FastForward U distributed more than $150,000 to Johns Hopkins student startup ventures during the 2018-19 academic year, but many of those funding recipients said they needed more structured guidance and programming before they felt comfortable putting the money to work.
So the innovation hub—incorporating customer feedback, as any good startup does—is launching an accelerator program for the 2019–20 academic year. Each semester, selected teams will take part in a nine-week program featuring workshops on various aspects of venture creation taught by local entrepreneurs. Teams will also be assigned mentors and have their own space at FastForward U's Homewood location in Baltimore's Remington neighborhood.
Interested students can apply to join the fall accelerator cohort now. Applications are due Sept. 9.
The accelerator will have two tracks. The "Spark" track has been developed to teach the basics of running a startup to early-stage companies looking to validate their ideas. The "Fuel" track is for teams seeking to grow and scale their ventures and will cover customer development and investor pitches, among other advanced topics.
"Teams are coming to us at all different stages," says Kevin Carter, student program manager for FastForward U. "We want teams that are part of a cohort leaving feeling prepared to take the next step, whatever it might be."
Spark teams that successfully complete the program will receive $1,000 toward incorporating their venture and taking next steps. Fuel teams receive $1,000 for entering the accelerator and can get up to $4,000 on exit, all of it nondilutive funding.
The accelerator will culminate each semester with a Demo Day. The team with the winning pitch from the Spark track will receive $1,000 and automatic placement in the Fuel accelerator, while the winning team from the Fuel track will receive $10,000.
Johns Hopkins alum Pava LaPere will join the FastForward team to work with startups in the accelerator program. While at Hopkins, she helped found the student-led incubator TCO Labs and directed TCO Labs' Hatchery accelerator, which is being absorbed by FastForward U's program.
"We figured it would be a great opportunity for us to have her lead an early-stage accelerator program with a little more financial support and Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures programming," Carter says.
LaPere says she has noticed student entrepreneurs need more structure and education than their non-student counterparts do, and she is looking forward to helping the teams connect and collaborate with one another and the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Baltimore.
"A lot of students and a lot of people in general think entrepreneurship is solutions-focused when it's actually problem-focused," she says. "We want people to understand how to arrive at a solution wanted by a market, and to see it's not as horrifying a process as it seems."
In addition to the new accelerator program, FastForward U is offering a variety of awards and programs for student entrepreneurs this academic year, including:
- An award sponsored by Microsoft for ventures using artificial intelligence and/or data science
- A summer award for graduate students with medical technology ventures
- Design Sprint, a weekend-long program giving teams access to mentors, peers, and professional staff
- A monthly Instagram-based pitch competition where winning teams receive $100
- 24-hour access to Hotdesks, a dedicated workspace for students to further their ventures, which also come with the ability to schedule a one-on-one meeting with FastForward U staff and advisers and attend select events.