Turning Pain Into Gain: How CoFoundersLab Is Helping Recently Laid Off Workers Become Entrepreneurs
The legions of layoffs across the technology industry are prompting workers to consider new career paths, and while some are opting to leave tech altogether, others are considering founding their own startups. Beverly Hills-based CoFoundersLab, a program that aims to connect would-be entrepreneurs with investors eager for new deals, is looking to capitalize on this.
“We’re a platform that connects founders, educates, and helps startups get to the point where they have a viable company,” co-chair and owner Steve Lehman added.
CoFoundersLab launched in 2008, but was bought out in 2018 by Lehman and Thom Beers, two entrepreneurs who now co-chair the company’s board of directors and also act as investors to startups in the program.
Though the company typically charges $348 per year to access its premium memberships, and around 650,000 founders pay to access the service, it has a plan to take advantage of the layoffs that continue to batter the tech sector. Instead of charging the typical $29 monthly fee, beginning in January CoFoundersLab opted to waive the fee and offer memberships for free to people recently let go by big tech.
Anyone with an idea and willing to pay the membership fee can join the online platform for networking. For people looking to find co-founders specifically, the company offers a search algorithm tool not unlike LinkedIn’s based on location, skills, or specialization. Though Lehman claimed CoFoundersLab is “more targeted” than LinkedIn, which he said is “for everyone.”
Paying for a membership gives founders access to an online server where they can network and share ideas, plus regular courses in business development and funding workshops. There’s also weekly Zoom pitch meetings that connect founders with real investors who can give them feedback on their business ideas and tips on how to secure investments.
Some of these investors, many of whom are colleagues of Lehman, end up backing founders they meet, according to Lehman. Exactly how many he wouldn’t say, adding however that he doesn’t work with a lot of institutional investors.
Vymedic, a biotechnology company based in Englewood, Colo. that sells a supplement called Vymune raised funding in 2021 from investors through CoFoundersLab (and Lehman). Vymedic was formed in 2008 and began delivering its supplements on Amazon in 2021.
Vymedic CEO Cynthia Winning told dot.LA she discovered CoFoundersLab in 2017 through Pepperdine University, where she was applying for a grant. When she told the University she was unsure about how to raise money for Vymedic, Pepperdine reps told her to explore CoFoundersLab.
After graduating from the accelerator program, Vymedic raised a Series A in January 2021, following a presentation to CoFoundersLab investors in the previous fall. Winning wouldn’t disclose details but said they’ve raised “seven figures” to date. Lehman eventually became an investor also and is a member of Vymedic’s board.
“We would never have been able to commercialize Vymune without CoFoundersLab,” Winning said, adding that she found the meetings helpful. “We really ended up knowing what [investors] wanted… It was very hands-on, interactive, and we really felt like they were truly invested in you and your product and getting you out there.”
According to Winning, she participated in weekly Zoom meetings with investors who coached her and other startup founders on how to pitch their businesses. “Then we reached a point where we were allowed to present to three real investors online, and it was made public to anyone that wanted to watch the call,” Winning explained. “I was chosen as one of the three from the group, and within an hour [of my presentation], I had a call from an [investing] group,” she said.
Lehman said he’s “agnostic” about backing startups and noted that those who “rise to the top” during the weekly pitch workshops are chosen to solicit investors. Among the qualities that make the cut for Lehman: companies with a “unique idea, solid team, and passion.”
CoFoundersLab also runs accelerators for startups in addition to networking. It will launch a virtual “self-directed” international accelerator program the first week of March, Lehman said. The program size doubled from 10 to 20 companies from last year, and will run for sixteen weeks.
Certainly, going from being laid off to entrepreneur isn't the easiest path, but Lehman noted some laid-off techies might have severance to leverage. And at least for the first year, the membership is free for those who’ve been let go, so it’s a possible low-risk experience to try out the founder journey.
“A lot of these people have been developing some really amazing tech within other companies but they’ve been building for billionaires,” Lehman told dot.LA. “To get in as an employee at Alphabet, Amazon, Facebook, Zoom… you’ve got to be a pretty qualified individual to even get through those doors, so you may be able to apply your skill set in with another founder that needs to have your expertise.”