Week One of the StartFast Accelerator 2014 Program was a Success

This week, roughly 20 entrepreneurs gathered from around the world to enter the StartFast Accelerator program in Syracuse, New York. The three-month program is intended to be intense, challenging, and productive. The goal is to gain in three months what would normally take one year.

When you first walk into the office space, engulfed by windows and sunshine, you look up to see very tall ceilings which gives you plenty of room and space to breathe and think.  The six lucky companies who have been given the privilege to be here are just a few feet away from each other and are constantly surrounded and given crucial assistance by local university interns and mentors with a variety of skill sets.  StartFast Venture Accelerator Design Star Tristan Toye thinks this year's group of startups are some of the most interesting he has worked with. "These companies have their MVPs nailed and will be working hard this summer to scale fast.  From what I've seen so far in such a short time, I have no doubts in my mind that they will surpass everyone's expectations."

Every morning, managing director Chuck Stormon, gives the companies a daily speech as well as any feedback, assignments, and guidance. He also gives the companies 30- to 60-minute private sessions to discuss lean startup methods, business models, user acquisition strategies, monetization techniques, and any other vital pieces of startup gold.  After having a LeanCanvas meeting with Stormon on the first day of the program, Founder & CEO of Sooligan, Natasia Malaihollo, quickly realized that the problem her team is solving is too broad and that they need to narrow down their initial target market.  ”We started to conduct experiments in the community to help us identify our initial market. Overall, I would say the first week is an indication that we are most likely going to modify the app significantly this summer through various iterations."

From my perspective, the first week was very fast-paced, full of immediate immersion into the typical startup culture you would find at a co-working space or other top-tier accelerator. I was welcomed by staff, other startups, and interns who jumped right in to help us with our goals for the summer, whether it be building a prototype for our new web version, organizing the delegation of tasks and priorities, helping with our marketing strategy and implementing it, or by simply taking detailed notes during private sessions to diminish the pressure and allow us to be more attentive. Cornell University student and intern Jenna Quindica thinks this is going to be an amazing summer. "I see a lot of potential in these startups, and the mentors have really insightful things to say about the concepts we're working on."

Influential mentors will be coming in to talk to each company weekly and providing invaluable advice and feedback.  So far, the feedback our startup has received from everyone has been invaluable, it has only been the first week, but it feels as though a lot more than a week's worth of progress has been made. With the way things are looking, we will not only reach our goals but surpass them, and I'm sure the other startups feel the same way. Looking forward to more acceleration in the coming months!

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!