Author: Trish Cotter

First, I’d like to extend a warm welcome to the 2016 cohort of students in this year’s MIT Global Founders’ Skills Accelerator (GFSA) program.

Our blog is new, so for those not familiar with the program, the GFSA is the premier student accelerator program at MIT. The teams for this summer have already been picked, and they will work on their ventures full-time from June to August, with dedicated space in the newly renovated Martin Trust Center. The program includes mentorship and coaching, peer learning, simulated board meetings, guest talks and seminars, and culminates with Demo Day where the teams pitch their startups to investors and members of the press in Boston, New York, and San Francisco.

As we prepare to kick off this summer’s accelerator “boot camp” we reached out to our entrepreneurs from the GFSA Class of 2015 to check in and get their insights and perspective. We’d like to share their responses to encourage and inspire our GFSA Class of 2016! (Company names are being kept private as some of the teams are currently in “stealth mode.”)

  1. What are you doing now?

  • We developed, sold, built and shipped 50 alpha prototypes! We are now working with our testers to improve the user experience and include all the feedback as we get ready for launch before the end of the year.
  • We’ve guaranteed the financial stability of [our company] for the next year.
  • After the GFSA we were accepted into the San Francisco-based biotech accelerator, IndieBio, where we received $250,000 for prototyping.
  • We’re now back in Boston and in the middle of raising seed funds to set up a lab and get our platform ready for alpha trials.
  • We’re working on scaling the business (location and products)
  • We had a really narrow beachhead … [and] a down-market strategy for our product to scale to the larger prosumer and consumer markets. …. Long story short, this compromised our ability to scale in the future and thus the idea has been discontinued for now.
  • We’re delivering customer pilots. Just closing an angel round.
  1. What was the most valuable thing that you took from the GFSA program?

  • The daily help/advice from the EIRs (Entrepreneurs in Residence) as well as the network of all the other GFSA companies and speakers.
  • Customers know best! PMR was uncomfortable at first but the information on pain points and the LOIs we got from interviews have been invaluable in shaping our value prop and company mission.
  • The importance of co-founders.
  • You cannot be too narrow in determining your market segment. Be narrow in your market segment, narrow in your end-user profile, and do not be afraid to change and adjust these as necessary.
  • A pivot in market and/or product will happen to 90% of you and it is completely normal and healthy.
  • Primary market research never really stops. That is, you must be constantly forming hypotheses and you must constantly verify them through the relationships you’ve made with potential customers.
  • Ask the hard questions and be objective.
  • Handling co-founder issues
  • Don’t be discouraged when you have to change your market or alter your product. A pivot in these cases is completely normal and even expected.
  • Traction is king.
  • Beachhead market is super important and [your beachhead market size] should be at least $50 million.
  • How to effectively conduct and drive board meetings
  1. How did that help you?

  • We still rely on the Trust Center staff for punctual help/advice as well as for bigger strategic decisions.
  • Market validation for fundraising.
  • Share the work burden.
  • Convince investors, improve in general.
  • We came up with an excellent beachhead and user profile which we were confident in.
  • Forming and investigating different hypotheses and scenarios helped us to make the call to discontinue as we realized our product market fit was not quite there. This potentially saved us years of work and countless hours invested in a flat line business.
  • Helped build our product, customer segment, and team.
  1. If there was something you could change about the GFSA program, what would it be?

  • I would rebrand it 😉 GFSA is confusing.
  • We would have liked more group outings and evening activities. Sometimes the companies felt isolated despite the close proximity, and we all eventually became friends but pretty late in the program.
  • Take out financials. They don’t help in my experience. Customer revenue and co-founders are more important.
  • GFSA should encourage entrepreneurs to take more risks (every month & not just while defining the beachhead)
  • GFSA was my first and only accelerator I’ve participated in and I thought it was outstanding. The only real bumps I noticed were logistical and organizational but I believe that will be smoothed out for 2016.
  1. What is one piece of advice you would give to the incoming GFSA class?

  • Reach all the milestones even if they seem a bit farfetched!
  • At first we didn’t really see the value in talking to contract manufacturers when our product still wasn’t working, [but] having these connections early turned out to be extremely helpful as we got ready for the Alpha Pilot and [they] helped us have a broader vision of the financial needs of the company.
  • Don’t squander the opportunity!
  • Don’t be stubborn – work hard and learn fast!
  • Focus on co-founders and customer revenue.
  • My biggest piece of advice to the incoming GFSA class is to be social. Through the program you will learn a lot, be exposed to a lot, and will have an unforgettable experience. The mentors and staff have a lot to offer and will prove to be amazing for you and your companies.
  • It’s your business not GFSA’s, so do what is necessary to get it rolling.
  • You have an incredible resource in your fellow peers and in the teams around you. Everyone is going through the same thing you are: the stress, the excitement, the hard, the happy, and the sad. Some will be at an earlier stage in their business than you and others ahead. The point is, you have a plethora of resources from some of the smartest and outside-the-box thinkers all around you. A vast variety of expertise, opinions, experience. and support that will prove to be invaluable. So go out and talk, drink, party, dance, and whatever else, but learn from each other. Make friendships that will last you a lifetime!
  • Set out a three-month target and work backwards. Think big (you are at MIT) and don’t be scared to experiment. All your peers will look better but everybody is in a similar boat.
  • Rent a house for a weekend on Cape Cod at the end of the summer with the entire cohort and celebrate!

It’s great to hear back from last year’s GFSA class! We look forward to another intense, yet exhilarating accelerator summer!