concept?

Many of the concepts that 80amps reviews are generated from our network. If you haven’t met someone from 80amps with whom you can share your idea, you may choose to submit a brief of your concept below. Please do not share information that you consider to be confidential or proprietary. 80amps evaluates ideas on a rolling basis year round.

Submit Your Idea

If you would like for 80amps to consider your business idea, please fill out the following information and we will get back with you within 7 to 10 days.

Portfolio

Check out what we've been working on

Adrenalin Junkie

Adrenalin Junkie



A lifestyle apparel brand for adrenalin seekers
Lumiary

Lumiary



Online marketing platform for independent retail brands
Coffitivity

Coffitivity



An App to Boost Creativity
Euphörix

Euphörix



A mind and body enhancing mood elevator
Vinyl Mint

Vinyl Mint



Crowd-sourced sounds, voiceovers and translations for any need.
Veri

Veri



An Organic Soft Drink Line
Poesis

Poesis



Luxury Customized Handbags

Blog

Our latest posts and news

The renewed opportunity for incubators: It’s not all about accelerators.

Post by Stefano Bernardi. 

We live in the age of the accelerator.

It seems like the 10-12 week “batch” model has completely taken over the pre-seed market.

And it’s all Y Combinator’s “fault”. They launched their Summer Program in 2005 and immediately started spurring copycats.

But was YC’s success attributable to the summer batch model or just to their hustle, product insights, marketing and connections?

I think the accelerator model doesn’t make too much sense outside of YC or a couple of other example. Aside from being really hard to self sustain financially, the reality is that most accelerators can’t quite accelerate a company like PG and YC’s current partners.

It’s time to face that YC is in a league of its own.

The death of the incubator

Before accelerators were all the rage, there were a number of traditional incubators, oftentimes sponsored or run by big corporates or universities, where companies were actually “incubated”. Companies would be accepted on a rolling basis and would be offered office space as well as general help and services.

Starting companies today has become much cheaper and easier than before, and this factors have led to a slow but steady decline for incubators. Why give away 20%+ more of your equity if you can just go out and raise a million dollar round for the same amount?

But the reality is that getting to product market fit and scaling a company are much harder than it seems. Everyone can get started, but getting started right is fairly hard.

When incubators make more sense than accelerators

In my opinion though, incubators can actually be better structures for some type of businesses and entrepreneurs.

Complementary skills

To make sense, the founder and the incubator each need to have very strong complementary knowledge and skills, just like in any traditional co-founder relationship.

For example, the incubator could be vertically focused on e-commerce and the founder extremely knowledgeable about and connected in the outdoors community.

Or the incubator could be vertically focused on fashion, and could accept teams with experience in data, logistics, marketing, e-commerce and so on.

The incubator I’m envisioning becomes really close to some foundry models, but those usually don’t accept external ideas for a variety of reasons. In my opinion, accepting external ideas, and most specifically founders who are really passionate and knowledgeable about a space and an idea is instead one of the great opportunities for incubators.

Strong, aggregate knowledge

The incubator needs to aggregate the most possible knowledge from all of its companies and redeploy it on all of them.

Being able to see patterns of errors and best practices amongst many companies is a privilege usually left to VCs. An incubator should do the same.

Remove complexity

A shared HR practice, as well as accounting, legal, EA, recruiting, etc. can help the companies focus on product market fit in the early days and reduce premature scaling problems.

Remove risk

Starting a company, even if less riskier than it once was, is still a bold and risky decision for most.

People have families and other commitments which in my opinion are preventing great companies to be created.

Incubators can target this specific niche of entrepreneurs and remove their risk by hiring them, while getting compensated in equity.


TL;DR — this is what a modern incubator should look like in my opinion:

  • Vertically focused on a specific business model or vertical.
  • Accept founders with complementary skills and knowledge.
  • Aggregate the most possible knowledge, best practices and connections.
  • Aggregate and provide basic company functions such as bookkeeping, tax, lawyers, HR, EA, etc.
  • Only accept founders/ideas where the incubator’s knowledge and services will have a positive impact.
  • Work with 2-10 companies at any given time.
  • Act as a full cofounder for at least 12 months.
  • Provide office space.
  • Aim for 10-40% equity stakes.
  • Hold a board seat, but without weird vetos or controlling provisions.

Challenges

It’s not so simple.

Incubators are hard. Some of the biggest challenges in my opinion are:

  • Getting to financial sustainability. I’d treat an incubator almost as a traditional VC fund. The capital required to start something like this is non negligible, if you want to really help the companies and attract the best teams.
  • Attracting the best talent. The best people usually have no trouble in raising capital for their companies, and may not be interested in the additional services if it means giving away a huge chunk of equity.
  • Transitioning out the business. Not super easy to cut loose all ties with the incubator, but if done gradually can be sorted out.
  • Follow on investments. Getting VCs to invest in businesses spun out of incubators is a bigger challenge than clean cap tables.

I might write a post on these challenges in the near future, but I think they’re all solvable.

In the meantime I remain a big believer in nicely executed foundries and incubators.

Innovation, Disruption, and the Sixth Force

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Regulated industries beware. Disruption is headed your way, too. Companies whose incumbency has been protected by regulation face devastating competition from entrants none too concerned with pesky legalities.

Michael Porter, in his seminal book Competitive Strategy, proposed a model of five forces that can be used to analyze the attractiveness of an industry. While in business school at Harvard, I had the good fortune to address with Porter, a faculty member there, what I believed to be an important SIXTH force—regulation. We were discussing the airline industry at the time, and I argued that since some players yield relatively more influence over regulation, and since regulation sets the boundaries of the playing field, one cannot look at only Porter’s five forces to accurately describe a competitive setting

Over the subsequent two decades, scofflaws, aided by technological advances, have spurred disruptive innovation at a staggering pace. Regulation, viewed in Porter’s earlier works as of little competitive concern, is now at the heart of the matter.

Unsurprisingly, incumbents in the industries under assault don’t go down without a fight. Instead, they turn to the weapons that helped structure an industry in their favor in the first place. What they desperately want is inertia. They want the object at rest to stay at rest. It’s not that they are anti-innovation. They are anti-cataclysm.

The rules that built the industries were often designed to protect consumers from the risks posed by asymmetric information, monopoly power, or utter disdain for their well being. Certainly, some regulation was over-done or even wrong-headed. But, for the most part, the rules provided a safer, fairer marketplace.

Companies worked hard to shape regulations in ways that would not disadvantage them relative to competitors. If possible, advantages were sought. In the end, some equilibrium was reached—a set of boundaries within which Clay Christenson’s “sustaining innovation” could emerge, but where discontinuous change was unusual. Investments under these circumstances could be made with less risk. Profits were more predictable. Management approaches and organizational structures emerged to reliably turn out like quality products and services at standard costs.

Competing and prospering wasn’t easy, of course. But the rules of the game were better understood.

Over time, technology was adopted by incumbent competitors creating mainly marginal improvement at the customer level and to generate more profound impacts through internal efficiency. The spoils of these gains benefited the owners of the most powerful firms, at least until all the majors adopted the same, basic approaches.

Then, in the 1990s, technology not only advanced in power. It simultaneously rapidly decreased in cost. The competitive world became a bit more egalitarian.

What was the impact? What IS the impact?

  • Information asymmetry has become information transparency.
  • Monopoly power is shaken by upstarts.
  • Consumers’ well being relies more on individual diligence than government paternalism.

What emerges?

  • Medallioned taxis challenged by on-demand rides from Uber and Lyft.
  • The local record shop upended by file sharing and the iTunes Store.
  • The Bell System (once serving jacks in the wall) replaced by Apple and Samsung in collaboration with Verizon Wireless, Virgin, and Sprint serving customers who no longer use wire-line telephony.
  • Hotels challenged by homeowners and apartment dwellers renting their accommodations by the night through Airbnb.

Even old-line businesses like automobile manufacturing and sales are impacted. Tesla, the darling of the eco-friendly and growth investors alike, has run straight into incumbent protectionism. The company wishes to do what other successful companies have done of late—sell its innovative products directly to consumers. Yes, I know. Crazy talk.

The problem isn’t that selling products to consumers directly is at all radical. The most successful retail innovation of the last decade is, arguably, the (vertically integrated) Apple Store, known at once for terrific customer service and outstanding warranty support. The issue is that existing auto dealers are attempting to protect their business model from cataclysm. They fear, with good reason, that antiquated automobile consumer protection approaches, if shown unnecessary (or even inefficient: see http://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/advocacy_documents/ftc-staff-comment-missouri-house-representatives-regarding-house-bill-1124-which-would-expand/140515mo-autoadvocacy.pdf ), would lead to the unraveling of the entire distribution system on which their model relies.

So, instead of competing through their own innovation, automobile dealers are seeking legal and legislative intervention to secure the rents they earn from an industry historically protected by government action.

What makes these challenges troubling to incumbents is that consumers are demonstrating demand for the upstarts’ models in droves. The writing is on the wall. Industry dynamics are in flux. Regulation provides only fleeting refuge. Sooner or later, that old, warm, protective blanket will give way. And, it should. In a market economy, protecting industries’ sunk costs of adhering to outdated regulation is inefficient and anti-progress. Ironically, in these situations some measured phase out of regulation is actually supportive of consumer interests.

The problem for incumbents is that their market strength insulates them from upstarts for quite some time. Why is this a problem? Because the upstarts’ growing consumer support sneaks up on industry stalwarts. By the time incumbents realize that they face real threats, their ability to effectively respond is impaired. Too little is able to be done too late. And, like many telcos and record labels, the incumbents wither.

Whether regulation should have been included in Porter’s “forces” from the beginning is an open question. What is indisputable is that companies who continue to overly rely on regulation instead of their own innovation to secure their competitive position are running a substantial risk.

To learn what three industries are primed to be disrupted next, check back for the next post to this column.

View this article on LinkedIn here.

Coffitivity Named a Top 100 Website for 2013 by PC Mag


Coffitivity 
Do you seek peace and quiet to get work done? In this day and age, that’s doubtful. Some need white noise, some need music, some need gentle rain—but real workaholics need the thrum of life from a well-run and attended coffee shop full of customers. Coffitivity offers that sound on a loop, with different versions for morning, lunch time, and university shops. There are mobile and Mac desktop apps so you can take the noise with you if you’re not online.

80amps Partner on Forbes’ Top 30 Under 30 List

Our own Charles Merritt was included in Forbes magazine Top 30 under 30, a tally of the brightest stars in 15 different fields under the age of 30.

Charles Merritt, 28, Partner, 80amps

“Partner at 80amps, a company that assists startups by providing a combination of seed capital and professional services in exchange for a stake in the company. He has implemented marketing strategies at Kayak.com and Jetsetter.com that fueled growth at each firm. He has also served as a video producer, managing video journalists for an online media startup.”

80 Amps: Jump Starting New Businesses

80amps2-300x114GRID Magazine’s feature article on 80amps:

Richmond is well-rounded. Within the city limits there are nationally ranked academic programs in arts and advertising, Fortune 500 companies, top-tier branding agencies, and a growing entrepreneurial ecosystem. That’s why it’s no surprise that the unique mash-up of creative and business in Richmond is exactly what prompted an impressive group of partners to found 80amps.

Simply put, 80amps builds companies. In 2011 when Richmond natives Eric Martin and Charles Merritt began working together, they talked constantly about how early-stage companies with strong brands have advantages in the marketplace. At the time, Merritt had just left the New York City tech startup scene for the VCU Brandcenter, and Martin, a Harvard M.B.A. and entrepreneur, was co-directing the Entrepreneurship Center at UVA and running his Richmond-based consulting firm Boost Partners. With the addition of Denton Freeman, a fashion designer with a background (and Ph.D.) in immunotoxicology, and Brendan Richardson, another entrepreneur and co-director alongside Martin at UVA, the team began exploring the gaps between creative advertising and business.

ERIC MARTIN CHOSEN AS RETAIL MERCHANTS EXPO SPEAKER

Eric Martin;
Eric Martin, Founding Partner and CEO of 80amps
Topic: Branding from the Outside In: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What THEY Think

The Expo Luncheon speaker is Eric Martin, co-founder of 80amps, the RIchmond-based incubator he started with the Martin Agency, one of the country’s top advertising agencies. Eric provides new venture guidance the the Martin Agency and a host of local and national startups. Eric will talk about the ways in which Customer Experience (“Cx”) is build, why it matters so much in the age of information transparency, and how to gauge if your Cx is driving brand value. (Click to download the 80amps/Boost Cx Growth Inventory.

As a professor of entrepreneurship and innovation at the University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce, Eric co-founded the Galant Center for Entrepreneurship. He has also lectured at VCU’s Brandcenter on driving wealth creation through creativity. Currently, Eric advises clients throughout the country on issues of corporate growth, product development, and innovation through his firm, Boost Partners. Eric’s 20-year career includes successful operating experience as an entrepreneur, chief executive, strategist, and change agent.

The Coffitivity team is cranking out a new design late on a Saturday afternoon.

Working on the Weekend

There’s not really a nine-to-five day when you’re starting a company. From projects that take years of nights and weekends to teams racing against their funding clocks, things just have to get done.  From the outside, it is insane that anyone would live this way, but the feeling when you get your first visitor, user, or customer quickly counteracts exhaustion.

Just ask the team from Coffitivity. Little did they expect their site, built after the founders read a scholarly article suggesting that people are more creative in environments with some ambient noise, would become an international sensation. Since it went viral globally, they’ve spent most of their odd hours working on how to up the experience for their users.

This Saturday is no different.

The 80amps Manifesto

What we believe:

80amps is an optimistic place.
Where others see challenges, we see opportunities. When others are frustrated, we are motivated. Presented with problems, we seek answers.

In the last 20 years, a new age of entrepreneurial activity emerged. Fueled by technological advances in consumer electronics and the internet, everything digital has exploded with endless possibility.

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