The SMB InnoLoft is located at our Waltham, Massachusetts office and is the home of a new program designed to support entrepreneurs as they solve problems for small businesses through the development of new products, features, and services.
This week, I sat down with Andy Miller, chief innovation architect here at Constant Contact to talk about the program. I also had the chance to speak with Tammy Kahn Fennell, co-founder and CEO of MarketMeSuite, which has been participating in the pilot of the Small Business Innovation Program throughout January.
Here’s what they had to say:
What is the SMB Innovation program?
The SMB Innovation program is designed to bring in three to five external startups to work side-by-side with the Constant Contact Innovation Team. They don’t need to be all technology companies, but they need to be focused on projects that we believe will provide real value for small businesses.
How did the idea for the SMB Innovation Program come about?
When we started the Constant Contact Innovation Team about a year ago, we had some pretty lofty goals. We had a lot of projects we wanted to tackle, and essentially wanted these projects to function as startups within Constant Contact.
What we quickly realized is that there was this insatiable demand for our services throughout the organization, which was great because it was producing this cultural change in how we do things and really helping to drive innovation, but it was becoming difficult for us to do the startup piece.
So to drive throughput and support the growing number of startup ideas running through Constant Contact’s DNA, we decided to launch this program where we could open it up to third parties and bring these startups in to work alongside us. Some may have synergy with our internal startups and others amongst themselves.
We’ve already seen this with, MarketMeSuite, which is the startup that participated in our pilot program. We have another company that’s coming in February and we asked them to come in early so these two companies could get to know each other. Over lunch it turned into a discussion between two CEOs about how one company was able to do something that the other couldn’t and right away, meaningful discussions were taking place.
So the idea was to foster open innovation, period. Having these startups at Constant Contact, will push us to be better and will bring new ideas for how we can solve problems for the small business community.
What makes the SMB Innovation program different from other programs that might already be out there?
When you think of the great business incubators programs that are out there, they all tend to be much earlier in the process. So, you can go to these programs with just an idea and they do an awesome job at bringing members in and they help you vet your idea. They also help you figure out your value proposition and get funding.
We want to pick up from that point. We don’t want to be an incubator, but more of an accelerator.
There are very few accelerator programs that do not take an equity stake in your company. There are some — IMB or American Airlines come to mind —but where we are different is to the best of our knowledge, we’re the only one out there focused one hundred percent on the small business community.
So if you’re a startup and you’re focused on the small business community, we want this to be the first and only place you think about going. We have in-depth knowledge of how small businesses work and think, and have been working in that space for quite some time.
We are in a great position to help these startups — that have a product in market — figure out the product market fit and help them scale their business. At the same time we can create value for the small business community and even our current customers.
If someone is interested in being part of this program, what are the steps they would need to take?
Right now we have a site launched that enables startups to submit their contact information and we will be reaching back out to them. Very shortly we will have an application process live on the site.
It’s as simple as filling out a few questions. We’re also going to ask people to submit a video. We’ll want to know why you want to be part of this, what you do, and all that good stuff.
We’ll be accepting applications through the end of March and then we will bring in a small panel of judges — which will include external judges as well — who will go through the videos and pick our first class.
Assuming we have a great turnout, we will probably invite our top applicants to come in and present to the panel live, and from there we will pick our top three to five companies to participate in the program.
We expect to announce our first class in the May – June timeframe with residency starting in the summer.
Tammy Kahn Fennell, co-founder and CEO of MarketMeSuite shared her experience:
Constant Contact’s Small Business Innovation program provides support, mentoring, space and resources to help early stage startups develop products and services to solve the needs of small business. I can’t think of a company better placed to assist startups and entrepreneurs in the SMB space. After all, Constant Contact itself had humble beginnings in an attic in Brookline, MA. Who better to learn from than a company that has been there, has overcome challenges along the way and has emerged as a recognized and lauded leader.
We set out with a goal of building an integration, one that we’d be planning for a while, but knowing that being on the inside with access to all the right people would make it that much easier. And I have to say, everyone at Constant Contact has gone above and beyond to make us feel welcome.
The Innovation Team made it possible for us to meet with people from, not only the API team, but also Solution Provider, Go-To-Market, Product Development, Marketing and more. Everyone including Gail Goodman, Constant Contact’s CEO, took a real interest in MarketMeSuite, our product, the integration and in who we are as a company. I can easily say that any expectations we had were far exceeded by reality.
Our time at Constant Contact has been amazing and, as we leave, we do so with the highly useful integration we set out to create, the support of Constant Contact, and many new friends and colleagues.
Interested in participating in the SMB Innovation Program? Visit smbinnloft.com to learn more.