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A student pictured presenting to small seated group for Bronco Venture Accelerator

A student pictured presenting to small seated group for Bronco Venture Accelerator

Bronco Venture Accelerator Gains Steam

An ambitious campus accelerator aims to help 12 Bronco startups become growing businesses.

If Tom Harrison ’15 has his way, millions of people will soon own a credit card that will reward their spending not with airline miles or gas discounts, but with the volatile cryptocurrency Bitcoin.

Harrison, who majored in finance at Santa Clara University, is co-founder of Blockrize, a startup that aims to make its Bitcoin-rewards card a low-risk way for Bitcoin-curious consumers to invest in the hugely popular -- albeit highly risky -- cryptocurrency arena.

“We thought it was a clever way to enter this space,” said Harrison, one of 12 startup leaders selected to be part of the inaugural cohort of the Bronco Venture Accelerator, part of the new Ciocca Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at SCU.

The Accelerator invites startups run by people affiliated with SCU — the cohort currently includes students, alumni, and even two faculty — to apply to receive five months of weekly hands-on workshops, mentoring sessions, and $10,000 for business capital. In November, they will hold Demo Day, where Harrison and 11 others will pitch their ideas to Silicon Valley venture capitalists and angel investors.

Other similar university-based accelerators have succeeded in turning seedling companies into job-creating, growing companies. They include Stanford University’s eight-year-old StartX, which has nurtured more than 700 startups with a combined current valuation of over $19 billion, and UC Berkeley’s SkyDeck, whose alumni startups have raised over $1 billion in funding.

SCU’s leadership has high expectations for Santa Clara’s accelerator to become a network and resource for aspiring Bronco entrepreneurs. They see the Bronco Venture Accelerator as differentiated by its grounding in Jesuit values as well as an alumni base that is extremely generous about helping other Broncos.

“One thing I’ve come to realize more and more since graduating from Santa Clara is there are a lot of talented and highly experienced alumni” running startups, said Harrison. “And a lot of them are willing to help and guide younger alumni.”

One such alumna is Allison Kopf ’11, who was introduced to Harrison through SCU’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (now called Ciocca Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship). The winner of the famed TechCrunch Disrupt Startup Battlefield in 2015, Kopf started an agricultural data-analysis company and recommended her former chief technology officer, Jason Camp, to be Blockrize’s CTO.

The Bronco Venture Accelerator is still working out some kinks, says its founder and director Morgan Slain, a former media and technology executive and venture capitalist.

A larger dedicated space would be nice, for starters. Currently, the group occupies the third floor of Guadalupe Hall, but if San Jose approves the conversion of some SCU-owned industrial land across from campus to mixed-use housing and business usage, Accelerator members hope to be able to occupy more than 20,000 square feet of space.

Other businesses that are part of the Bronco Venture Accelerator’s inaugural cohort are:

  • BeemaBroker: a faster, cheaper, and easier way for millennial startup founders and small business owners to buy insurance (Malika Mission ’17)
  • Dash Suite: a web marketing platform to streamline the digital advertising process for businesses and creators (Kyle Jiang ’20)
  • GluMo: a tool that checks a person’s blood glucose level painlessly (lecturer Navid Shaghaghi ’14)
  • Hopthru: a mobile platform that enables people to use their phones as passes for public transit (Cole Calhoun ’16)
  • Launch Your Career: empowering college students to land dream internships and jobs (lecturer Sean O’Keefe ’08)
  • Life Motion: artificial-intelligence (AI) enabled coaching to enhance personal fitness (Jak Kitts ’20)
  • ParStar: an educational tech platform to boost in-class engagement by changing the lecture experience and providing lecturers with new tools to manage their class (Lucas Negritto ’22)
  • QuestionCrunch: crunches natural language questions into short answers with AI (Licheng Xiao ’23)
  • RoboTire: uses robots and software to change tires and perform other routine service for current and future vehicles (Victor Darolfi ’13)
  • Wificoin: an Uber-like sharing economy for WiFi access (Suruchi Gupta ’14)
  • ZEITRO: an intelligent mortgage broker that aims to change how people buy mortgages (Bochen Wang ’18)

More information on Bronco Venture Accelerator is available online.


Photo by Adam Hays