When Pablo Casilimas gave his girlfriend, a travel nurse, a list of cities he would prefer to live in, he put Seattle near the top, lured by the city’s tech and startup ecosystem.
Now he’s getting a taste of the Emerald City.
Casilimas is the co-founder of OneSixOne Ventures, a Gainesville, Fla.-based virtual accelerator and fund that launched in the summer of 2020. He has been in Seattle since February, networking with founders and investors.
OneSixOne’s accelerator has hosted more than 40 startups that have raised more than $12 million collectively from investors, including OneSixOne.
Casilimas will be in Seattle through this summer. We caught up with him to talk more about why he is here, the differences between the Florida and Seattle startup ecosystem, what he looks for in startups, the first startup he worked with, and the benefits of joining a Florida-based accelerator. The conversation was edited for brevity and clarity.
GeekWire: Gainesville is a long way away from Seattle. What brings you here? And are you scouting any startups for your accelerator program?
Casilimas: One of the reasons that I came out here was for the tech ecosystem. I think a lot of people don’t realize that Seattle is definitely one of the top five [ecosystems], if not one of the top in the country. Part of the trip is to connect with more investors so we can have more value-add for our founders that we’re working with. Basically, anything we can do to help them raise capital is adding value to our accelerator program and adding value to us and our network.
And then, of course, founders. We are geographically agnostic. So, any founders that we meet around here that might be a good fit, we can absolutely invest in this ecosystem as well.
What are some of the key differences between the Florida startup ecosystem versus the Pacific Northwest? What makes them similar?
The thing about Florida is that we’ve got all these cities that are pretty spread out, such as Miami and Tampa, which are two to four hours of a drive apart. Gainesville, obviously, is in a smaller ecosystem, but it is one of the biggest funnels for talent because it has the University of Florida, and that’s about a five-hour drive from south Florida and Miami. But I think one of the most fundamental differences is just the way Washington is laid out. Everything is within an hour of Seattle. It’s one centralized tech hub with a lot more going on. But, in both ecosystems, there are a lot of people who are really nice and open to take in outsiders.
What do you look for in the startups you work with?
There’s three factors, and I think every venture firm would say the same thing. It’s the founding team, the market and the product. For us, the founding team is the most important, then the market and then the product. What we look for in the founding team is coachability. Then one of the biggest things we look for is: why are they doing this? Are they doing this to make money, or do they want to solve a big problem? Are they following an experience or something that their family experienced? That’s actually how we made our first investment.
Tell us about that first investment.
We were friends with the founder for years, and then we started the accelerator program.The founder actually participated in our first cohort ever in summer 2020. It’s a company called Ease Alert. It’s basically a smart pre-warning system for first responders.
Blake, one of the founders, started doing research and digging and found that the leading cause of on-the-duty deaths in the fire service is actually a heart attack. That’s why he started Ease Alert, which basically gives first responders a pre-alert before the actual tones go off in the station. It allows firefighters to ease into it instead of being startled.
For him, he was doing it because his father was a firefighter. He wanted to do something to help make that burden a little bit less and to help make the job a little bit less stressful for his father and other first responders. And so for us, that was a really compelling story.
Sell me on the idea of spending 10 weeks with a virtual accelerator based in Florida. Why now?
I think it’s important to look at our track record. We are now about to finish our fifth cohort. And with those cohorts, we’ve helped more than 40 companies and we’ve helped those companies raise over $12 million. On the other hand, we’ve got OneSixOne Ventures Managing Partner Justis Mendez and I. We may not be founders who had billion-dollar exits, but we are willing to hustle for our companies. And we treat our accelerator and our fund as a startup itself. We consider ourselves startup founders.
If I was a startup in Seattle looking to join an accelerator program, what are some of the geographic benefits of getting into the Florida network?
For one, they’re able to raise capital from an outside ecosystem. Sometimes it may be tough in your current ecosystem to get in front of people because there’s already established players. Those people are set in their ways. There’s another value-add from Miami being one of the fastest growing tech hubs, and you’ll be able to tap into that. If it makes sense for the founder, we can help open up some doors for them to get plugged in.
You attended the Acquired podcast show at Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle. What stood out to you the most?
Casilimas: Being from Gainesville, which is a college town with a very tight-knit community, I’ve never been to a tech event at an arena like that. Everybody there was building something. And the people who were not are working at companies and thinking about making their next move. Of course, there were also VCs and angels. Just being surrounded by so much of that was so exciting and refreshing.
I would say my favorite of the three sessions was the second with Anu Hariharan, who is a partner at Y Combinator’s Continuity Fund. I think I’m biased, but it was my favorite because we actually modeled our accelerator after Y Combinator. We’ve watched hundreds of hours of their content, studying Paul Graham’s essays. So, for me, that was the one I engaged with the most.