Another entrepreneur introduced Lloyd to AlphaLab, a Pittsburgh-based small business accelerator. An accelerator generally includes a group of investors who help expedite the start-up or expansion of a company. In exchange for 3% equity in his company, AlphaLab provided Lloyd with six months of free office space in Pittsburgh, access to software consultants, and $25,000 from AlphaLab’s parent company Innovation Works.
So far, an estimated $400,000 in money and services has been invested into Skill-Life. Of that only $10,000 came from Lloyd’s personal funds. Although he has never had to take out a bank loan, 27% of Skill-Life equity will be distributed among investors and employees. He owns 43% of the equity and his wife owns 30%.
His first client, a Pittsburgh public radio station, paid Lloyd $3,000 to give 600 students access to CentsCity, his online game that launched this month. Lloyd’s accomplishment can be duplicated. If your business budget won’t stretch far enough, use these three steps as a road map to finding and efficiently utilizing pro bono and skills-based volunteer services.
Do your homework. Not every pro bono provider is going to be the right fit for your start up. “The single most important thing that we are looking for are people that have a clear picture of what they need and how our skills will fit with their needs to develop,â€ says Gaute Ellingsen, an MBA student and vice president of clients at the Small Business Consulting Program at Columbia Business School.
Doing research on what kind of services each kind of pro bono organizations offers will pay off because it will enable you to tailor your requests to what is most beneficial to you and also to the priorities that the pro bono organizations have.
Network, network, network. Existing relationships (with investors, supporters, or friends) can open doors to different pro bono services.
Through an acquaintance, Lloyd learned that Pittsburgh had a strong technology community. At AlphaLab Lloyd shared ideas with his peers and he gained exposure to the breadth of Pittsburgh’s entrepreneurial, investment, and software expertise.