We just concluded our second cohort of the NEXT Accelerator program designed to work with high-growth startup founders to supercharge their businesses. At the culmination of the program, the founders took the stage to deliver their 4-minute pitches on November 16, 2023 in front of a sizable audience of about 125 people, receiving support not only from their friends and family but also from an unexpected ally—Barbie. (You’d have to have been there!) Part of their presentation is reflecting on what they learned through this eight-week intensive program. Let’s delve into what they learned and what they found most impactful – genuine insights from a cohort navigating the unpredictable startup world of business.
Strategic Focus and Storytelling Mastery:
- The cohort 2 founders realized the importance of a clear strategy, incorporating insights from curriculum presentations and panelists into their big-picture plans. Improving storytelling skills became a game-changer especially when it came time to focus on their pitches – getting your whole story down to 4 minutes is hard!
The Business Rollercoaster:
- The program offered an MBA “crash course” in business, particularly sales and scaling – sans the textbooks. Participants not only sharpened their business acumen but also cultivated valuable leadership skills. It wasn’t just the presenters and panelists that provided valuable insight but each founder learned just as much from their fellow cohort founders. “As a sole founder, you kind of get caught in the hamster wheel of life. One month you may spend 4 days in finance, a few days in operations, and then you get caught in a marketing fire over there. One thing NEXT has provided on the accelerator front as well as the VMS program front is the blinders on the horse, helping to keep things steady. Also the continuity of mentorship. You can always get advice but having people that really know the story helps a lot.” Zeb Parsons, Bricolage Dynamics
Networking, Insights, and Tweaking Their Game:
- Connections made during the program are invaluable – collaboration during the program was critical but even more so the ability to lean on their peers post-program will be incredibly beneficial. Across the board, the participants talked about being inspired by and building connections with fellow founders adding a sense of camaraderie to the process. Refining their approach and solving problems collectively were standout moments, especially during our Friday lunches!
Sales, Customers, and Team are key:
- Sales emerged as the heartbeat of their businesses. “I learned that sales is important and you want to have customers! You want to make money. Making money is good.” Julian Brinkley, MyUI.ai’s tongue-in-cheek lightbulb moment. Also, finding the right person to make those sales is clutch – oftentimes the founder(s) is the initial sales person but finding the right people to join the team becomes critical as companies grow.
Cutting through Chaos with Focus and Professional Connections:
- The program helped them focus amid the chaos of entrepreneurship, providing mentorship like a GPS for their businesses. Networking opportunities acted as a gateway to the business community, offering impactful connections and insights. We look forward to continuing to connect these founders with long-term mentor relationships.
Leveraging Networks, Cheers to Resilience:
- Their mentors became lifelines, helping them leverage networks and fostering camaraderie with fellow entrepreneurs. Immersed in Greenville’s startup culture, they learned to pivot swiftly and build resilience. Recognizing the importance of perseverance in the face of challenges became a crucial aspect of their entrepreneurial mindset. “It’s tough being a founder and figuring all this out. So when you can share stories and hear stories of people who have been there before and they can shed light on what you’re doing through it’s great. The leadership helped connect dots and also connect to people and build relationships that will continue to show dividends.” – Pierce Wylie, Rebel Rabbit
From Where They Started to Where They’re Going:
- We started the sessions with three main questions: what do you want, who does it serve, and how do you get it? The program catapulted them to where they needed to be and understanding the answers to these questions.
This program was more than a pit stop; it was like rocket fuel for their businesses. As they gear up for what’s next, the impact of this experience will continue to resonate in their ongoing successes. They’re not just navigating the entrepreneurial landscape; they’re owning it, one lesson at a time.
“The NEXT Accelerator was more than a typical startup program; it was a gateway to a thriving community of innovators, mentors, and experts. As the founder and CEO of Susu Lend, a fintech startup aimed at empowering the unbanked and credit invisible, I found unparalleled support and guidance here. The program managers and staff’s dedication and expertise were instrumental in refining our pitch, making it resonate more strongly with our audience. NEXT didn’t just help us grow; it connected us with mentors and partners who shared our vision. Any entrepreneur in Greenville looking for a supportive, dynamic environment would find NEXT an invaluable resource.” – Pedro Escobar, Susu Lend