It’s an important week for the Innovation Hub. After months of planning, and almost a 3-month hiatus since the end of the last cohort of our startup accelerator program, we launch a new cohort this week. Thanks to some generous donors and in-kind contributions from Broward College, we will be able to launch this new cohort 6 and then cohort 7 later in the summer. A new group of between 50 and 60 hopeful founders will be able to test and validate their ideas and have a shot at launching their ventures this year. This is a big reason why we start the week full of energy, pride and enthusiasm to start a new boot-camp with a couple dozen highly qualified participants.
A few things have changed in our program, for the better. Our new funding mechanism has removed the restrictions to accept only Broward County entrepreneurs. We are now able to accept participants, and have admitted entrepreneurs from Miami-Dade as well as Palm Beach counties. This has made the process even more competitive than it was before. Another big change is that this is the first cohort that going in will already have a new goal to shoot for, aside from that of launching their businesses. This new goal is to work hard to demonstrate important and sustainable points of differentiation, and achieve a prototype ready for commercial development as soon as possible, while delivering on a compelling value proposition to highly identifiable customers. And the reason is because the ones in this cohort that achieve this sooner will get a better shot at competing for potential seed funding from the J. David Armstrong Student Venture Fund than the ones who will take longer. They will also be competing for this seed funding with the pool of companies already launched since 2017 in our first five groups, some of which already have a leg up on them. Competition drives innovation, and we will see some. We are making sure the right incentives are in place to make great things happen.
The structure of this fund is a unique one in a region of the country that needs it most. This is the first philanthropic fund in the South Florida region, tied to an entrepreneurship program at an institution of higher education, to provide early stage seed capital combined with first class mentoring to a category of entrepreneurs who would otherwise find it very difficult to launch their businesses. The fund invests in today’s entrepreneurs, and any returns go back into the fund to fund tomorrow’s entrepreneurs.
The Kaufman Foundation’s Index ranks metropolitan areas and states with regards to three areas of entrepreneurship: main street activities, startup activities, and growth entrepreneurship. The Index results show that even though South Florida leads the nation in startup activities, both the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach area, and Florida, need help improving “Growth Entrepreneurship”. In common entrepreneurship ecosystem parlance, “we lead the nation in startups, be we severely lag in scale ups”, and one main reason is lack of early funding. This is the problem we identified.
With the Fund, we make inroads in an innovative way to fill an existing early stage seed capital gap that veritably hinders entrepreneurship growth in our community. By coupling it with the first class mentoring that our board of advisors and groups like the Venture Mentoring Team give generously to those who receive funding, we put forth a model that we believe could provide a solution to the problem identified. This is our proud contribution to improving the “Growth Entrepreneurship” metric in South Florida and we look for others to emulate.