FI Masterclass Series: Program Design: Delivering on the Dream

For the second edition of the Frontier Incubator Masterclass Series discussion calls, we focused in on the theme of Program Design: Delivering on the Dream and specifically, how do we add value for the people are most important to our acceleration/incubation business: the entrepreneurs? We were joined by a host of organizations that discussed both the successes and challenges of providing support and resources each of their cohorts need to be successful and scale their organizations
Out of the 100% of content that one could deliver to their participants in any program, what is your “20%” in terms of the content you feel is most important to teach them? What’s your “signal” or focus that guides the development of your curriculum?

  • Focus on the development of soft skills: “one thing that we’ve consistently seen in our cohorts is the desire by more of the businesses to work on their soft skills, and pitching skills, and being more dynamic storytellers. We have been working with them on the hard skills but we have been getting more feedback to develop those soft skills. (Robert Haynie, SPRING)”
  • The importance of focusing on customer discovery and engagement: “I have exposure to a couple of different accelerators – what I encourage them to be obsessed with and to highlight in how they engage with their cohort is customer discovery, customer engagement, market. There is an advantage that goes to startups that can demonstrate their obsession with the customer and the problem and then typically many things fall into place (Greg Payne, Emerging Market Enterprises).”


How do you engage investors in your curriculum? What are the ways in which you prepare your entrepreneurs to interact with investors and find the “right fit” for their enterprise stage and fundraising level?

  • Entrepreneurs need to learn the importance of taking time to research potential investors: “One of the tools we use to teach our entrepreneurs about engaging investors is the Smart Impact Capital Toolkit – it’s been a useful tool and it has been interesting watching some of our past companies going to investors before they were ready to engage [with them] and how much that has set them back versus waiting until they have what it takes to not be ignored by investors. The importance of not pitching to everybody and taking the time to research your target investors (knowing the investor profile that works with what you need for your business and investment stage/level) (Patty Simonton, Bethesda Green).”
  • Helping entrepreneurs to gain access to capital by expanding their network and connections: “It’s different for us because we work with political donors, which are very transactional in their relationships so our entrepreneurs really need to learn how to profile potential funders before applying to get funding and not waste time applying to everything. It’s super disheartening to see how hard it is to get funding if you don’t know people already in the Foundation World and how gaining access and opening doors is so hard. (Deborah, New Left Accelerator).”


How do you incorporate different learning styles into your curriculum? Where are you weakest in terms of the different learning styles you aren’t incorporating (yet)? How do you support your entrepreneurs “out of the room” (outside of the in-person interactions)?

  • There are some drawbacks to having virtual-only programs in terms of the different learning styles that are engaged for participants and the importance of mentorship: “What we are seeing more and more of is moving towards virtual training to keep costs low and have access to a broader community for people to participate [in our programs] – inevitably that leads to learning styles that can only be delivered virtually or more easily delivered virtually. What I’ve seen in terms of what works well is leaning on mentors quite a bit – when accelerators are thoughtful about building a mentor community that is diverse and deep enough that frankly helps address any variability in terms of the needs they have, learning style they have, connection they need from someone who is coaching them. Investment into building this out is an investment in the curriculum (Greg Payne, Emerging Market Enterprises).”
  • Getting creative with outside training and resources: “One of the things that came up in the video was a program that offered a virtual CFO to work with each of their entrepreneur groups – that’s a pain point for a lot of our groups…in terms of them bring comfortable with finances (Deborah, New Left Accelerator).”
  • Constantly getting feedback from your entrepreneurs in terms of what their needs are and what gaps might exist in the programming you are offering them: “Supporting entrepreneurs out of the room by connecting them with awesome mentors for sure, helping [them with] accessing funding, making sure that they are getting honest and relevant feedback [on their progress], connection to the resources that are useful when they need them and being aware of what they are dealing with personally and professionally (Patty, Bethesda Green).”


How do you incorporate dealing with the personal side of the entrepreneur?

  • Feeling connected to your cohorts and feeling empathy for the path they are on: “I am definitely an accidental therapist – I didn’t anticipate that that would be the case. It has been an adventure. I think it’s at the same time its probably for me so much of the source of why I feel so conected to this work and so happy to do it – I am working with a bunch of people that are putting it all out there. They aren’t making any money yet, their families are in it, it’s a huge risk that they are taking, and they believe so strongly in what they are doing – It’s being a cheerleader, therapist, teacher, connector for them. They are probably are giving me as much support as I am giving them – everyone is in it together and this collective holding everyone up. It’s a lot more real and personal than I originally thought it would be (Patty, Bethesda Green).”
  • The importance of finding a good mentorship match for your entrepreneurs: “Just being sensitive to…who is able to get more traction with that entrepreneur and convince them, what are those levers to help that person get through that issue – realizing that everyone is different so what is the right way to help them deal with that issue and not be afraid to pull them aside and taking a moment to talk through that with the right people (Robert Haynie, SPRING).
  • Know the strengths that your program has and supplement anything that is additional to outside support: “The most shocking thing in our first cohort was how much people were crying and we spent so much time focusing on emotional well-being. We then created an executive coaching program to move a lot of the emotional stuff there and it allowed us to focus on the training and what we are better at in terms of managing and providing the value they needed – executive coaching got the highest marks and people said they wouldn’t have made it without the coaching – we had to address the emotional side with the coaching to be able to focus on the “business” side of their program (hard and soft skills) (Deborah, New Left Accelerator).”