I recently joined the Harbert College of Business at Auburn University as an EIR, and today we concluded our first 8-week accelerator program for student-led startups. Similar to other accelerators you’ve heard of, today was part demo-day and part celebration. Each startup is very early stage, so “demo day” is a bit of a misnomer, but each team took their best shot at an investor pitch, based on 8 weeks of customer discovery, financials, mentoring, more customer discovery, and – of course – lots of pitch practice!

Presentation Format

The 4 teams were not given any hard requirements for the format of their presentation, so the lengths of the presentations varied greatly, from 2:42 to 12:29. After each presentation, there was open time for Q&A from EIRs, startup mentors, local investors, and representatives from other nearby accelerators and incubators. The two shorter pitches generated far more Q&A discussion, whereas the two longer pitches (both over 10 minutes) left less to be discussed, though there were still specific questions.

Areas for Improvement

When I hear pitches, there’s usually patterns and common issues, and today was no exception. However, it was interesting that each and every team exhibited two issues that really needed to be addressed.

  • Go to Market – each of the startup teams has solidified the problem they are solving, their product, their team, and for the most part their ideal customer. But none of the teams has yet addressed how they will acquire customers. Two of the teams have customers now, but in their presentations and their executive summaries, they did not address a plan to create a customer acquisition process.
  • Hope – all four startup teams kept using this word, or one of its derivations like “hopefully” or “hoping”. It wasn’t just a one time thing. One team said “we’re hoping” 7 times. This event wasn’t a contest, but rather another opportunity for teaching, learning, adjusting, and growing. We gently guided the teams to remove the word “hope” from their vocabulary. Wherever possible, they should replace “hope” with “plan”, and then show us the plan.

What’s Next?

Of the 4 teams, two will launch this fall. One will deliver a beta product and the fourth will complete its first pilot SaaS implementation and begin another by end of year. The teams and their applications are as follows:

  • Snippety Snap – selfie stand and mobile app for popular locations such as football stadiums, etc.
  • Escape Therapy – physical therapy / injury rehabilitation IoT garment for tracking therapy adherence
  • StudySPOT – mobile app for university students to find the best available study spot. The app also enables universities to track building asset usage
  • FlashTract – SaaS payment application for commercial construction firms to automate payments to sub-contractors.

I’m preparing a summary of each startup for future blog posts. Congratulations to all the teams and to Auburn University for completing the first summer accelerator program. Oh, and there’s the blooper reel from the teams’ time in the Auburn TV studio. Stay tuned!

What do you think about that?

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