FastForward U

FastForward U distributed more than $150,000 in funding to student startup ventures during the last academic year. Many funding recipients, however, said they wanted more structured guidance and programming before they put the money to work.

That’s why, as any good startup does, FastForward U incorporated customer feedback into its business plan and is launching an accelerator program for the 2019–20 academic year. Each semester, selected teams will take part in a nine-week program featuring workshops on various aspects of venture creation taught by members of the local entrepreneurial ecosystem. Teams also will be assigned mentors and have their own space at FastForward U’s Homewood location.

The accelerator will have two tracks: “Spark” is for early-stage companies looking to validate their idea and focuses on the basics of startups, while “Fuel” is for teams seeking to grow and scale their ventures and will cover customer development and investor pitches, among other advanced topics.

“Teams are coming to us at all different stages,” says Kevin Carter, student program manager for FastForward U. “We want teams that are part of a cohort leaving feeling prepared to take the next step, whatever it might be.”

The accelerator will culminate each semester with a Demo Day. The Spark team with the winning pitch will receive $1,000 and automatic placement in the Fuel accelerator, while the winning Fuel team will receive $10,000.

Spark teams that successfully complete the program receive $1,000 toward incorporating their venture and taking next steps. Fuel teams receive $1,000 for entering the accelerator and can get up to $4,000 on exit, all of it nondilutive funding.

Pava LaPere

Pava LaPere

Pava LaPere (KSAS ’19), founder of the student-led TCO Labs incubator at The Johns Hopkins University, is joining the FastForward team to work with startups in the accelerator program. LaPere is the former director of The Hatchery, TCO Labs’ accelerator, which is being absorbed by FastForward U’s program.

“We figured it would be a great opportunity for us to have her lead an early-stage accelerator program with a little more financial support and Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures programming,” says Carter.

LaPere says she has noticed student entrepreneurs need more structure and education than their non-student counterparts do, and she is looking forward to the teams connecting and learning from each other, as well as with the greater Johns Hopkins and Baltimore entrepreneurial ecosystems.

“A lot of students and a lot of people in general think entrepreneurship is solutions-focused when it’s actually problem-focused,” she says. “We want people to understand how to arrive at a solution wanted by a market, and to see it’s not as horrifying a process as it seems.”

Applications for the fall accelerator program are due Sept. 9. Click here to apply.

In addition to the accelerator program, FastForward U also is offering to students this academic year:

• An award, sponsored by Microsoft, for ventures using artificial intelligence and/or data science.

• A summer award for graduate students with medical technology ventures.

• Design Sprint, a weekend-long program giving teams easy, concentrated access to mentors, peers and professional staff.

• A monthly Instagram-based pitch competition where winning teams will receive $100.

• Hotdesks, where JHU students have 24/7 access to drop-in and dedicated workspace to further their ventures as well as the ability to schedule a one-on-one meeting with FastForward U staff and advisers and attend select events.