Fast Thoughts

Incubators and Accelerators

2013 09 21 12.15.08


The differences between incubators and accelerators are a hot topic for discussion on startup sites and in magazines. Although the majority point out that accelerators, with their deadlines and financial investments, are a better option, I think there is a valid place in the startup culture for both services. As the co-founder of a startup that spent last summer in an incubator and is anticipating spending this summer in an accelerator, I have had the unique opportunity to measure both of the services and offer an in depth experience to making the choice between them. Incubators are a safe place to start and foster your business idea, which is both their asset and their detraction. Because it is a safe place, often with a strong community atmosphere, no one tells you that your idea is terrible. You are supposed to find that out for yourself after setting up meetings with your mentors and working on your idea. Unfortunately, for most incubator companies, this revelation doesn’t ever really happen. And that’s where the

case for business stagnation in incubators has a valid point. Without the intense accountability of an accelerator and investors, startups have a tendency to do what most people do; get a bit lost and focus on what they like to do rather than what needs to be done. Incubators are a great place to see someone’s skill set, because by default they tend to move to their comfort zone. Incubators, however, are a great place for a motivated team to explore an idea before it is a business. Without the pressure of intense deadlines and knowing you are using someone else’s money, you have the freedom to explore the “How” over the “Why.” Creating revenue plans without knowing if your intended technology is even a remote possibility can be incredibly stressful, and with looming deadlines, it can be more tempting to scrap an idea that had potential for one that is more likely to be profitable. Incubators are a safe place to explore, but also a great place to team build. Since the tendency, as I mentioned before, is to lean back into your comfortable skill set, you have the chance to see what your teammates do without intense direction from superiors and supervisors. Entrepreneurship and self-direction isn’t for everyone; incubators allow you the opportunity to see if what looked good on paper can execute working on their own in reality. I found some excellent value in working in the Syracuse Student Sandbox this summer, but we had very specific circumstances that made an incubator a good choice for my team at that specific time. 1. We were vetting the person who would become our tech co-founder. That time in the incubator allowed us to build the team without undue pressure on him. 2. We were focusing on whether or not our idea was executable. The business side had no role without a functioning idea, so we needed that time for trial and error. 3. We were all students at the time. We had a variety of other commitments; one of my co-founders and I were headed to a study abroad during a portion of the incubator. If any of those circumstances, or similar ones, apply to your situation, I can’t recommend an incubator enough. As long as you have a motivated team, and someone on that team who is willing to set hard deadlines, an incubator will allow you to grow. Our circumstances have changed completely since our time in the incubator. I now have a team that is dedicated solely to this business. Our idea has been figured out and is functional. Our focus in now on growth, user acquisition and generating revenue, all things that an experienced accelerator can assist us with. We are no longer a team figuring each other out and fostering an idea to see if it is possible, we are now ready to build and accelerate a business. At this point, the low-key atmosphere of an incubator would harm our growth. The choice between an incubator and an accelerator, to me, comes down to whether you want to foster an idea or grow a business. I’m certainly not saying that you can’t grow a business in an incubator or focus on the idea phase in an accelerator, but they are two very different business services that you should use to best benefit your business and co-founders. What are your thoughts on the differences between the two services?

The Three P’s of Accelerators

Startup accelerators are the direct result of three inputs—people, program, and place—which combine to produce an environment that allows entrepreneurs to create highly scalable companies.  People refer to the entrepreneurs, mentors, and investors present within the accelerator.  Program denotes the educational and social events which make the accelerator both a fun and instructive experience.  And place refers to the co-working space where entrepreneurs collaboratively execute their business models.

Accelerators are typically finite institutions which operate at the discretion of a few investors and successful entrepreneurs.  However, after spending the past week in Silicon Valley and San Francisco visiting 25 companies, I came to realize that the entire Valley region is one big accelerator.   While there are a number of private, institutionalized accelerators in the Valley; the critical mass of people, program, and place necessary for an entire region to fast-track growth is glaringly obvious.

Entrepreneurs attend accelerators to catalyze their growth, however, I felt wholly invigorated by walking down the streets of San Francisco or grabbing a cup of coffee at Coupa Café.  I couldn’t walk ten feet without overhearing some eager entrepreneurs discussing their next product launch or an investor preparing a founder for the next raise.  The entire ecosystem was abuzz with activity which any entrepreneur would find beneficial to his or her company’s trajectory.

Returning to Syracuse though, I realized that StartFast in conjunction with other local entrepreneurship organizations like the Student Sandbox, Armory Square Ventures, and CenterState is hatching an equally vibrant ecosystem for startups.  While Syracuse’s entrepreneurship ecosystem can hardly be compared in breadth or depth to that of Silicon Valley, there are important pieces which make the area an attractive place for budding entrepreneurs.

The People of Syracuse or rather, access to community networks and skilled talent is a major benefit to local startup founders.  Central New York is home to 35 colleges with a total student body population of 138,000 students; imagine the internship and hiring possibilities with such a talent pool.  The local universities also play host to incredibly advanced researchers with the six largest schools spending roughly $1.2 billion annually on research and development.  The area also has a large concentration of passionate startup founders and experienced entrepreneurs willing to pitch in and help other owners at any phase of development.  The Syracuse Student Sandbox and StartFast accelerators collectively give founders access to over 250 enthusiastic mentors.

Finding a startup centric programmatic event in Syracuse or Central New York on any given night is as easy at popping on Meetup.com or visiting UVC.org.  The energy which the local entrepreneurs have poured into hosting social and educational events is inspiring by all accounts.  At present, upcoming events include discussions on the future of Bitcoin, marketing through blogging, and how to be a leader in manufacturing.  Syracuse is an amalgamation of high-tech and low-tech, new economy and old economy, and product and service specialists.  There are events for any flavor of entrepreneurship; all it takes is a little looking and a desire to meet some passionate innovators.

In a metropolitan statistical area (MSA) of more than 650,000 people, one is bound to find plenty of places for entrepreneurs to host their events, build their products, and grow their workforce.  The city of Syracuse offers a wide array of attractive working/living opportunities for urban entrepreneurs including the Armory Square and Franklin Square areas.  The region is also home to 19 high-tech development centers housing among them several advanced bio-tech, nano-tech, and green-tech laboratories.  Office space is incredibly affordable in both the city districts and suburban areas, making growth for entrepreneurs a seamless activity as space requirements change.

All told, Syracuse may not be Silicon Valley, nor should it want to be, but it is its own microcosm for high-growth entrepreneurship.  The pieces have been falling into place over the past decade and will continue to do so for years to come.  Entrepreneurs will find themselves irresistibly attracted to Syracuse because of the area’s access to three powerful resources—people, program, and place.

Syracuse’s Progress Towards Becoming a Successful Startup Community, Part 3

This is the final installment of a three part post using Mark Suster’s 12 Tips to measure the progress Syracuse has made towards becoming a startup community. Part One. Part Two.

Recycled Capital We are starting to see entrepreneurs and companies that have been successful in Syracuse reinvesting into up and coming startups. I think UVANY and CVF are great examples of successful entrepreneurs reinvesting in Upstate New York ideas, but so is Terakeet’s recent investment in Credit Card Insider. Although all of Suster’s later points hinge on wins, which we need more of in order to create more capital access, those that are doing well in Central New York are very invested in growing the community.
Second Time Entrepreneurs Again, we need more of the original wins here in order to enlarge our pool of successful entrepreneurs in order to have a pool of second time entrepreneurs. We are developing that pool and, again, they are very motivated to invest not only their capital but their time in Central New York growth. I think we are still in the early phases of developing our startup community and this will grow as our wins grow.
Ability to Attract a Pool of Engineers We have a number of local universities that already attract engineers to the Central New York Region. We are incredibly lucky that getting them here and educated is already done for us by institutions like RIT, Syracuse University, SUNY Binghamton, RPI and SUNY Oswego. We are finding the engineers that are in our high schools and communities, we are educating them, then we are making them leave for other locations because we aren’t enticing them to stay. Our thought process on this needs to be revamped. The majority of students that attend these schools are already from Upstate New York and are continuing their education here. This needs to be a profitable place for them to stay and start their families. Our issues here are not only the lack of overall employment opportunities but the lack of monetary incentive. These engineers are already here. Retention is far more economical than recruitment. We are far ahead of other cities in the opportunity our area provides for this particular point, we are simply not harnessing it well enough.
Tent-Pole Tech Companies Although it could be argued that Lockheed Martin has the potential to act as our tent-pole company, yet another round of layoffs knocks them out of contention. At this point Syracuse is waiting for our major win; the company that gets really big and is able to not only bring attention to Syracuse but provide the support to other companies that will be needed. Any thoughts on who that might be?

2013 teams are moving fast

We founded StartFast Venture Accelerator in 2011 with the mission to attract, invest in, mentor and accelerate the growth of tech startups. Two classes later, we are excited to announce an exit, a round closing and the addition of several new investors. And this is only the beginning.

First-time entrepreneurs Tristan Toye and Mo El Mahallaway from Ontario, Canada and their startup, Calester, took part in StartFast’s accelerator program during summer 2013. After the program, Toronto-based Dossiya acquired Calester, marking the first acquisition from StartFast’s portfolio. This is a significant milestone for the program because it shows that intellectual property and talent are highly valued, which is good for our investors and for the entrepreneurs.

Formed by Michael Quigley and Devin Daly, SwipeToSpin enables any product to be viewed in 3D on mobile devices and the web. “After we completed the StartFast accelerator program, Chuck and Nasir led our investment round,” according to CEO Daly. “Once we had Startfast committed as lead, other investors lined up with confidence.”  Investors from both Upstate and New York City completed SwipeToSpin’s financing in March. Using this capital, the company has added sales and technical capacity, closed a key distribution partnership to over 1,500 publishers and is poised for significant growth.

StartFast is 100% privately funded. Initial capital came from its founders, members of the Seed Capital Fund of CNY, Cayuga Ventures, Upstate Venture Connect and angel investors. We also welcomed four new investment groups as limited partners during 2013. According to Martin, who also founded Upstate Venture Connect, “The expansion of StartFast with additional investor support is a boon for the Upstate economy. With it, we can help more entrepreneurs, provide their companies with a longer runway from which to take off, and foster greater success across the Upstate ecosystem.”

So if you want to accelerate your startup, just hit the apply button at the top of the page and fasten your seatbelt!

 

Creative Collisions @ SXSW 2014

GIF created with CineGIF

The word “serendipity” (happy accidents) was coined in 1754 in a letter from Horace Walpole to a friend in which he describes unexpected discoveries by reference to a fairy tail called, “The Three Princes of Serendip.” In business, serendipity describes unexpected windfalls after a transaction. In science, serendipity plays a role in many new discoveries (e.g. penicillin, tamoxifen, the background radiation of the cosmos). Innovation in technology often results from serendipity. A Creative Collision is a special kind of serendipity which results when two or more people meet by chance and something good comes of it. Like you need Motive, Means and Opportunity to prove murder in court, I posit that you need the right Circumstances, Openness and Awareness for serendipty to occur and for you to benefit from it. Circumstances – putting 70,000 creative people in close proximity, SXSW creates a pretty unique set of circumstances for creative collisions to occur. The probability of serendipity just went way up. Awareness – if your face is stuck in your smartphone or tablet, there’s a good chance you’ll miss the creative collision that was about to happen. SXSW is like a one million ring circus – there’s so much going on everywhere, it is simply not possible to stay absorbed in the everyday. Openness – if you judge everything (“this’s cool, that’s bogus”) there’s no room for surprises. Holding an open mental stance means at least delaying judgement long enough to observe what’s really happening. SXSW has a very open, non-judgmental vibe that is contagious.

GIF created with PHHHOTO

Here are some of
the creative collisions I’ve had in just two days. I shared a ride with Lisa Sita Chouinard of Fetosoap, pictured on the right in this GIF created by PHHOTO, an iPad animated social photobooth application showcasing at this year’s SXSW. Lisa and I were “geeking out about color,” me from a filmmaking perspective and she from a soap-making perspective. In another GIF collision, I ran into Graham McFarland, CEO of Austin startup CineGIF. Over breakfast, we hatched a partnership, prospected a new investment and signed Graham up to mentor for StartFast and SeedSumo accelerators.

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StartFast mentor Drew Austin

On the convention center outdoor balcony, StartFast mentor Drew Austin and I compared notes while inside James McQuivey read from Digital Disruption: Unleashing the Next Wave of Innovation. Later I shared a few minutes with serial entrepreneur Zack Dugow who wasn’t planning to be here a week ago. He said, “People kept telling me, ‘Why don’t we just meet at South-by?’ so what could I do? I had to come.” That’s kind of how I feel too. I have to come. It’s very unlikely I would have met Lisa, or Graham or filmmaker / entrepreneur Rob Jamieson, each of whom taught me something, presented new opportunities and made me think.

Lighting a fire in the startup ecosystem

Back in 2011-12, I was passionately driven to light a fire in the startup ecosystem that would catch, grow, spread and brightly illuminate the future. I’d spent my career, spanning a quarter of a century, building, nurturing, investing in and exiting startups – not without success. For over 20 of thosehttp://anthillonline.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/fire-on-water_peasap_flickr_590x250-270x270.jpg years I’d been giving back by mentoring others, but now I felt was the time to move into a new phase  – to more fully devote my energy to paying it forward. Two tangible outcomes took form that year:

The book is intended as a crisp manual on how to build a startup from scratch.  I poured into it everything I’d learned and then used Occam’s razor again and again to cut away everything unnecessary. One reviewer calls it “The Lean Guide for Lean Startups.” Here’s an excerpt:

There are tremendous advantages to a fast start. You’ll be able to see your idea in action quickly, get feedback from early adopters, adapt your product or service in response to that feedback, test and refine your business model all before investing a lot of money (yours or someone else’s).

I’m going to give you a method, specific tools and action steps to start fast, build a real business fast and attain as much success as possible in the least time and with the least capital. Bear in mind that this method will not be applicable to every business. Not every business can be capital-efficient. Some take longer to build than others. I know that this method applies to a business if it is software-based and your customers can be reached through the Internet or mobile phone network. If your business is of a different character entirely, some but not everything here will apply to you.

There are reasons that software, internet and mobile companies can start fast, and most of these reasons are obvious once you know them. But most of them weren’t true 10 years ago, some five years ago, and a few weren’t true only 1 year ago.

Read more here.

I’m very pleased with people’s response to the book, and believe that it has sparked an entrepreneurial flame in at least a few.  So how’s that fire going in the startup ecosystem? Tune in to my next post for a quick report card.

Syracuse’s Progress Towards Becoming a Successful Startup Community

In 2012 Mark Suster wrote an article outlining his twelve tips to building a successful startup community.

Over the last ten years, local entrepreneurs, business leaders and Syracuse University have focused their efforts on creating a welcoming environment for startups in Syracuse and Upstate New York.

Two years after Suster’s article was published, I think we should take a look at it as a measure of the progress Syracuse has made towards becoming a Startup Community. This week we’ll start with the first four items on his list and continue with the list in following posts.

Component 1: A strong pool of tech founders
With Sidearm Sports, Ensemble VideoSAAB Sensis and others building their businesses in the area, we are making the preliminary steps to create a pool of Tech Founders. I meet a number of Tech Founders who independently work on their businesses, but the way I see it the goal needs to be to create a large pool, a project that we consistently need to work towards by creating a welcoming environment not only in the Syracuse entrepreneurship scene, but with financial incentives to keep businesses in Upstate New York.

Component 2: Local capital
Suster’s point here, that early stage capital investments will be geographically based, can be seen in Upstate New York through investment groups like UVANYCayuga Venture Fund, and Armory Square Ventures, as well as through various private investors. I think we are making excellent progress towards creating opportunities for startups to tap into local capital. I don’t think local capital investments will grow until we see more startups with large growth potential. At this point, it is a balance between talent and investment.

Component 3: Killer events
This is an area where I think Syracuse and Upstate New York are making great progress. I consistently have a calendar filled with various events meant to assist startups, and the recent growth of Hack Upstate hackathons and the ability of Startup Weekend events to bring talent from all over the region is very promising. Add to this the upcoming Emerging Week in April, which boasts a full week of events meant to bring community leaders and collegiate talent together, and I think Syracuse leaders, as a whole, have done well not only creating events, but making sure they are well attended. Of course, we can always use more events. I love to see that Rounded gives back to the community with Rounded Presents once a month, and I would love to see more companies that stay in the area take the initiative to participate with their own take on a community event.But what I see as most exciting in this arena is the growing number of groups that are engaging local thought leaders. Groups like Girls in Tech, The Syracuse Innovators Group, Hacks/Hackers and The Syracuse Bitcoin Miners show that now the area has enough people that are interested in various areas of tech and innovation to warrant segmented events and gatherings. We are seeing growth and momentum, and these groups are the first places to look for up and coming talent, whether it is in tech or engagement.

Component 4: Access to great universities
I think this one is a no brainer. There are more than 100 colleges and universities in Upstate NY educating over half a million students each year. The major roadblock has been communication between not only the silos of each university, but the silos within each university structure. Although we have seen some major progress with letting key members of universities know about events, and have reaped the rewards by seeing student attendance from a variety of local universities increase, this is an area where it really is an uphill battle. Not only is the challenge engaging professors and key personnel, but getting the message to a student population whose consumption of information is segmented. Our access is incredible, it is our ability to leverage that access which still needs work. 

Next week we will explore Syracuse’s progress in four more of Suster’s requirements for a successful startup community.

Going to the Source

On a flight to New Zealand on Fiji Airlines last year I was pleased and surprised to be given unlimited free bottles of Fiji Water onboard. Fiji Water is so plentiful and available on Fiji Airlines because it comes from Fiji. For a startup, technical talent is like water; you can’t live without it. From what well-spring does technical talent flow? Two sources primarily, new college graduates in science, technology, engineering and math and technical staff in existing companies.

Startup hubs like New York’s Silicon Alley and California’s Silicon Valley are great attractors of technical and startup talent. Largely that talent is imported from elsewhere and often demand exceeds supply. This leads not only to salary inflation, but also the tendency of people to jump from one employer to another. One technical guy I worked with had been with 11 different startups in his short career. Stories of startup talent jumping ship at critical times are legion, and many entrepreneurs go to great expense to retain the people they have. Is there a better solution than fighting over a limited talent pool? What if you went to the source of that talent; the place from where the hubs import it?

That’s exactly what savvy companies from NYC and SV are doing this month – sending teams to Upstate New York to recruit. This region has half a million matriculated college students, over 125,000 in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math majors. With this tremendous concentration of talent, it’s no wonder that great private universities and colleges like Cornell, RPI, RIT, Syracuse, Colgate, Lemoyne, U of R, Hamilton, Binghamton, Ithaca, Clarkson, Vassar and the publicly funded SUNY system all have sold-out their career fairs.

Upstate is also home to a wide array of corporations including General Electric, Lockheed Martin, IBM, Xerox and many others that are classic training grounds for technical talent. Sinclair Schuller, co-founder of Apprenda, puts it this way, “In terms of getting the company started, we found that we have a very engineering-centric culture here. There are a lot of computer engineering and computer science graduates. If you look at the density of math and computer science PhD holders in comparison to the average US population, you will find that upstate New York has a rich talent base.”

The talent-rich environment makes Upstate the best of all possible worlds for tech startups as well as for startup accelerators like StartFast for two reasons: 1) all the talent our companies need is right here within easy reach; 2) the list of illustrious successes that came from talent exported from here is long and storied. Quite a few of our Mentors got their start or their training here. As a serial entrepreneur, I’ve benefited greatly from the over-supply of talent in this region. It’s just an amazingly good place to build a tech startup. Cheers!

Local Woman in Tech and Entrepreneurship Leader Joins the StartFast Team

We’re pleased to announce that Kate Brodock will be working with us at StartFast this year.  Kate will focus on marketing and communications, as well as continue as a mentor for the third year in a row. KateBrodock
Kate is the Director of the W2O Group Center for Social Commerce at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University and has a background in marketing strategy and social media marketing, having started the social media marketing firm, Other Side Group, in 2008 after graduate school.  Additionally, she’s worked as Executive Director of Digital and Social Media for Syracuse University and in product marketing at Bose.
Kate has a long history in entrepreneurship and technology, most notably through her leadership as President of Girls in Tech, a global non-profit for women in technology and entrepreneurship.  Kate has been involved in the organization for six years, and now leads, with the Founder, the worldwide network of 30+ chapters, including the local CNY Chapter.  Prior to that, she spent a significant amount of time in the startup community in Cambridge MA, having entered the “Real World” through a position at a small tech transfer firm and continuing her involvement – as employee, co-Founder, mentor, coach or Founder – from there.
Kate, a Syracuse native, is heavily involved in the entrepreneurial space regionally as well as nationally and internationally, and is looking forward to increasing her activity with us at StartFast while we continue to grow.
You can learn more about Kate on her site and can connect with her on Twitter.
Please help us welcome Kate aboard!

The StartFast Way to Get More Done

morehoursI know you’ve wished for more hours in the day. What if you could actually get them? What if this was not a fantasy, but a real possibility? The lucky few who get into the StartFast Venture Accelerator will experience this first hand. Here’s how:

WhenThe pressure cooker – A pressure cooker dramatically shortens the cooking time of food. StartFast is a unique environment that dramatically quickens the pace of startup companies, allowing them to become much better much faster. With the startup team’s total commitment, passion, and determination, they can make more than a year’s worth of progress in 3 months. These may be the most effective 3 months of your life, working in a stimulating environment inspired by the other entrepreneurs working along side you, all solving similar problems.

startfastbookLife is short – do stuff that matters – When I really care about what I’m doing, it’s not a chore. At StartFast you’ll learn to put everything you do into context. You’ll know what’s important versus what merely seems urgent (using the techniques given on page 15 of StartFast among others). When you’re doing things that are in alignment with your long-term vision, relevant to creating the life you want and serving the people that you care about most, your motivation and consequently your productivity will astound you.

Eliminate distractions – For thousands of years groups of Syracusepeople that wanted to get something done quickly have gone on retreats or enclaves in remote locations. A change of venue by itself helps enhance focus by getting us out of our day to day routine. The more remote the location the better. While StartFast’s location Syracuse, N.Y. is hardly remote (4 hours drive from mid-town Manhattan), it is far enough removed from the trappings of the big city to be significantly less distracting. Being away from home affords one the opportunity to ignore the usual demands of social and family life and really focus on doing what needs to be done.

Sharpen the axe – I have a biassharpensaw toward action and experimentation and a preference for now over later. But if taken to an extreme, a “Get Shit Done!” startup culture can be counter-productive and even toxic. You can’t succeed just by telling people to “Get Shit Done!” You must have a strategy, you must run experiments and reflect upon the data. You must, in effect, get the right shit done. Abraham Lincoln is credited with saying, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I’ll spend the first four sharpening the axe.” At StartFast, the managing directors, mentors, and entrepreneurs in residence act like virtual cofounders, helping formulate strategy, evaluate inputs and choose the wisest course of action. Mentors bring massive expertise to bear on each and every situation so that you can choose an optimal pathway. And you’ll be given information, instruction and opportunities to learn and practice new business skills so that you can keep your “axe” as sharp as can be .

All this is ultimately aimed at helping you do more faster ala mentor Brad Feld. Apply to StartFast todayTo succeed a startup must find a market opportunity that is not already dominated by an incumbent player. Most often this new opportunity is found by experimentation (yes, basically trial and error). The most successful startup is the one that can run more experiments than its peers. Thus the speed with which you get shit done is not just a competitive advantage; it’s often the different between success and failure, i.e. life and death (by pierce). This is the true value of StartFast – to create greater opportunity for success. And for many reasons, one of which I’ve highlighted here, our location in Upstate New York is an advantage by affording the entrepreneur a greater opportunity to focus.

What Price Awesome?

How much does it cost to build an awesome tech startup now? That is a key question for StartFast as we increase our investment amount in our chosen companies for 2014 to up to $100,000.* A recent blog estimates the price tag to design and develop exact replicas of some of the hottest products out there today (e.g. Instagram, Uber, Facebook, Pinterest, Shopify) as low as $50,000. Startup founders earning “sweat equity” can bootstrap their ideas into reality for much less. StartFast’s increased investment gives the startup the additional money needed to build an audience of thousands of users, not just the application itself. Using the lean startup approach, each company builds a prototype of their product, inexpensively and quickly tests the market response to it and experiments until they get a clearly positive response from the market. This approach gives the startup and its investors evidence of success before making larger bets.

Increasing the amount of StartFast’s initial investment accomplishes three things:

  1. We attract the best companies. We have a world-class program, world-class mentors (many in common with TechStars including Brad Feld), and a hands-on managing team with more success and experience than almost any other accelerator in the world. We believe that offering more money will further increase our success rate.
  2. Startups get a meaningful capital infusion. Even if a startup already has a product, revenues and has raised some capital, $75,000 might enable a key hire, fund an online advertising campaign or enable a pivot. Combined with the mentor connections, coaching, and access to follow-on capital, StartFast is now even more of a win.
  3. StartFast companies have more chances to succeed. With more cash, each startup can test a greater number of iterations of product, market and business model to find a successful combination before running out of money. $75,000 might fund 10-15 or more product/market experiments, greatly
    increasing the chances of a startup finding a way to win.

Is our investment enough by itself to build a startup from idea to awesome? No. It certainly takes more than that. StartFast is prepared to lead follow-on financing rounds for some of our companies. Our initial investment is enough to prove that your team has what it takes and that there is a large market that cares enough about what you’re doing. Follow-on investment is not guaranteed, but if you do prove that you have something meaningful, we’ll put more money behind you and invite our investor friends and extended network to join us in providing the next round of capital (as we’re doing for SwipeToSpin).

We love startups and entrepreneurs and we are truly grateful to be able to devote ourselves to helping them succeed in the grandest scale possible thanks to the steadfast support of our sponsors and investors. Thanks to them, the deal just got a little sweeter and the chances of getting to awesome have improved.

* StartFast provides teams with up to $100,000 in capital on entrepreneur-friendly investment terms. $25,000 is in the form of a Common Stock investment, while additional amounts are made available on a convertible note basis. We guide, teach, coach, cheer-lead and lead by example. Program participants are surrounded by world-class mentors and gain significant introductions to prospective customers and investors.

Build a great company

Every startup accelerator program has a theme. All accelerators introduce companies to mentors. Many focus on raising capital, teaching companies how to pitch, how to prepare for due diligence and introducing them to investors. Other accelerators focus on a specific vertical (e.g. energy, healthcare) or technology (e.g. cloud, Kinect). StartFast’s theme is, “Build a great company.”

Our thesis is that if you build a great company, investment will be attracted and success will result. A great company is built on the foundation of a great team of entrepreneurs. Each person is born with a certain amount of innate talent, but the traits, skills, habits, thought forms and capabilities of great entrepreneurs can be acquired. Some can be taught, while other capabilities are acquired through experience, hard work and repetition. Our mentors are people to emulate. Our Enterpreneurs in Residence (EIRs) and our Managing Directors (MDs)  train and guide founders along a rather steep learning curve. Time is very short (only 3 months in the program), but much can be accomplished in this time with an intensity of focus.

The process begins with retraining – pointing out blind spots, cognitive errors and bad habits. We give a lot of tasks (e.g. growth hacking experiments) to begin building good habits and thought forms from the ground up. We are here to instill a bias toward data over opinion, a bias for experimentation over analysis paralysis, a bias for transparency and truth over cleverness and glibness. The process is not easy and has no guarantee of success. But our intention is that each founder and each team, through much experimentation, will acquire a methodology for evidence-based decision-making. Armed with this methodology, each team will develop confidence and a bias toward action (doing more faster). Through repetition and experience, discernment and understanding blossom. And once the entrepreneur learns to pass their understanding on to others, the beginnings of leadership have been forged.

Leadership

Understanding & Discernment

Confidence & Bias to Action

Methodology

Data / Evidence

Experimentation

In every area of human endeavor, the winners are not just those with innate talent. Hard work is the perennial differentiator. When two companies compete teamwork wins out over individual greatness. We work closely with our founders, introduce them to world-class mentors to give them examples of great entrepreneurs to emulate. Mentors also point out flaws in business models, product plans and go-to-market strategies. Certainly, this input can save founders a lot of time, keeping them from going down blind alleys. But the larger goal is always to teach the founders how to think – how to identify issues and resolve them quickly. How to discern what to work hard at – picking the right tasks in the right order. How to work together as a team.

We’ve embarked upon this journey once again. The size of investment rounds and eventual exits may be how we keep score, but our means of getting there matter just as much to us. Our mission, to build great companies.

Closing Tivity Down: A Hard Appraisal

Jason Scherr was the CEO of Tivity, a StartFast 2012 team.  When Jason announced he was closing down Tivity and joining the leadership team at Echolocation, we asked him for his reflections and key lesson learned.  Here are his thoughts.

1) Make sure your team is as invested in your company as you are. For me, it was really hard to be part of a team where the equity stakes were equal but the level of commitment to the business was not. Side projects and second jobs are early indicators that the person you are working with may not be the right choice. It’s irritatingly frustrating to put your heart and soul into something while those around you have one foot in another door. Avoid this situation at all costs while building your executive team.

2) Along with team commitment, team quality is of the utmost importance. I’ve been with Echo for two months now and I already see a difference in execution based solely on our team’s differing backgrounds. I am in charge of business development and customer acquisition efforts, Rocky is in charge of design, and Brian is in charge of programming. This allows us all to move forward in different directions and, most importantly, come back to each other with new, executable information. And don’t settle when it comes to whom you hire. You may not have a lot of money, but it’ll cost you more than money if you hire the wrong people just to get things done quickly. You get what you pay for.

3) Speaking of money, budgeting is beyond crucial. The only thing you have less of than time is money. We were fortunate enough to have some money, but didn’t budget properly. Getting an extra 5 – 10k every time you are low on money is much worse than getting 30k upfront. Know your expenses, what you are paying for and the length of your runway. If your team is really into what you are doing, ask them to take a pay cut in exchange for equity long before you have to. Even if they say no, you’ll get a better idea of their commitment to the company and you’ll still have money to pay them up until your runway ends.

4) Ideas are worth shit. Don’t be afraid to tell anybody anything. It’s all about execution.

5) Meet with as many people as possible that use your product, would use your product, or understand your product. Your goal is to learn as much as you can in the shortest period of time. “Start Fast” and build something better. You need to find your niche as quickly as possible, and that doesn’t come from sitting behind a computer all day. Get on the phone and on the street. Last week I met with someone out on the other end of Brooklyn because he was using the Echo app to promote his business. We met with him, grabbed lunch, and then got some of the most valuable feedback we’ve ever received. Check out my depiction of the experience here blog.echolocation.com.

6) Test every single idea you have. Write everything you think down and then do you best to execute. Connect and follow-up with every mentor possible, and if they don’t answer, email them a second, third and fourth time. Chances are they are just busy and don’t hate you that much. Out of everyone I’ve met through StartFast, 98% have gotten back to me and only 1 or 2 have actually told me they are no longer available for contact.

7) If you’re not learning you’re standing still, and if you’re standing still you’re doomed. Any feedback is good feedback. If you aren’t making decisions everyday about how to improve or build your business, than you aren’t building your business.

8) A crappy product can get you feedback, but a crappy team cannot. If you see habits or problems delaying your output, nip them in the bud before it’s too late (i.e., you run out of money). Odds are you are going to fail, and the faster you fail the more time you can spend on future failures…;-)

9) Having a business model is not an option or something that you will fall in to overnight. Build toward a business model. Make money in any way possible and then try to replicate that model. Investors LOVE recurring revenue, no matter how small the amount.

10) People (mentors especially) are often willing to help, especially while you’re part of the StartFast program. Don’t be afraid to take people up on their offers, and let them know where their advice got you. Showing a pattern of execution is half the battle while you’re looking to raise money. As Yogi Berra put it best, “90% of the game is half-mental”.

You can follow Jason on Twitter (@thescherrthing).

Focus: Don’t Lose It!

Guest post by StartFast Entrepreneur-In-Residence, Kyle Blumin. Follow Kyle on Twitter (@kyleblumin).

A funny thing happens when you start a company. All of a sudden everyone and their mother has an opinion as to what you’re up to. Everyone from family and friends to advisers and mentors love to bestow their best advice or critique on to you. Your investors won’t be shy either. If you let it, this can become cumbersome at best or in some cases debilitating at worst. While they all have great intentions, it is up to you to determine how best to utilize or discard their advice.

When starting a company, getting lots of input at the front end of the process can actually help you find the right thing to focus on. In fact, getting more input and learning to sort through it is good up front. Mentor input is feedback that needs to be accepted or rejected based on data. Once you have an executable, market validated strategy laid out, not losing your focus is critical for success. As your company matures, staying on task will be one of your biggest challenges. Your behavior and the actions you take will ultimately lead to your success or failure. You can control a lot about your own behavior. However, there’s even more that you can’t control about what can impact your business. Ultimately that’s why what you focus on is so important.

Take the case of Carl Richards. Carl was a financial adviser at Merrill Lynch that ultimately lost his home to foreclosure during the housing run-up and subsequent collapse. While he didn’t create a start-up, his behavior is analogous to my point. The most obvious and easiest decisions can be derailed by losing focus – a financial adviser isn’t supposed to lose his house to foreclosure. So how could that possibly happen? Quite frankly, he lost focus by letting the environment around him impact his decisions without focusing on the underlying data. Based upon pure data, he knew that the housing valuations were bogus, yet his behavior got the best of him. It is a refreshingly honest story that you can read about here.

There are multiple mission critical decisions that need to be made on a daily basis in the life of a start-up as well as a maturing company. Some decisions need to be made in concert with executing your strategy and others need to be made in order to put out that day’s fire. Both of which are important and both can either lever your success or end in dire consequences. Life and death situations happen every day in start-ups and early stage business. Losing focus is not an option – it will kill your venture.

Someone once said to me that, “if you live like nobody will, eventually you can live like nobody can.” When I was building my companies or executing on strategies to turn them around, I always had options to spend time and energy doing things that seemed like a lot more fun away from the office. I also had options to focus on issues that either weren’t part of the strategy or weren’t based on data. I stayed the course with the strategic process and put those non-business related opportunities on the back burner. Sacrifice is part of the game in building your company. It’s pretty easy to be taken off course because your buddies are going to Vegas for the week or there are rumors within the marketplace about

Focusing on driving your business related to data, things that matter and what you can control will go a long way towards driving your success. It’s easier than you think if you refuse to give in to the pressures that are not driven by data. One day that focus will pay off for you. The more you concentrate on it, the easier it is over time. It becomes akin to muscle memory. It should become your best friend.

Just keep in mind that the trip to Vegas will be a lot more fun after you’ve succeeded!

Unicorns welcome here

This is a guest post by StartFast Entrepreneur in Residence Kyle Blumin.  Follow Kyle on Twitter (@kyleblumin)

A friend of mine invited me to go see the Sundance Film Festival premier of the Steve Jobs biopic. I couldn’t pass up the offer and I’m glad I didn’t. It was a great movie that made every cell in my body vibrate. The film did a fantastic job of communicating the intense journey called building a company. It delivers an important message to entrepreneurs that you are not alone in all of the agony and thrill. We all go through it. When you attempt to do something great or build a company that solves a serious societal problem you will encounter great obstacles. But as Steve Jobs said in the movie, “those that have the audacity to think they can change the world are the ones that usually do.” Just think, Steve Jobs was wandering aimlessly around India after he dropped out of college. He was dead broke and nearly died. And then…

My earlier blog post referenced why I joined StartFast. For years I watched my home town of Syracuse, NY decline into a beaten and battered place. It had no soul. It had little, if any, positive vibe. The population was a negative, downtrodden majority. They complained about everything and blamed everyone else for the problems around them. I had heard it all. Everyone seemed to have an answer for why things were the way they were. The region had a real identity crisis. It was the loss of manufacturing jobs. It was the weather. After all, who wants to live in a place where it snows? Oh, I don’t know…had anyone ever heard of Boston, Chicago, Denver or Salt Lake City? It was the government, it was the taxes, it was, it was, it was… The region had become its own worst enemy. No matter where I went or who I talked to, they always asked me why I stayed in the area. To tell you the truth, it was at my wife’s request that we stayed in Syracuse. These days, I’m really glad I listened to her.

When Ashton Kutcher offered up the line about audacity in the movie, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I had never been able communicate my frustration with the reaction many had to my declared career path. “Why don’t you study harder and get a good job? Why don’t you conform and just be like everyone else? Why can’t you sit still?  You’re just going to blow it. Who wants those kind of headaches? Why do you (have the audacity to) think you can do what you’re trying to do (when all the rest of us decided to be miserable and settled because that’s what we’re supposed to do)?” As one of my StartFast team members said, I was a unicorn to most everyone I came across.

And then something changed. Something REALLY changed. Guess what changed? The people, and a new frame of mind came with them. It is the people that are changing our region. More and more people around me are thinking differently about what is possible. Some are of a younger generation, some are transplants into the community and many have been waiting for the pendulum to swing and are now getting on board. The physical landscape is changing for the better with a renewed focus on a livable downtown, but more importantly, the intellectual capital of the region is transforming as well. Not only do we have more change agents in the community, but students across the region are also expressing their desire to stay after graduation and build companies. Just imagine what that looks like 5 years down the road!

During a Q&A session, the director of the movie was quick to point out that Sillicon Valley was anything but a sexy place in the early to mid 1970’s. It had very few big names and nothing close to the notoriety of New York or L.A. Sound familar? What it had was terrific intellectual capital and collaboration. Sound familiar? It also had those that were willing to risk and believe in unseasoned entrepreneurs. Those that were successful in past ventures or careers provided guidance and mentorship that went along with the risk capital. Sound familiar? There are now angel funds in existence or starting up in Albany, Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo. Accelerator programs are now operating in Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo. In addition, Upstate New York expats are moving back to start companies and attracting talented founders and employees from outside the region.

Entrepreneurial leaders in our region not only have the audacity to think that we can change the region, they are actually doing something about it. People like Martin Babinec of Upstate Venture Connect, my colleagues at Startfast, Chancellor Nancy Cantor of Syracuse University, Rob Simpson and Mitchell Patterson at CenterState CEO, John Liddy at the Syracuse Tech Garden, Mac Cummings and Pat Danial of Terakeet, Eric Hinman and his partners at Rounded Development, members of the Seed Capital Fund of Central New York, Chris Fowler of SyracuseFirst and many others. If I haven’t mentioned you, I’m sorry. You know who you are and I can’t thank you enough. The great news is that there are more and more of us every day and the transformational energy continues to build.

If you have the audacity to think that you can change the region and the world, come join us and be part of an economic and social revolution.  Don’t let anyone tell you that you couldn’t be the next Steve Jobs. So if you’re currently wandering aimlessly around India, we’d love to have you right here in Central New York. Unicorns…come make your mark!

 

EIR Guest Post: Find a Way

This is a guest post by StartFast EIR Kyle Blumin (@kyleblumin)

Hi, my name is Kyle, and I”m addicted to skiing. Somehow I”ve managed to weave skiing into my personal and professional life. I rolled into Park City, Utah today after driving a little over 2000 miles from Syracuse, New York. Many of you reading this must be wondering what would possess me to do such a thing considering the Wright brothers invented flying a long time ago. The simple answer is – my dog. My wife and I were never thrilled with the concept of putting him on a plane. So, yours truly drew the short straw. At least that”s what I thought when I contemplated repeating what has become an annual trip to Mecca. My trip would prove otherwise.

As mile after mile rolled by I couldn”t help but think how incredible it is that everything I was seeing was created in about 200 years. Low and slow gives you a completely different perspective than peanuts and soda or the smelly guy that just won”t shut up. The thought crossed my mind that I was traveling in a car at 75 miles per hour with heat, heated seats, anti-lock brakes and air bags. The temperature in Wyoming was -20 degrees and the wind was blowing at 35 miles per hour. I couldn”t imagine what it was like for the early pioneers of this country in the face of weather like that without any modern amenities. Imagine traveling by foot or horse across undeveloped land with no map and no real understanding as to what your fate truly was to be. No cars, no fast food, no cell phone, no government, no nothin”. Just try to imagine that – let it sink in. Some died along the way in horrific events. But some actually found a way to survive and made it. It had to have taken an unwavering mental acuity and stubbornness to make it. Because of that mental fortitude and ability to survive, others thrived and this country was built.

When you drive 2000 miles, you have a lot of time to think. You also have a lot of time to listen to music that you”re thankful nobody else knows you”re listening to (come on, you know you”ve done that). As I thought about all that has been created in a fairly short period of time, it amazed me even more to think about what has developed over the last 30 years. The personal computer, email, cell phone, mobile device, internet and social media have all developed since the 80″s. The mass commercialization of all of this has really only come to be within the last 20 years. The proliferation of technology that allows for intricate communication to occur in seconds over a distance that took me days to drive was developed in less than 10% of the history of this country. Amazing.

I used to use the saying, “none of this matters in 100 years anyways”. Over time I”ve come to realize that nothing could be farther from the truth. Without the pioneers, none of this would have taken place. If not for the pioneers, you and I wouldn”t be living the lives we”re living. “Entrepreneur” is just an eloquent way of describing a pioneer. Entrepreneurs also travel across undeveloped land with no map and no real understanding as to what their fate truly is to be. They too have unwavering mental acuity and stubbornness to make it. My hat is tipped to those that find a way to lay railroad tracks across massive stretches of land risking life and capital or to those that develop social networks used by billions of people. While different, they are similar in that they overcame massive hurdles to succeed.

I”m privileged to be working with the next generation of pioneers at StartFast. I can”t wait to see the next 10 years of development all around us. Pioneer on, find a way….and pray for snow!

New Strategy for a New Era

2012 was a year of many firsts for StartFast and also one of great changes in the landscape for early stage investors and accelerator programs. We look forward to 2013 with great anticipation and are making several improvements to this summer”s program with the twin goals of bringing faster returns to investors and greater value to founders.

  1. EIRs: We have instituted an Entrepreneur in Residence (EIR) program so that StartFast teams have the ability to work closely with experienced entrepreneurs who can play a key role as a virtual member of the startup team. StartFast EIRs are exited serial entrepreneurs and investors who will grow the StartFast network”s reach, help recruit great companies, identify new mentors/investors and work with the selected companies to more quickly meet their goals and investors’ expectations. Our first two EIRs, Kyle Blumin and Jeremy Schwimmer, are already active in identifying, screening, and recruiting startups. Additional EIRs will be announced in the coming weeks.
  2. Rolling Admissions: StartFast is instituting a rolling admissions policy so that we incentivize early applications and also

    have the opportunity to maximize the time spent with applicants prior to the start of the program. This means that startups that apply early get our attention first and as the slots get filled, later applications have a tougher time competing for the remaining slots. These extra weeks and months can be critical in helping companies reevaluate their direction, achieve better product-market fit, and even access additional investment capital. With our new EIRs on board, we have greater bandwidth and a much larger network for engaging founders early and often. Apply Now

  3. Additional Capital: In response to the widely publicized “A-round crunch”, we are raising additional funds from existing and new investors and sponsors. We plan on making follow-on investments in the most promising StartFast companies.
  4. Investor Outreach: We are growing our outreach in Boston and New York to both recruit new startups and increase opportunities for StartFast teams to present to accredited investors. In addition, in 2013 we will ask regional entrepreneurs and angels to host events in Rochester, Buffalo, Albany, Ithaca and Binghamton.
  5. New Guidebook: We will be publishing volume 2 of the StartFast! book series to enhance founder education. Volume 1, published in January 2012, covers lean startup principles. Volume 2, “Growth Hacking – A Practitioner’s Guide to Lean Marketing” will cover the best means to engineer rapid growth.

We’re proud of what we’re doing and excited about Upstate NY”s entrepreneurial renaissance. We don’t aspire to be Silicon Valley or Manhattan, but we are on our way to building a great entrepreneurial community and creating opportunities for value investors that are not available in more overheated markets. StartFast is tapping into the tremendous talent of our region as well as recruiting the best and brightest from around the world.

90% Failure Rate? Says Who?

This is a guest post by StartFast Entrepreneur in Residence Kyle Blumin.  Follow Kyle on Twitter (@kyleblumin)

It is really hard to succeed in the start-up world. 90% of new products fail (The Start-Up Owners Manual: Steve Blank, Bob Dorf). So what is it about entrepreneurs that allow us to understand this and still move forward into the land of the unknown? Stupidity…balls…greed…blind faith? Maybe or maybe not. The reality is that many entrepreneurs want to solve for a problem they see that impacts them. And so it begins… They spend tremendous effort talking about it, building the prototype, iterating, scraping together money to fund it, going into debt for it, believing in their soul that this is the next great whizbanger – and 90% of them end up in a smoldering wrecked heap on the side of the road. How could this have happened? They knew the world was ready for their beautiful and precious whizbanger. They were so sure of it they mortgaged their house, leveraged life-long friendships, borrowed from college funds, borrowed from family, borrowed from their own quality of life and burned countless hours in the whizbanger factory. Exhausting…

There are multiple reasons why start-ups fail. Founders are a poor fit, the idea was bad to begin with, markets shift, investors bail, and so on and so on. I’m a big believer that a substantial amount of failed start-ups would never have started to begin with if they had just asked themselves the very fundamentally simple question, “how in the hell am I going to make money with this venture?” Or better yet, “how can I make a lot of money with this?” Keep in mind that 90% of start-ups fail. If you are going to invest your entire being into this venture and ask others to do the same and invest along with that effort, you had better be able to have a realistic potential to make it all worth it and then some. In other words, build a real business.

I’ve had three successful exits. I am grateful for that. However, I would attribute that success to a few things. The first is luck. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that luck didn’t play into their success in some way. I’m not talking about lottery-winning luck – I mean the power of convergence. I believe you can make your own luck if you work hard enough and try to think a few steps ahead of where you’re going. The second is being truthful with yourself. Put yourself in the shoes of your potential customers and investors. Would you write a check to yourself as an investor or customer for what it is your venture offers? If there is any doubt, you probably have some soul searching to do to figure out what holes there are in the story you are telling yourself. The last thing I would attribute my success to is being able to check my ego at the door. I often share with people that ego can cost you a fortune. Starting a company is not for those with thin skin. If you can’t look at failing and being able to pivot on an idea as succeeding, this game probably isn’t for you. However, if you are receptive to help from others, mentoring and constructive criticism, chances are you’re one step closer to success.

Are you working on the next great whizbanger? Man, I hope not…

Guest Post: Why I joined StartFast

This is a guest post by StartFast Entrepreneur in Residence Kyle Blumin.

There’s a lot of talk these days about the recent election, the fiscal cliff and how the government can get us out of this economic mess we’re in. I see the current situation, and many other things, in a different way. I ask, “how can we get ourselves out of this mess and not wait for someone else to fix our problems for us?” I’ve always been one to think of how things will be five to ten years in the future. Dwelling in the past or the current never did me much good. So when I look at the economic situation in this country and the Upstate New York region, I think about how things could be in five to ten years. Entrepreneurs have the ability to create a positive future for themselves and those around them. In the case of high-growth entrepreneurship, they have the ability to create the future around the world. They have the skills and vision to truly transform a region. To prove my point, Central Florida was a swamp, Southern Nevada was a vast desert and Verona, New York used to be known for a tough economic past. This summer, I watched Tiger Woods play golf in Verona, just 30 minutes from my house.

I believe that StartFast has the ability to drive substantial growth over time in a place that has an unbelievable set of untapped assets – until now… In Upstate New York we have world-class universities, half a million students, a vibrant and overlooked entrepreneurial community, a highly educated work force and some amazing landscape. All of this is positioned between the Adirondack Park and the financial capital of the world in New York City. Whether you know it or not, it truly is a great place to start a business. When I think about all of that, I really don’t care about what the past held for this region. I can clearly see what is in store for us in the future. As time progresses, more and more successful and aspiring entrepreneurs will call this region home.

What do your next five to ten years look like? I know what mine look like and that’s why I joined

Startfast.

Week Fourteen – Proud

StartFast Demo Day August 16, 2012 (last Thursday) was a remarkable experience. The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle called it, “An Amazing and Important Day.” After the event two investors approached me gushing with excitement and they and others talked about how this “changes everything.” I was amazed at how well the whole event came together and how well each company’s presentation was received. And I was proud of the teams, proud of Upstate New York and proud of everyone in the room for believing enough to show up.

There were roughly 280 attendees including roughly 140 accredited investors, angels and venture capitalists, along with mentors, community members, volunteers and the teams, their friends and family. I’m guessing there was over $1 billion of investment capacity in the room – perhaps the largest gathering of startup capital ever in Upstate New York. The Mayor of Syracuse spoke, there was an incredible display of African drumming, dance and acrobatics. People are already asking us how we can top this next year.

This excitement is warranted and if it is infectious it will accelerate the rise of the entrepreneurial culture in Upstate NY. But for eight young companies, the point of Demo Day was to introduce their companies and products to the world, and to have investors introduce themselves to the companies. That happened quietly at a lunch/reception just outside the Demo Day venue (the Everson Museum of Art). Within 90 minutes after the presentations ended, each team had logged investor interest more than equaling the capital they need to raise. Follow-up meetings are underway and capital rounds will be closing in the next several days and weeks.

Funding is important, but as I’ve said before, the main point of StartFast is to train great entrepreneurs to build great companies. I’m proud of each of these companies and of their founders, who have all learned how to do more faster. A great performance on Demo Day is not the point, but it is a catalyst. That performance punctuates the 100 days of hard work that went before it. Hagar Romach of Guard My Angel said, “Before Demo Day I was so nervous I thought I would pass out. But after our pitch all I could think was, ‘That was so fun! I want to do it again!'” That kind of enthusiasm will inspire exceptional applicants for next year’s program.

I’m proud of the Upstate Community for coming together to support StartFast. Investors, sponsors, interns, volunteers, mentors and community members make up an ecosystem, a support structure, without which this would have been impossible. It’s been days since the event and I’m still glowing with pride!

 

 

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