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Start:ME kicks off with an action-packed session that brings together entrepreneurs, mentors, some alumni and the Start:ME team. We review the 14-week session structure, content and draft SMART goals.
The kick-off provides an opportunity to network as networks are essential to entrepreneurial success, fostering knowledge sharing, access to opportunities, and a strong support base. Network building is all about building connections, starting with finding common ground.
IMPROV & Introductions
Network building continues during the first in-community session, the first with mentors. The session starts with IMPROV to break down barriers, build comfort with imperfection, learn to accept feedback, and share a few laughs.
This rolls into speed networking, where entrepreneurs meet all mentors in the room (and vice versa). In two rapid fire minutes, folks introduce themselves, their skills, what they do, and their goals before rotating to meet someone new. Chaotic? Yes. High-energy? You bet. Helpful? Without a doubt.
Business Plan Basics
Business plans provide a roadmap for business operation and success. The goal is for every entrepreneur to complete Start:ME with a concise, actionable, and practical business plan.
In this session, the Start:ME Team introduce the core components of a plan – who you are, what you sell, who you sell to, and how much money – then entrepreneurs and mentors get to work drafting outlines. As they conduct market research, interview customers, and dig into their financials, the entrepreneurs update and revise these plans-on-a-page before translating their outlines into a written business plan.
The “art” of storytelling is an essential skill for entrepreneurs, whether pitching to a potential customer, business partner, or investor. Building on their business plans-on-a-page and ideal customer profiles, entrepreneurs practice telling and refining their business story – first with a friendly audience (think ‘grandma’ or ‘grandpa’), followed by panels of peers and mentors providing detailed written and verbal feedback.
Working Session One
Customer Feedback Night Prep
Working sessions provide less structured time for entrepreneurs and mentors to dig in and get to work. In the first of the three working sessions, the Start:ME Team focus on setting newly formed table teams up for success and getting entrepreneurs ready for neighborhood night.
Table teams – 2-3 entrepreneurs and 2-4 mentors – are formed prior to this session based on preferences, business needs, and mentor expertise to work together for the remainder of the program. To get off to a strong start, teammates discuss and map out individual leadership and work styles so that all members are more self-aware and collaborative.
During the rest of the session, the newly formed teams dig into business plans, pitches, market research, and prep for the next week’s neighborhood night.
Navigating Legal Issues
All ventures and attorneys gathered for a session to discuss navigating legal issues.
The session kicks off with Legal 101, followed by small breakout groups led by attorneys with particular expertise in taxes, succession planning, corporate structures, employment, contracts, trademarks and more. The goal is to build a stronger understanding of the most pressing legal issues for entrepreneurs and the steps to resolve those issues.
Customer Feedback Night
One of the most memorable and impactful sessions of Start:ME is neighborhood feedback night, when engaged community members and program stakeholders provide feedback on the businesses' products and services.
Each entrepreneur delivers a five minute pitch to about 10 attendees before asking questions of the audience to gather insights, opinions, and constructive feedback. These focus group-like presentations give entrepreneurs the opportunity to receive actionable feedback and use those findings to tailor their research, build feedback into their evolving business page-on-a-plan, and begin translating that outline into a formal written business plan following the session.
A strong understanding of financials is necessary to gauge and communicate how a business has and is expected to perform. Entrepreneurs and mentors dive into the drivers of income statements, digging into the performance of individual products and services, as well as fixed expenses impacting the business’s bottom line.
Accessing capital requires both strong financials and a solid understanding of sources appropriate for each stage of business. In this session, table teams review and refine the financial plans they’ve built together, before exploring the "capital ladder" to identify business capital needs the types of available capital.
Working Session Two
The second working session provides an opportunity for entrepreneurs to work closely with their mentors to refine their written business plan, financials, and plan walkthrough.
The session wraps with a second practice panel, in which entrepreneurs walk peers and mentors through their written business plans. Audience members provide detailed written feedback and an initial peer rating based on five criteria – capability, product quality, customer knowledge, financial outlook, and capital ask.
Feedback and scores are summarized into a report card, which gives entrepreneurs actionable guidance on their relative strengths and areas of their business to focus on during the final weeks of Start:ME.
Strong networks include the support services that entrepreneurs need to succeed. Entrepreneurs from all three communities gather to build those essential connections during the final Saturday session, the small business tradeshow.
Representatives from 20+ organizations, offering everything from graphic design to small business lending, shared kitchen space to one-on-one consulting, briefly present their organizations, followed by open networking for entrepreneurs to meet and converse with these service providers.
Practice Loan Interview
As the entrepreneurs refine and finalize their business plans and financials, the Start:ME Team invites small business lenders experienced in reviewing, providing feedback on, and making capital decisions based on business plans to conduct a practice loan interview with the entrepreneurs. The lenders walk through business plans, ask insightful questions, provide key feedback, and select one lucky lender’s choice award winners. Lender feedback is valuable as entrepreneurs wrap up their business plans over the final weeks of the program.
Working Session Three
The final working session gives table teams time to wrap up – to work diligently on open pieces of business plans, to practice pitching, or even to spend the time network building.
Entrepreneurs and mentors alike do their due diligence, reviewing the capital requests for each business ahead of the final pitch night.
Start:ME wraps with a final pitch night – every entrepreneur gives a five minute pitch to talk about themselves, their business, their financials, and their seed grant ask. It’s a great opportunity to see all of the hard work both entrepreneurs and their mentors have put into business plans, financials, pitch practices, marketing plans, and customer research over 14 sessions. The program ends with time to reflect and say thanks, with enthusiasm for future business successes and appreciation for the community built.
The ventures that complete the Start:ME are celebrated with a rockin' celebration that includes encore pitches from a peer-selected class speaker, food and drink from Start:ME alumni, and certificates.
The winners of peer-selected loans and other awards are announced during the showcase.
Beyond the 14 Sessions
Beyond the 14 sessions, the Start:ME Team continues to support and engage the alumni ventures through alumni programming. That programming includes: founders’ circles, mentor office hours, Deep-Dive workshops, pop-up Markets, and socials. That ongoing support builds and maintains bonds as the businesses grow, evolve, and thrive.