New summer program offers intensive training on launching startups

Media Credit: Photo Illustration by Donna Armstrong | Contributing Photo Editor

A new nine-week program, called GW Student Startup Accelerator, will accept eight teams of two to four students in its first cohort this summer to help them develop and launch original businesses.

Students hoping to launch their own businesses can now spend the summer at a University-sponsored startup accelerator program.

The new nine-week program, called GW Student Startup Accelerator, will accept eight teams of two to four students in its first cohort this summer to help them develop and launch original businesses. Officials said the program helps address student demand for a formal program to guide them through the startup process.

Lex McCusker, the director of the New Venture Competition at the Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, said current undergraduate and graduate students and alumni who have graduated in the past two years can apply for the program. He said officials developed the program by looking at similar initiatives at universities across the nation.

Each of the nine weeks of the program will focus on a different part of building a business, McCusker said. Some of the planned topics include customer discovery, market sizing, competition, revenue models and branding, he said.

Officials will host a workshop at the start of every week, and teams will spend the rest of the week developing their ideas with mentors, a panel of advisers and the “teaching team,” he said. The program will wrap up on July 18 with a day of pitching business ideas to 30 angel investors and venture capitalists, McCusker said.

He said the program will serve as a “logical next step” for students who participate in GW’s startup contests, like the New Venture Competition or the National Science Foundation’s I-Corps AccelerateGW program, where students learn how to develop new business endeavors.

“We want to apply the advanced resources available through GW’s entrepreneurial ecosystem to a few really excellent student startups and propel them forward,” McCusker said in an email. “The University and the larger society have a lot to gain from these students’ innovations and creativity.”

McCusker said the venture teams can pitch commercial or social ideas, and the ventures can either be for- or non-profit. The University will provide participants with campus housing, a “small living allowance” and funds to pay for expenses groups encounter as they meet with potential customers and investors.

“We especially want teams that can commit to the program full-time for the nine weeks and who are committed to launching their venture,” he said. “We favor teams that have well-defined customer segments and a crisp value proposition for those segments.”

Gerry Fine, the director of the startup accelerator at Boston University, said he and other leaders of startup accelerator programs have recognized that students are demanding opportunities to learn outside of the classroom. BU’s summer intensive session, which was launched in 2014, lasts 10 weeks over the summer and allows 16 teams of students to participate in workshops.

“What we realized is that regardless of quality of education they are receiving in the classroom, students crave meaningful experiential experience,” he said.

Stephanie Landers, the director of the summer startup accelerator at Princeton University, said the structure of the program is similar to GW’s in that students have a lot of “free time” in between their workshops and mentoring sessions.

Since Princeton’s program was launched in 2012, Landers said students have requested more off time to meet with potential users. Each of the projects is in a different stage, and some participants had more business knowledge than others, so it makes sense that the structure is more fluid, she said.

“Expect varying needs,” she said. “Everyone is on different levels. Always be available and be ready to jump in and offer more resources and more guidance.”

Jen Curtis, the operations manager at New York University’s accelerator program, which launched about eight years ago, said many university donors are entrepreneurs who can help build excitement and solicit funding for similar programs. Universities are often interested in hosting accelerator programs because they know most startups do not succeed on their first try, she said.

“There’s no better time to try when you’re a student,” she said. “You get a lot of great skills like how to work on a team, how to work with a boss.”

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