CO.STARTERS: Week Zero – Drinking New Kool-Aid

Unless you’ve been in suspended animation on a long space flight or serving hard time, you probably know that StarterStudio has an Ideation Stage tech business accelerator. Hand-in-hand with that comes a well-developed and vetted, core “lean-methods” curriculum. 

“Lean methods” means tons of first-hand interviews (customer discovery) to see what prospects really want and need BEFORE lots of time and dollars are invested in a wrong-headed idea. Plus, building out an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) to show prospects, hires, and investors the tangible expression of the solution. Iterate and fail fast (in small portions), is an axiom of successful startups.

There’s lots more to this, and StarterStudio has it locked down and has delivered all this to their Starters, as they call them, in a full-time-plus 3-month program for several years. It’s intense. Their tenth class(!!) “graduated” and held their Demo Day in February of this year.

Ask any of the teams that participated in the Ideation Stage program and they will tell you it is a crash course in entrepreneurship, leadership, sales, investor finance, collaboration, experimentation, intellectual property and contracts law, self-knowledge, innovation, human resources, time management, and more.

Turns out, StarterStudio “eat its own dog food” and is innovating with a new approach and curriculum for its idea-stage accelerator as I write this. A program that while still intense, distills the full-time program into a half-day-a-week commitment (with lots of homework). CO.STARTERS is the company behind this new program that has been deployed in 129 communities around the world.

When the leadership team of StarterStudio invited me to attend facilitator training for this new program, I couldn’t pass it up. In my business I frequently work with startups. I’ve also been a workshop leader and volunteer mentor to StarterStudio’s accelerator teams. And, I’ve “served time” in at least five investor-backed startups myself. I’ve eaten a LOT of Hot Pockets (pepperoni, if you’re interested).

So, I drank the Kool-Aid of lean-startup methods, the Business Model Canvas (BMC) and Value Proposition Design (VPD) tools, and customer discovery years ago. I’ve been certified to deliver BMC and VPD workshops, too. I’m a good guinea pig for this new program.

After being trained by CO.STARTERS, including delivering mock exercises that are part of the 9-week program, I am drinking new Kool-Aid. As they say, I am drinking that new Kool-Aid from a fire hose because I have the honor (and fun) of being a facilitator of StarterStudio’s Class 11, the CO.STARTERS-method inaugural class.

What’s different about the CO-STARTERS approach? Nothing. And everything.

The “nothing” is customer discovery is still king. Honing elevator speech and pitch still prevail. A culminating event in Demo Day or Night of Celebration (CO.STARTERS name for it) still signals “graduation.” No cap and gown, just on-stage public presentations from will-be-seasoned public speaking founders.

(Mark your calendar and watch this space for more details on the October 29th startup shebang that will include companies from the seed-stage accelerator, too.)

Using a blank canvas tool to work through a business model is still key. Been-there-done-that mentors as a kind of adjunct faculty is part and parcel. Tweaking the solution and pivoting when necessary, still skillful means of progress. There are many similarities and overlaps between the curricula.

The “everything” is a jargon-free approach. BMC, VPD, IPO, MVP are nearly banished from the conversation. CO.STARTERS grew out of Chattanooga, the “Dynamo of Dixie,” and its renaissance in the 21st century. Driven, in part, by the introduction of one gigabit, and later 10 gigabit Internet speeds (first in the country to have this advantage).

Heck, you got to love a city that has its own Kick starter-funded typeface, Chatype.

The renaissance expanded the creative class in Chattanooga that includes not only coders and lawyers, but also graphic designers, fine artists, musicians, and more. CO.STARTERS was originally created for this latter class who were long on creative ideas, but short on business acumen. CO.STARTERS stepped in to provide the knowledge and tools artists might need to start-up a viable business.

Thus, the original CO.STARTERS way cut out the argot of tech and business (and acronyms!) and focused on helping people to simply make progress on a business idea. CO.STARTERS would much rather find a path to a step-change answer to a question (Should I start this business? Should I take out a loan?) more so than demoing a product.

To be sure, Class 11 is a pure tech group of founders, and StarterStudio is finding innovative ways to bring in its old ways alongside these new ones. I think the blend will be like the cabernet, sauvignon, and merlot blends of the great Bordeaux wines. Ah, yes.

Sorry, I might have been distracted there for a moment.

So, you might ask, why the change? Why go to a much more compressed approach, why not stick with the tried and true?

Well, I’m no genius, and I am not privy to the whole strategy here, but think about it. A shortened curriculum means the opportunity for more classes per year (think funnel and “deal flow” of more investable companies) coming out of Central Florida.

We teach our startups to “find a niche.” A short, intense curriculum opens small floodgates of programs focused on women founders, veteran founders, diversity-driven CO.STARTERS cohorts, artist and artisanal startups that CO.STARTERS cut its teeth on, and more. The new approach lends itself to classes held in the evening (CO.STARTERS loves that). And, maybe deploying the program in other locations.

Whether I have “grokked” the strategy or not, I’m ready to rock and roll in Week One with Class 11. Here’s to Kool-Aid (and Bordeauxs!), old and new! Stay tuned for a progress report after Week One and more information on the companies in this group.