How I Spent My Summer in Startup Boot Camp
Finals are over and it’s the first day of summer, but I’m not at home or relaxing at the beach. Instead, I’m sitting in a conference room with my two partners and the eight other young companies selected for the Betaspring Startup Accelerator, based in Providence, RI.
At the podium in front of us stands Allan Tear, an accomplished entrepreneur and one of Betaspring’s three managing directors. After a quick round of introductions, Allan welcomes us to the program and outlines our weekly schedule. On top of 12-hour work days, we’ll be having two mentor meetings a week with additional “intensive” sessions as needed. The 12-week program will culminate with a final “investor demo day,” where we will be given 10 minutes in front of a room of angel investors and venture capitalists. “All right,” Allan finishes, “Those are the basics. Now let’s hear what you’ve got. You have exactly 90 seconds to convince us you have a business I can be excited about.”
One by one, each of the nine teams stands and presents themselves. I hear about PhDs from Brown and MBAs from Wharton, about emerging trends I’ve never heard of and technologies I barely understand. Finally it’s my turn: “Jobzle allows businesses to hire college students for part-time jobs and internships across multiple campuses.” Pause. “We’re all seniors at Brown and I’m a history major.” Complete silence. I hear someone to my right murmur, “History?”
After a moment, Allan stands again. “Those need work,” he concludes, “but they’re a start. Now, if you’ll follow me, I want to show you your new offices.” From that moment onward, everything I thought I knew about business was upended.
Each week I would meet with mentors from Betaspring’s impressive roster of successful entrepreneurs. One day I’d be poring over marketing strategy with Shelley Wilson from Constant Contact, and the next I’d be listening to Angus Davis of Swipely explain the merits of venture capital. There is no substitute for these mentor interactions. They provided me with the personalized feedback that I hadn’t found from blogs and lectures and gave me an outlet to vet ideas before committing myself to them.
I was taught how to develop and manage every facet of my company, from product development to marketing to finance. I learned about corporate structuring, angel investors, social media marketing, and contract negotiation. I learned how to sell an idea in 90 seconds, and how to sell a business in 10 minutes. Then I learned about balance—balancing the elements of the company, and balancing my business life with my personal life. One invaluable lesson Betaspring taught me was that marketing is both a science and an art. You can have the best product in the world, and it won’t matter at all if you can’t get the word out. With mentorship, I was able to take the time to plan and coordinate a cohesive marketing strategy—which allowed me to return my focus to the product itself.
The process was anything but smooth. Startup life is as exhausting as it is rewarding, and there were more than a few moments where I looked down at my stack of responsibilities and wondered if there were enough hours in the day. At other times I would find myself at odds with one of our mentors, trying to defend my vision against a strong personality. At the end of investor demo day in late August, the last day of the program, I stumbled home and collapsed into my bed. It would be my first full night of sleep in over a month. The exhaustion was well worth it. Since giving our 10-minute pitch, we have been approached by a number of angels and VCs—several of whom we’re continuing to talk to about leading our first round of financing.
I couldn’t have a higher opinion of Betaspring, and of all startup accelerators. For me, starting my first company was like navigating an obstacle course. For every wall I clawed over, there was another seemingly impassable hurdle to meet me. Betaspring provided me with the safety net I needed to take risks—a safety net that allowed me to jump knowing that if I fell I would be caught, that there would always be helpful hands pushing me upwards. But more important than anything else, Betaspring gave me the confidence to succeed. I entered the program as an upstart designer with a big idea, and I left a CEO. I spent my summer in startup boot camp, and I don’t regret a day of it.