“Cajuns use the word lagniappe to mean a little something extra,” explained native Louisianan Dave Bernard, vice president and co-founder of The Intellection Group, based in Duluth. “And that’s what I feel like we got with FastTrac. Every entrepreneur should go through this program.”
Last fall, The Intellection Group and 16 other companies were accepted into FastTrac® TechVenture™, a comprehensive business training program that addresses the needs of startup technology entrepreneurs. The inaugural 12-week program, licensed by the Kauffman Foundation, was presented by Georgia Tech’s Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC) and the Technology Association of Georgia (TAG). Participants heard from guest speakers and mentors on subjects such as defining target markets, conducting market research and analysis, planning for financial success, protecting intellectual property, identifying funding and managing cash, among others.
“There was a lot of preparation and homework for each class, and for a small company, the investment can be a strain,” said Bernard, whose startup technology company produces customized software applications. “That being said, it was worth 10 times what it cost. We were able to better position ourselves and make a better pitch. The networking alone pushed our company forward 12 to 18 months.”
According to Cindy Cheatham, director of business development for ATDC, the 17 FastTrac companies were chosen from a select group of 50 applicants, creating an environment of strong, committed entrepreneurs. The program concluded with a graduation in which each company presented a 60-second elevator pitch that incorporated lessons learned. Some of the “most fundable” companies presented focused, five-minute investor presentations to the graduation audience of angel investors, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs and event sponsors.
“Overall the program was a great success for the companies and the community,” Cheatham noted. “Companies sharpened their plans and impressed investors, which led to more than a dozen in-person meetings and built a community of mentors and entrepreneur peers.”
One such mentor who participated with FastTrac was Emma Morris, founding partner of The Morris Group, a strategy and execution consulting firm. She says she got involved with the program because she wanted to give back to the community that helped her get her start, something she says is critical to growing leadership within the technology community. Other mentors who participated included Steve Bachman, Ilaria Derr, Jeff Hoffman, Greg Peters and Jim Stratigos.
“None of us got to wherever we are today without the help of a lot of wonderful mentors. One of my mentors once told me, ‘I can help you avoid the mistakes I made, but you are on your own for the new ones,’” she recalled. “FastTrac is a way to be that mentor to five companies at once. Plus, I learned a lot from the other mentors. Most of us are going so fast on a daily basis that we don’t take time to do peer-to-peer learning. This gave us weekly time to do just that before, during and after the meetings each week.”
Morris acknowledged the intensity of the workshop, but encouraged young entrepreneurs to stick with the program: “It is a bit like drinking out of a fire hose for both mentors and participants – just like the real world of starting a company. You never have time to fully digest any single event or thought before the next crisis or opportunity hits, which is great training for the day-to-day life of an entrepreneur.”
Sanjay Bhatia is CEO and founder of Izenda, an enterprise web 2.0 startup that makes it possible for business users to generate custom reports without involving IT. He agrees that the training provided by FastTrac added tremendous momentum to his company’s growth. Izenda has recently been accepted into ATDC.
“It was an amazing experience,” he said. “The program enabled us to target a larger market than we otherwise would have been able to, and the networking opportunities were incredible. Any entrepreneur starting a company needs to think about these issues.”
Bernard echoed Bhatia’s sentiments: “Now I have an informed network of advisors. It’s a very giving network and it makes me want to help others. This experience has been the equivalent of gaining access to ATDC – and all the unexpected benefits that come with that – without being an ATDC company.”
ATDC will begin accepting applications for the next FastTrac® TechVenture™ in July with the program targeted to begin in late August. For more information, go to www.atdc.org/fasttrac).
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Writer: Nancy Fullbright