The “Gift” of COVID-19?

The “Gift” of COVID-19?

Okay, we haven’t lost our minds here (though there are days!). We’re not trivializing the destruction COVID wreaked on so many around the world. Heaven’s not. We haven’t joined a club of Pollyannas either.

In fact, we’d be the first to admit that COVID challenged us from the get-go. The StarterStudio team was already making strategic moves to offer our programming in a hybrid of in-person and online. It just made sense. Allowing us to meet entrepreneurs where they are.

We were in the midst of offering our newest accelerator program, that we call Build, in this hybrid fashion. Then, BOOM! COVID. The delivery of all our programming needed to move online, soonest.

Build Stage is wedged deliberately between our cocktail napkin Idea- and Seed-Stage programs. In the 12-weeks, founders learn much more about customer acquisition, how it can serve as validation, and as runway-extending self-funding when securing outside investment may be a ways off.

Our first cohort, Build-1, made the transition to all virtual, quite well. More about that another time. Our Build-2 accelerator program, currently underway, is our second program cohort and is an excellent example of how COVID “accelerated our accelerators.”

Meet the founders of Build-2.

First, it’s one of our most diverse cohorts we’ve ever had, but in unique ways. To compare, participants in Build-1 consisted of 42% women and 33% minority status. Build-2 is all male. Wait you say, diverse?

We’ve got a professor and at least one grad student. We’ve people whose background is Columbian and Persian. We’ve got data scientists, AI experts, and a user experience pro. It may be all men, and one of our first all-male cohorts in a long time, but it has its own angle on diversity.

Meet Dr. Ray Aria of Flairr Labs who is working on normalizing the use of cryptocurrency for everyday consumer purchases. With his stature as a professor at the University of Central Florida, a Ph.D. in information systems, and a distinguished global career as an academic, Ray is not your average startup founder.

Then there’s Sebastian Tamayo, founder of Debtlift, whose app aims to literally lift people out of burdensome debt while instilling a strategic approach to building wealth. He’s already got an Android and iOS app in beta. Side gigs? He’s a fulltime User Experience Engineer and in his spare time is completing an MBA. This cohort evidently needs little sleep.

What’s an Automunge? We can almost guarantee you don’t know. But founder Nick Teague can walk you through it. His company offers pre-processing of the tabular data needed in AI-driven fintech applications, for example. We’d call it data cleanup; Nick would call it “data transformation.”

Eddy Mazarredo will fool you. He represents as a hipster brand maven for his Orlando State streetwear and accessories play. But he’s also a former programmer lead, application developer, and senior program analyst, with a B.A. in finance. While he might be making Jay-Z sweat a bit, Eddy’s now building an AI-based content creation/curation engine to automate the delivery of newsletters and social media for marketing. Content is king!

Okay, Fastkale. It’s Zack McNamara’s baby and he has no interest in running a juice bar. Zack’s play is one of those where you kind of go, “huh”? Then you realize the genius of it. Fastkale is really what we called in the “olden days.,” fast “cabbage,” that is, quick money for items you want to sell, but the hurdles are challenging, if not downright scary.

Not a pawnshop. Not a cray-cray Craig’s List parking lot meet-up. (Please, no.) Have COVID “leftovers” like a nearly new Peloton bike (we’re not judging)? Color-coded vinyl dumbbells? Think of Fastkale as your buyer-on-the-spot. You come to them (safe and sound), or they come to you. Text, get a fair offer, receive cash, return to couch.

Long live collaboration.

Dang, we get excited thinking about how well positioned these companies are, how dedicated their founders are, where we’d buy shares (if we could). We’ve got a couple of fintech smarties, some leading-edge data scientists, and frankly, a kind of distributed brain trust.

Most heartening about this group of founders? They are already collaborating and finding ways they might use each other’s tech to enhance their own. They’ve never shaken hands or raised a beer glass together, but they are collaborating, creating long-term relationships, connecting the dots that founders must connect to succeed.

So, just a couple of years ago and well before the pandemic, we were fully committed to in-person instruction. Then we transitioned to hybrid methods. COVID slams us all and we move to totally virtual. Today, we are beginning to return to a hybrid model, letting us meet entrepreneurs — and creating opportunities for collaboration — wherever they are.