Todd Nuckols influenced my journey as an entrepreneurial ecosystem builder like few others (you will soon meet Larkin Garbee). We had the opportunity to work together and move in the same circles while I was living and working in Richmond. Even now I try to see him whenever I am in town to talk shop and hear what he is seeing in the acceleration landscape.

99% of building a company is having passionate people involved in a supportive community. Todd embodies both passion and support for founders. He has been a huge part of what makes Richmond so great for startups.

Ace Callwood, Founder Coffitivity, Painless 1099, Equal Sons

One thing you have to know about Todd is that he is one of the most generous and servant leaders you will ever meet – a trait that serves him well as an ecosystem builder. “The success of the accelerator lies in the hard work of others who believe in its mission. I stand on the shoulders of giants in our community.” Todd said about this work in Richmond Times Dispatch.

For a real-time take on his approach to building entrepreneurial ecosystems, scroll to the end of this article.

Investing in the Lives of Founders

Todd was one of the first people in the ecosystem I met. He has always been incredibly generous with his time and never asks for anything in return. Nothing embodies Todd more than the mission of Lighthouse Labs: “investing in the lives of founders”.

Jeff Beck, CEO AnswersNow

Here’s how Todd describes his role as Executive Director at Lighthouse Labs: “I’m responsible for making sure we have the resources to fulfill our mission: to invest in the lives of founders.  We are a publicly and privately funded organization; basically we mix for-profit funders, public grants, corporate philanthropy, and progressive investors into a nonprofit model. Add to that a hundred mentors alongside transformational founders and try to make sure they all have a great experience. It can be… a tricky balance to strike. But whatever we do, the needs of founders are at the center of the bullseye and ultimately, that’s how we decide what we should do in every aspect of the program.”

Managing stakeholders in a non-profit model

“To successfully run an acceleration program, you need to be a super connector (a role called out in Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell). Alongside super connecting, a nonprofit demands a fair amount of political savvy in order to balance the needs, interests, and opinions of various stakeholders. 

Todd has an incredibly strong vision for what an ecosystem could be like and he does a phenomenal job at making that vision come to life. Todd has patience, intentionality and an ability to build strong relationships. Richmond has and continues to be so lucky to have Todd in their community.

Pat Riley, CEO Global Accelerator Network

What makes us different from most top-performing accelerators is that we don’t take equity in the companies we work with. Why a non-profit? Simple. What is better for investing in a founders life than not taking equity in return? Unselfish investment.”  

I personally consider him to be one of the most instrumental leaders responsible for our growing startup ecosystem in Richmond. He brings forward-thinking, collaborative style and real startup acumen that the entire community continues to benefit from. 

Liz Doerr, Partner Sandbox

“… and unselfish investment is the measuring stick of my own expectations. Sure, staying in the corporate world can be more lucrative, but as a programmer I started building systems for consumer retail organizations, distribution companies, and even used car sales. I realized that was an occupation and not a calling. My expectation of realizing my goal of unselfish impact was shared in a company willing to support my calling in EnterBridge Technologies. A calling to come alongside amazingly generous partners, friends, and mentors to pull together resources that change a person’s life. To measure success not only in terms of earning potential but in terms of impact!”

As executive director…

What skills help you do a good job?

“For one, it helps having investor-level understanding of the startup world. You want to be well-versed in diligence, financial models, and how they meet the marketplace. Personally, I strive to continuously learn how to be an effective difference maker while valuing everyone’s perspective – that translates into a desire to have maximum impact in the community we serve.”

Being able to see everyone’s perspective is a superpower that can be intensely frustrating but enormously helpful.

What resources help you stay on top of your game?

“I love First Round Review (VC firm’s blog), Tech Crunch, GAN and leadership podcasts like Andy Stanley’ Catalyst. I try to attend conferences that allow me to learn and connect in person. The ones that I don’t want to miss are the GAN Summit to sharpen my skill set and the Global Leadership Summit.”

What does your day look like?

“I get up between 6 and 7. In the summer, I play tennis at 6.30 a.m. I’ll check email and roll out to meetings. When our accelerator is in session, my day consists of founder interactions; we do standups on Tuesdays and deeper dives on subject matter on Thursdays or Fridays. Every other week there is a weeknight event. If that’s not the case, I’m usually back home by 6.00 – 6.30. After some down time, I will typically spend another hour or so on emails and checking in. I try to get in 30 minutes of working out, ideally before dinner. 

On weekends, I typically have one day where I don’t open the laptop though I might still do other things like housework etc. What recharges me is not working and instead having dinner and game nights with my family and friends, spending time with my faith community and playing golf, tennis or shooting baskets”

For the man often behind the scenes, we don’t give him nearly enough acknowledgement for the time and effort he puts into making the startup journey navigable for so many founders. Entrepreneurship in central Virginia wouldn’t be the same without a champion like Todd.

Ace Callwood, Founder Coffitivity, Painless 1099, Equal Sons

As promised, read more about our backstory in Connect. Engage. Belong.

Todd Nuckols

Richmond, VA, USA

Servant leader. Investor in the lives of founders. Authority on all things Disney.