Most of us in the startup world know about prestigious startup accelerators like Y Combinator, TechStars and 500 Startups. (If you haven’t, read this ). But you may not be familiar with Expa. You won’t find it on lists of top accelerators. That’s because it says on its website, “we’re not an ‘incubator’, and not a VC.”
Yet it does serve a very similar function to an incubator. “We help companies avoid common pitfalls in early-stage ventures, and actively remove roadblocks along the way,” the Expa website says. That sounds a whole lot like an incubator, or accelerator.
Regardless, what’s notable about Expa is that it’s run by some pretty heavy hitters in the startup world. It was founded in 2013 by Garrett Camp, co-founder of Uber and StumbleUpon. Then Camp was joined by Hooman Radfar (Founder of AddThis) & Naveen Selvadurai, co-founder of Foursquare, among other top talents from Google, LinkedIn and Twitter. And Expa’s list of investors has a number of business celebrities on it, including Richard Branson, Meg Whitman and Tim Ferriss, author of “The 4-hour Workweek.”
In 2014, Expa raised $50 million from these individuals, among others, including Camp himself, WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg and Behance founder Scott Belsky. Institutional investment came First Round Capital, Sherpa Ventures, and Lerer Ventures, among others.
Camp’s goal with Expa, according to a TechCrunch story from 2014, was to create new companies from scratch using lessons and techniques he had learned from his past companies. He called Expa a “startup studio,” perhaps because most of the company’s startups were based on ideas that came from its own staff of then about 20 entrepreneurs. While the bulk of ideas still come from Expa’s staff, divided between among offices in New York, San Francisco and Vancouver, Expa has expanded its scope. In 2016, it launched Expa Labs, a six-month program for early stage companies. Whatever you want to call it – incubator, accelerator, studio – it’s a fantastic opportunity for founders of early stage startups to learn from the best.
Selected startups receive a $250,000 or $500,000 equity investment, and founders are offered office space in any of Expa’s three offices. “We don’t just fund your company, we help you build it,” the Expa website reads. It also says, regarding Expa Labs, “we select a handful of outstanding teams to work alongside us.” And when they say “handful,” they really mean it. In the first 2016 Expa Labs class of startups, from more than 500 applications, they chose six companies.
Three in New York:
Three in San Francisco:
Chalet – a new take on property management that owners and renters love.
Promote – a platform for in-feed advertising support for consumer web companies.
Ninayo – a digital marketplace for agriculture in Sub Saharan Africa.
Expa doesn’t care about volume. In fact, less is more, it seems. In the second year (and class) of Expa Labs, the number of applications doubled to more than 1,000 and the number of selected startups dropped. Just five companies were accepted this year. Here is the extremely select group of startups chosen by Expa Labs:
Interseller – Simplifies making contact with new business prospects.
Merlin Guides – Magically simple employee training.
NextGig – Actionable information about companies in your professional network.
Sleeperbot – Messaging for sports fans.
SuperHi – Teaches people to code and create websites from scratch through an online 8-week course. A stealth neural training company.
Some companies that were developed internally at Expa include:
Current – Debit cards for teens.
Haus – An open and fair real estate platform.
Mix – Social media platform connecting the curious and creative.
Ando – Food designed for delivery.