Pitch Day for StartUP FIU's Cohort 2
By Robert Hacker
StartUP FIU has just opened applications for the third cohort of its Empower Accelerator. The first two cohorts each received over 150 applications and we expect the same number by the June 11 deadline. The new cohort will begin the formal 14-week accelerator program in September and there is no cost or equity position given to participate. The program is open to both social and traditional entrepreneurs and their early stage companies.
The question we are most frequently asked is how can I improve the chances of being selected for the StartUP FIU accelerator.
We have interviewed over 90 applicants, worked with another 60 entrepreneurs that did not necessarily apply and advised the 39 teams comprising Cohorts I and II. The first thing all our staff are trained to look for is coachability--can the entrepreneur listen to critical feedback, thoughtfully consider it and make a reasoned adjustment. Every team in the program is assigned at least one mentor and these seasoned entrepreneurs are a critical success factor in incubators and accelerators worldwide. If the entrepreneur is not able to demonstrate they can take critical feedback from mentors and staff, their likelihood of commercial success and acceptance to the program is much lower.
Everyone who applies to Empower has a concept for a new business. Many applicants have a prototype or a beta, particularly the engineers. Surprisingly few have talked to potential customers about their problem, pain or need. After coachability, the next characteristic we look for is a demonstration of customer knowledge gained in the market. Of course, the best demonstration of customer knowledge may be revenue.
Competitive advantage, barriers to entry, what Warren Buffet calls moats--these are all descriptions of the same factors that can create value for customers and particularly shareholders. Perhaps the simplest way to demonstrate uniqueness is to describe the founder’s insight about the customer or problem that the company is addressing. Another effective technique is to describe the technology and simply describe how it is proprietary.
Entrepreneurship is the epitome of a team endeavor, hopefully beginning with co-founders and then building out the minimally necessary technical and management team. In our experience, companies with a team already established get more benefit out of the program and make more progress.
As we progress with the Empower Accelerator, we encounter an insatiable demand for all aspects of the entrepreneurship experience. We are excited to be a part of Miami’s entrepreneurial support network and will continue to iterate to be able to offer different services for the multiple needs of the community and FIU.
Robert Hacker is the Director of StartUP FIU and teaches social entrepreneurship at FIU, MIT and UM. He is the former CFO of One Laptop per Child and prior to that built a publicly traded billion-dollar company in seven years in Indonesia. His books on entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship are available on Amazon.