Sherpa Foundry casts a wider net, hoping to catch customers abroad


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Sherpa Foundry — a three-year-old, San Francisco-based group that’s among a growing number of outfits to help older and non-tech companies better understand how tech startups might help them — is looking to fold in some new customers. It anticipates a growing number of them will come from overseas, too.

While Sherpa Foundry launched with four corporate partners — Condé Nast, Salesforce, DreamWorks, and eBay — CEO Neal Hansch tells us the firm recently added a “leading European telco,” to its customer roster and that it’s also talking with a Middle Eastern shopping mall company. (It also added an unnamed “top five U.S. retailer,” he notes. The firm says it plans to reveal these new customers shortly.)

What are these customers getting from Sherpa Foundry, which was cofounded by Sherpa Capital founders Shervin Pishevar and Scott Stanford but is run as a separate business? According to Hansch, who was appointed CEO in March of this year, they’re essentially getting a team of 20 people who act as a meta search engine across the startup ecosystem, filtering out top entrepreneurs and companies and helping customers who might not know better (or have the time) to cut through the noise.

Indeed, among the outcomes that have led to “hundreds of millions of dollars in strategic investment and partnerships” for which Sherpa Foundry takes credit are connecting eBay to the shipping service Shyp, an integration that allows sellers to market a better shipping experience to buyers; introducing Conde Nast to the customized skincare e-commerce company Curology (Conde Nast subsequently invested); and introducing Cue, a pre-market health diagnostics startup, to Johnson & Johnson, which has since formed a co-development partnership with the company.

Says Hansch of Sherpa Foundry, whose customers pay it a flat, six-figure annual fee, “We’re not consultants. We aren’t doing project work. We aren’t bankers trying to land success fees. Our members’ agendas are entirely our agendas, which makes us unbiased.”

The outfit also isn’t a next-generation Gartner Group, he insists. “We aren’t a research house. Our research is toward sector mapping, laying out the landscape, and doing filtering that you can’t read about. We’re using the same process that any venture fund goes through in making investment decisions, which is sometimes to discern, out of 120 players, which are the 12 that insiders are paying attention to.”

Finally, adds Hansch, Sherpa Foundry “is not a corporate outreach arm of Sherpa Capital. Obviously, [Sherpa Capital’s] portfolio companies are in the family, so we have access to them. But we work for our members, and they want to be connected to the best companies in a particular category, no matter who backs them.”

Perhaps — though it’s worth noting that Sherpa Capital led the Series A rounds of both Curology and Cue.

Certainly, one can see the appeal of organizations like Sherpa Foundry. If you want to talk to McDonald’s but don’t know where to start, it’s nice to know that someone can make that connection for you. Indeed, in addition to making sure it has relationships with as many “blue chip” corporations as possible, Hansch says the firm regularly hosts events for its customers that feature founders and VCs so that all three can speak directly. “Ultimately, the startups benefit and the corporates benefit. We’re also helping VCs’ portfolio companies by making introductions,” he notes.

Asked about the many accelerators, incubators, and other outfits trying to make these same connections in Silicon Valley, Hansch readily concedes that there’s plenty of competition. But he argues that there’s plenty of demand, too, particularly from corporates outside of Silicon Valley that either don’t have a local presence or have a minimal one that Sherpa can amplify.

While two of its founding members are Silicon Valley bellwethers, what Sherpa Foundry is doing “really resonates with [companies] that are headquartered in London or Dubai or even Minneapolis,” says Hansch. “We’re calling out for them where they should really be spending their time.”

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