Companies like Facebook, Microsoft and Warby Parker all had founders that were college students. As a result, when the word “entrepreneur” is mentioned, most people think of a young college student working long hours in their dorm, but beyond that many people do not know what it takes to create a successful startup. So what does it take for a successful startup to emerge from a college residence hall?
That’s where CREATE-X comes into the picture. During Startup Launch, teams with Georgia Tech students and alumni are given mentorship, co-working space, funding, legal services and accounting services during the 12-week summer accelerator program. CREATE-X provides the tools they need to launch a startup.
“Startup Launch is an opportunity for student entrepreneurs to be around other driven and talented founders seeking to make impactful progress in building their businesses. CREATE-X provides the infrastructure, guidance, and broad resources to help make better decisions faster and cheaper. We want to instill the confidence for students to say ‘No’ to ideas that will detract them and focus on what will create the most value in their business.” Rahul Saxena, Associate Director of Launch, further emphasizes that the accountability falls only with the Founders, who must be ready to hustle if they want the most out of the opportunity.
All of our coaches have launched startups and are experts in their field with a large network of contacts. There is a mixture of Georgia Tech faculty members and previous Startup Launch participants that continue to be active in the Atlanta entrepreneurial community or continue to work on startups. Below are a few of our coaches.
Seth Radman is an entrepreneur, Startup Launch alumni and recent Georgia Tech grad who has started and grown multiple successful startups. His first company, Plutonium Apps, has built and launched 30 mobile apps for startups and corporate customers, including the Atlanta Hawks, UGA and BrandBank. His apps have been featured on the App Store 100+ times around the world, including Apple’s App of the Day. Radman has made speaking appearances in TEDx and SXSW.
Pamela Bhatti is the Associate Chair for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the Georgia Tech School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE). In this role, she leads the School’s support of faculty members’ entrepreneurial activities and also manages the programs associated with ECE’s large number of corporate partners and affiliates, supporting the partnerships with the School’s Advisory Board.
Karthik Ramachandran is an Associate Professor of Operations Management in the Scheller College of Business. He obtained his Ph.D. in Operations Management and M.S. in Operations Research from the University of Texas at Austin. His research has appeared in journals such as Management Science, Manufacturing & Service Operations Management, Production & Operations Management and IIE Transactions.
Startup Launch coaches actively provide feedback to teams and steer them in the right direction. Coaches provide educational guidance and a general framework on how to build a startup. They also advise how to go through customer discovery, how to actively listen and help them.
Coaches hold office hours once a week where students can speak with them about any questions or concerns they currently have, but they are also readily available to answer any questions via email. Coaches also help them understand partnership and equity and how to work out problems among co-founders.
“Aside from that we help with resources beyond ourselves, so we direct people to other resources, programs and people. Among all the coaches, the odds are if there’s someone you’re trying to get into contact with to sell software to a company or manufacture a product, probably one of the coaches knows someone who can help if the coach can’t help.” Radman, co-founder of Plutonium Apps and Crescendo.
Some of the characteristics that coaches have identified in students that are extremely successful during the summer program include humility, having the ability to speak up when they don’t know what to do or when things are going wrong, team work and dedication.
“Having someone that is comfortable with imperfections and that doesn’t have an expectation for everything to go smoothly ... Ambition is really important. Those who are ambitious will find a way to continue to learn from the process throughout the summer.” Pamela Bhatti, Startup Launch coach.
Once accepted into the program, each team is assigned to a mini-batch, based on their industry. In the past, mini-batch industries included medical, B2B, fashion and edtech, among others. Every Tuesday, each mini-batch meets and learns about a business concept and discusses any startup updates or accomplishments achieved during the week.
The mini-batches also help create a sense of community. Everyone is working towards the same goal and can motivate each other to keep going. Everyone is going through similar high and low points. If you are in a similar industry to the other startups around you, you can learn from each other too. “… Being surrounded by so many other people with the same passion and doing similar entrepreneurial activities as us really helped facilitate the passion for the project.” Gordon Li, 2018 Startup Launch alumni and Co-Founder of Rift.
After the mini-batch sessions, all the startups gather for lunch and listen to a series of speakers covering topics such as “Defining Success” and “How to Pitch to VCs.” Past Launch alumni also visit to speak about their successes and how to make the most out of Startup Launch.
Halfway through the summer, all teams participate in Preview Day, an expo style event on campus where other students, friends and family can see each startup’s progress. This serves as great practice to prepare co-founders to speak with potential customers. Each startup has their own booth that they prepare with their company swag and information.
Teams also prepare for Demo Day. For two weeks in August, teams work on perfecting their 2-minute pitch and presentation. At the end of the summer, startups present at Demo Day, held at the Fox Theatre. Demo Day is the culmination of an accelerator program where all the startups get a chance to pitch on stage to potential investors, customers, media and the general public. Each year Demo Day reaches over 500 people at the Fox Theatre and over 1,000 people via livestream.
Working on Your Idea
Throughout the summer, all Startup Launch participants tend to work on their startup for 40-60 hours a week. We require that at least two team members are committed full-time to Startup Launch. That means no courses should be taken during the summer, and no part-time jobs on the side are acceptable.
Startups tend to experience the following three changes to their ideas:
Customer discovery – The majority of the summer is spent doing customer discovery. The coaches train you to think of the customer first and to identify a problem that your customers are having. Startups tend to interview at least 100+ customers during their customer discovery process to truly understand what they need from a product.
Pivot – Most ideas accepted into the program end up shifting in some way during the summer. While the initial idea seemed cool, after customer discovery, many of teams realize that their idea doesn’t solve a particular problem, solves too specific of a problem, or doesn’t solve a deep enough problem.
Building the foundation – Once the company experiences a shift, the last portion of the program is spent building the foundation. Some companies worked on creating a beta for their app while others started accepting pre-orders for their products and worked on initial prototypes.