Following the fall 2011 pitch competition, Distilled Intelligence 1.0 (DI 1.0), Fortify Ventures conceived of an idea to open a tech startup accelerator, The Fort, in Washington, D.C. The doors to The Fort were officially opened in January 2012 and they welcomed an inaugural class of 12 relatively unknown startups.
Among these first companies were Social Tables, Hinge, CoFoundersLab, Synapsify, Venga, Forensic Innovations (now FID3), and Uppidy. They were successful, and The Fort then opened their second class of five companies in January 2013, not long after DI 2.0 finished.
But on December 31, 2013 The Fort consciously decided to close their doors. A lot of people wanted to know why, but we wanted to know what the next move would be. Jonathon Perrelli graciously gave us a behind-the-scenes view of it all.
Tech Cocktail: You mentioned that you never wanted to run an accelerator, but you ended up running The Fort nonetheless. What led you to the The Fort in the first place?
Jonathon Perrelli: There were very few accelerators around the country in 2011, and the DC area needed an early-stage program based in a startup-friendly setting. The stars aligned for it to happen—the DC Government offered financial support, the DC Tech ecosystem was behind us, and we received a fortunate call from a commercial real estate broker. The Fort was born.
Tech Cocktail: How are people reacting to The Fort closing?
Perrelli: Responses have been overwhelmingly positive and supportive. Applicants have continued to reach out requesting mentorship and recommendations for other programs, startups we have met along the way have thanked us for the time and effort we’ve invested in the tech ecosystem, and accelerators from around the country have reached out for support and guidance.
There have been a few negative reactions to our decision, and the negative generally turns to understanding when we’ve had the opportunity to discuss the “why’s.”
Tech Cocktail: You said that The Fort was closed based on two facts. One, you wanted to be a VC fund first. Two, there were other accelerators open. What benefits to being a VC firm first did you see?
Perrelli: We believe that when our time is spent on our passions, the odds of achieving both happiness and success increase significantly. The goal of Fortify Ventures has always been investing in and supporting early-stage and emerging tech companies, and it is what we enjoy doing the most.
When we launched The Fort, there were about 100 accelerators in the U.S. That number grew to greater than 2,000 last year, and the economics made it make more sense to work with this growing base of accelerators than to operate our own.
Our passion is investing in and working closely with the companies. The uptick in passionate accelerators gave us comfort that we could sunset that aspect of our business and focus the piece of the process that we love the most and that also supports our fund investment thesis.
Tech Cocktail: So, we’re all wondering – what’s the next move?
Perrelli: Fortify will evolve to invest in both early- and later-stage companies. Currently, my time is focused on inspiring entrepreneurs globally to understand what founding and operating a startup is really all about.
I would love to encourage innovators to take their first steps as founders, and to discourage wantrapreneurs to not engage in entrepreneurship if they are doing it for the wrong reasons and/or unable to stomach the risk and the lifestyle. I am also co-producing “startupland,” a documentary web series that highlights the struggles and triumphs of early-stage companies to help achieve this goal.
Startupland was created to inspire and educate entrepreneurs globally. The series provides an authentic portrayal of the five founders from our most recent and final class at The Fort. Startup life is not easy but many of us choose the path based on our passion to have a positive impact on our community and the world—and that’s the path that Fortify Ventures will continue to evolve around and support.