Three New Programs Launch to Help Startups Grow

by Jan 28, 2022

Crossposted from the Herald-Times, this is The Mill’s regular column, written this time by Andy Lehman, Head of Accelerator Programming. 

Our mission at The Mill is to help launch and accelerate startups. To that end, we’re excited to announce three new pre-accelerators we’re adding to our growing list of programming.

To understand what a pre-accelerator is, it’s important to first understand what we mean by “startup.” A startup is a little different than a traditional small business. A startup is a fast-growing, technology-driven business that requires timely, specific support to fuel that growth.

In its earliest stages, a startup is just an idea. From there, the founder develops a business canvas (a plan for growth), a minimum viable product (MVP), and a pitch deck. The MVP is a just-good-enough product that helps the startup find customers and get enough feedback to inform more expensive, refined product development. The pitch deck is a presentation to convince investors to back the startup during its growth stages.

So how do entrepreneurs learn how to create the business canvas, find those early customers, bring on investors, and grow a successful tech business? They go through accelerator programs. Programs for the earliest stages of the startup are called pre-accelerators, and many are free. They help founders get ready to enter the market, find investors, and ramp up to qualify for accelerator programs. Accelerator programs focus on startups at later stages, are very competitive, and often require the founder to pay fees or provide equity in their startup to participate.

Put another way, if accelerators are like your graduate program in college, then pre-accelerators are your undergrad. Pre-accelerators lay the foundation for building a successful startup.

Our ecosystem already has some terrific programs. B-Start, run by the BEDC, serves startups at the earliest stage, when it’s just an idea. gBETA, run by gener8tor, takes on startups that are further along. The Mill’s new pre-accelerator programs target the gap between our ecosystem’s existing offerings and the needs of specific types of startups and founders.  

We kicked off the first new program, Mill Cohorts, on January 18. This six-week program for Mill members and friends is designed to be a step in between B-Start and gBETA. Mill Cohorts focuses on three key areas of growth: product-market fit, performance metrics, and financials. Participants will engage with over a dozen mentors from our extensive network and form a peer-to-peer community at The Mill to support them after the program.

Our first cohort accepted four Mill members and one student-run startup, through our partnership with the Luddy School at IU. We’ll wrap up the program on February 24 with what’s called a Demo Night. All five founders will pitch their company and have an opportunity to network with other founders, entrepreneurs, investors, and community leaders.

Our second new program is the IU Faculty Startup Accelerator, a collaboration between The Mill and the IU Innovation and Commercialization Office (ICO). It’s exclusively for IU faculty and staff who are planning to found a startup — or already have — and are looking for help to refine their business plan and pitch deck for investment. We’re kicking this program off on February 1 with eight participants.

IU faculty and staff are doing state-of-the-art research and developing amazing innovations — but we need make sure they have customers! So they’ll spend the first three weeks of the program working on customer development, defining the problem they’re solving, and understanding the market opportunity. The last three weeks of the program focus on marketing, sales, building a team, refining their business plan, and building their pitch deck. 

Just like Mill Cohorts, these participants will meet with The Mill’s network of mentors and investors. They’ll grow their own network and possibly even their team: many faculty entrepreneurs benefit from finding a co-founder to help accelerate the business. On March 8, we’ll host a Demo Night for the participants to pitch entrepreneurs, founders, investors and community leaders.

After spring break, we’ll finish up the final planning for our third new program, PROPELS, in collaboration with NSWC Crane. PROPELS — PRomising OPportunities for Engagement with Local ecoSystem — is designed to help Crane’s tech transfer office develop commercialization opportunities for the innovators and inventors at Crane.

PROPELS kicks off with a “reverse-pitch” night in early April. Crane IP holders and inventors will pitch their IP and inventions to an audience of entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs can then choose which IP or invention to develop into a product, either in a new company or in an existing one. From there, we’ll run programming to support entrepreneurs and inventors as they build their new venture or incorporate the IP into a current product. In late June, they’ll showcase their outcomes at the Crane/RADIUS IP Pitch Competition. 

Pre-accelerators are vital to the health of any growing entrepreneurial ecosystem. The Mill is thrilled to launch these new programs with prestigious partners like IU and Crane. Together with our other entrepreneurial development programming like ReBoot and Startup Summer, our new pre-accelerators make for a full and ambitious slate in 2022.