As students are returning for the semester at Johns Hopkins University, a new accelerator is launching for those who are forming new ventures.
Run by JHU’s student entrepreneurship-focused FastForward U, the accelerator will be a nine-week program taking place each semester for student startup teams. It’s split into two tracks, dubbed “Spark” and “Fuel.” Teams who participate will have access to weekly workshops, mentorship and workspace at Hopkins’ FastForward U Homewood space, as well as funding. In fitting accelerator fashion, it all closes out with a Demo Day.
“Teams are coming to us at all different stages,” said 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.”
Pava LaPere, who cofounded TCO Labs while a student as an effort to encourage entrepreneurship on campus and create connections to the wider Baltimore biz community, is joining the FastForward team on a contract basis to work with students in the accelerator.
In the accelerator itself, a pair of tracks are designed to help students looking to build businesses. Building on past programming offered through the Spark grants and O’Connor Fund, FastForward U is seeking to offer more structured programming for entrepreneurs, as well as reach more students, LaPere said.
Spark, which is accepting up to 10 teams, is designed for early-stage companies looking to validate ideas and learn startup basics.
“The perfect fit for the Spark program are student entrepreneurs, with or without a cofounder, who have a clear idea of a problem they want to solve, and an initial solution, but who have not yet completed market research or customer discovery. The goal is that by the end of the program, the students have a validate business idea that they can then take to market,” LaPere said, adding that teams will receive $1,000, and one winning team get an additional $1,000 at Demo Day, as well as automatic placement in Fuel.
Fuel, which has space for up to five teams, is designed for teams looking to scale, covering topics like customer development, pitching and more. Teams in this track will receive $1,000 upon entering, then receive $4,000 on completion. At Demo Day, one team will win another $10,000.
“Fuel teams have already validated their solutions with customers and have a clearly defined product, a formed team, and an incorporated entity,” LaPere said. “By the end of the program, ideally Fuel teams will be ready to either fundraise or approach their first customers.”
Throughout the program, weekly workshops will be held that bring in guest speakers, and the teams will meet with mentors, as well as Carter and LaPere.
Applications for the accelerator programs, available here, are open through Sept. 9.
For the Spark program, LaPere is applying resources developed by TCO Labs’ student-run incubator, called The Hatchery. That program will live on to help students who are interested in entrepreneurship meet and exchange ideas before starting a company. LaPere sees this as a place where teams can form and establish early ideas, then refine and work toward scale in the accelerator programs.
The accelerator is part of a number of programs being launched this fall by JHU, including new funding available through the Microsoft Student Acceleration Grants. Two awards at $5,000 each are being set aside for tech efforts and startups working on new efforts using data science and artificial intelligence. Winners will also get access to Microsoft for Startups, which provides access to a handful of the tech company’s products.
There will also be events throughout the semester, as FastForward U is planning to host a weekend-long design sprint, and monthly pitch competitions held via Instagram.