In the wake of nixing two key executives, Tech Wildcatters has spent the last week quietly communicating and reassuring dozens of its investors that the accelerator is still on target for growth.
“The message has been clarified,” said CEO Gabriella Draney Zielke, adding that she’s called or met with 40 investors in the last week and expects to meet with another 20 in the near future. “They’re all business owners and leaders themselves, so they know sometimes you have to make a tough call.
The reassurances began after the early stage accelerator program eliminated the jobs of Executive Director Molly Cain and Chief Revenue Officer Clarisa Lindenmeyer. The news hit investors and advocates’ inboxes in the form of an email from Cain, who announced the elimination of her job. Tech Wildcatters released a statement to its Rolodex a day later, as rumors swirled.
Draney Zielke said the move was purely a business decision aiming to restructure Tech Wildcatters to function more like a startup and less like a corporation. Draney Zielke and Chief Operations Officer Robert Brevelle felt the best way to do that was to eliminate the middle management level. The move caused some commotion in the startup community, with critics suggesting instability for the program.
“There’s still a lot of concern,” said Dennis Dayman, a Tech Wildcatters mentor who invested in the program’s first fund. “You’ve fired the winning team.”
Dayman pulled out of investing in the accelerator after his first year, choosing instead to invest in individual companies. He said that even a week after the change occurred, some investors, startups tied to the accelerator, and mentors are still unclear about the Wildcatters’ direction.
Others feel comfortable with the leadership team and don’t assume there will be many damaging ramifications, if any at all.
“Over time organizations have changes in their executive teams—it should not come as news to anybody,” said Gil Marmol, who has invested in Tech Wildcatters for several years. “In this particular case, I think there was a little bit of noise around the announcement.
“Some of the associated theatrics got people’s attention.”
Draney Zielke said she’s not worried about the rumors, only about the organization’s growth as she returns to helping manage the day-to-day dealings of Tech Wildcatters.
Tech Wildcatters is moving forward with what it refers to as the next generation of its accelerator program, The Gauntlet.
The program has expanded its headquarters, hired a program manager and administrative assistant, migrated its teams to a new software platform, and is in the process of adding an entrepreneur in residence. It’s also meeting with accelerators outside of Dallas to launch a Gauntlet model methodology program.
“We’re not shrinking we’re growing,” Draney Zielke said. “This is completely about making sure we have the right structure for larger growth.”
Steven Gehfeld joins the team taking the newly created post of program manager, effective July 4. Gehfeld, who has served Tech Wildcatters as a mentor for the past few months, has held project management and technical leadership posts at Ericsson, Versacom, and URS Corp. He will oversee projects focused on growth, scalability and improving the organization’s new model. Tech Wildcatters appointed former intern Carolina Pelusch da Silva as its administrative assistant, effective July 25.
The accelerator also is adding an extra 4,000 square feet to its headquarters, which will occupy the entire second and third floors, or 18,000 square feet, of Alto 211. The space is expected to include more than 20 offices for program alumni, corporate partners, mentors, and sponsors; a Turkish coffee bar; and conference rooms.
Meanwhile, Draney Zielke has been connecting with other accelerators as she explores the possibility of offering a service that would provide them with support for The Gauntlet methodology. If launched, the program would serve as an additional revenue stream.
The program also introduced a software platform that should improve communications and track progress better, Draney Zielke said. Tech Wildcatters expects to announce the hire an entrepreneur in in the near future.
Mark Clark, a mentor at Tech Wildcatters, said he’s still on the fence about how everything will play out. Clark has been involved with the organization for four years.
“It’s only been a week so it’s really hard to say anything significant is going to happen,” Clark said. “I think time’s going to have to tell.”
Tech Wildcatters has had seven funds since its first class in 2010. The first fund provided a return to investors, with help from KeyRing, which was purchased by Gannett for an undisclosed amount in 2012. The program is still tracking its other funds, Draney Zielke said.