The warp and weft of Saeed Amidi’s family story — transitioning from Iranian immigrants fleeing revolution in the 1970s to running a multi-million-dollar global family office and a vast technology accelerator network — is one that could only have been woven in Silicon Valley.
It’s been nearly 30 years since Amidi’s family bought the building at 165 University Avenue in Palo Alto, Calif., which catapulted the family from selling high-end rugs to Silicon Valley’s investors and entrepreneurs to joining those investors at the heart of the Valley’s technology scene.
The multi-use office building whose second floor overlooks University Avenue has an allure in part because of the litany of successful technology companies that once called it home. Google was there in its infancy, along with PayPal — an early investment for Amidi — and Logitech, which called the building home in the early days following its move from Switzerland.
That purchase also was the seed for Amidi’s foray into technology accelerators. Amidi launched the first Plug And Play in Sunnyvale, Calif., in 2006, and the venture has blossomed into an increasingly global network of technology accelerators that now includes São Paulo in addition to spaces in Berlin, Calgary, Moscow, San Diego, Singapore, Sunnyvale, Valencia, Spain and Vancouver.
“There are an incredible amount of smart people in Europe and Brazil and they have a lack of experienced startups like Paypal, Google, or Dropbox,” said Amidi. “We really feel the accelerator in Brazil or in Berlin will play a much bigger role in the development of the entrepreneurial community…. We feel we have a much bigger impact with our startups from overseas.”
Late last month, the startup accelerator program crowned its latest batch of winners from its demo day in Sunnyvale. The list included Goji, a smart lock developer; Shippo, an API that eases the shipping process for online stores; and Altitude, a stealthy software company that uses a Bluetooth low energy identity system to authenticate and process travelers as they approach touch-points such as hotel check-ins.
Unlike its program in the U.S., the accelerators that Plug And Play operates in Berlin and São Paulo are joint ventures with corporate — traditionally media — partners. Abril, Plug And Play’s partner in Brazil, is one of the nation’s largest publishers. While Axel Springer is a dominant media conglomerate in Germany.
In all, the various Plug And Play accelerators have 150 portfolio companies globally, and several companies have gone on to raise subsequent rounds of capital.
In the U.S. Plug And Play’s strategy has been to partner with several corporations and concentrate its portfolio companies’ efforts on working with those partners around specific technologies.
For instance, the company recently launched a retail-focused program alongside a new Bitcoin accelerator. Amidi traces the partnership initiatives back to 2011, when Plug And Play began working with Volkswagen to introduce the German conglomerate to startups focused on auto-related technologies.
Other corporations embraced the idea, and Plug And Play’s partners now include an undisclosed insurance company in an insurance-focused accelerator track, and roughly 10 other auto-related corporations have inked deals with Plug And Play around its vehicle initiatives.
The new retail accelerator launched eight months ago, and will follow a similar road map, with an inner circle of “anchor” partners, and an ancillary group of relevant retailers and brands. The Plug And Play fund will invest in 20 to 30 startups in the retail accelerator, according to Plug And Play.
For a group of another 40 corporations, Plug And Play holds private startup introduction sessions on a bi-monthly basis — and for a fee. The firm said the idea was to provide an in-depth look at the early-stage companies from the 24 countries, 30 universities and in venture capital and angel investors’ portfolios. Corporations also sponsor events in addition to the work they do with accelerators.