Fluent: A new approach to supporting startups

After working closely with startups and founders for two years as the Managing Director of NMotion, a startup accelerator in Lincoln, Beth McKeon came to the conclusion that the entire startup support industry needed to evolve.

So in 2018, she founded Fluent.

Fluent is self-described as an “entrepreneurial training R&D lab for community-based startup programs.”

“I started Fluent with the hypothesis that organizations like NMotion needed ways to help founders in more comprehensive ways,” McKeon said. “And I explored some of those ideas while in Nebraska but I really wanted to see what it looks like in other regions and running tests with more founders than just one cohort a year. I spent all of 2018 working with accelerators and communities all over the country. That experience really informed the evolution of the business to what it is today.”

Before working at NMotion, McKeon founded Kids Calendar, a local resource guide for parents that shows events and programs, classes and local services. Kids Calendar was one of ten companies to take part in the 2014 Iowa Startup Accelerator.

Fluent helps accelerators, incubators, coworking spaces and university programs by offering development, coaching and workshops for startup founders and entrepreneurs.

Fluent has also developed a new diagnostic tool that helps measure startup progress and risk called Fluency Score. The Fluency Score measures and evaluates startup progress by determining eligibility for investment, access to community sources and potential return on investment.

“When a community partners with Fluent what they get is the ability to keep their systems and their structures, but within that, they can work with Fluent to provide this much more comprehensive founder training and support,” McKeon said. “We make it possible for communities to support founders year-round in a really personalize, hyper-targeted way. That way founders aren’t sitting through workshops they don’t need, they’re getting exactly what they need when they need it.”

Keevin O’Rourke recently joined the Fluent team after spending the last 18 months working with accelerators around the world at the Global Accelerator Network in Denver. O’Rourke served as Program Manager of NMotion and is also a graduate of the Iowa Startup Accelerator.

“I’ve had the opportunity to see how accelerators are thinking about the world and operating. I’ve also had the opportunity to hear some of the challenges they face, some of which can be pretty pervasive,” O’Rourke said.

“The reality is that founders need help year round and they need really specific help for the challenges of the stage of their business at a current moment in time,” McKeon added. “There’s plenty of accelerators that can pull applicants from all over the world. But what we’re interested in at Fluent is ‘what does it look like for a community to support their local founders and make it possible for them to be successful.'”

Starting this summer, the University of Northern Iowa’s student accelerator will be teaming up with Fluent.

“I’m actually a graduate of UNI which makes this parntership a little bit more special,” O’Rourke said. “I think UNI faces a similar problem that a lot of these communities face. They have limited resources and they know their capabilities and what they want founder to get out of the program.”

In addition to starting Fluent, McKeon also wrote a book where she covers major challenges that startup communities face around the country. The book, 10 out of 10, is set to release this spring. You can download the first chapter here.