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Hopkins accelerator geared to student entrepreneurs

Kevin Carter, who is the student program director at FastForward U. (Submitted photo)

Kevin Carter, the student program director at FastForward U. (Submitted photo)

Johns Hopkins University will launch a startup accelerator, offering student entrepreneurs a structured approach to turning their ideas into businesses, the university announced Monday.

FastForward U — a wing of Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures and the university’s innovation hub for undergraduate and graduate students — will help students work through their ideas and launch their businesses while also providing funding at the end of the semester-long program.

“When teams exit this accelerator program they (will) have the knowledge but also the funding to take the next step,” said Kevin Carter, FastForward U’s student program manager.

Carter will run one of the accelerator’s two tracks. His track, called Fuel, will focus on companies that have identified a market for their idea and that are ready to begin finding customers and funding.

Pava LaPere will run the other track, called Spark, which will focus on students who think they have an idea that could be a business but want to find out if there is a market for their product.

LaPere previously founded the student-led TCO Labs incubator at Johns Hopkins, where she directed its accelerator, The Hatchery, which is being absorbed by FastForward U.

“The program is meant to take in a student or a student team who has an idea of the problem they want to solve and a best first guess at a solution to that problem,” she said of the Spark accelerator track. “They know if they do build it there is going to be a customer base.”

Ideally, LaPere says, Spark graduates will move on to the Fuel track. Both tracks conclude with a demo day and the winner of the Spark demo day will be guaranteed entry into the Fuel accelerator.
All Spark teams that finish the program will receive $1,000 toward their venture. The Spark accelerator track will have 10 ventures.

Fuel teams – there will be five — will also receive funding: $1,000 when they start the program and up to $4,000 upon completion. The winning team will receive $10,000.

In a startup environment, in which Carter estimated 90 percent of ventures fail, developing skills that the student entrepreneurs can use in their current ventures or in future ventures is important.

“Our goal is to pick those students (that fail) up and say, ‘You know the process, you can come up with another one,’” LaPere said. “Our goal in the end is not necessarily to create ventures but to create entrepreneurs.”

The FastForward U leaders hope the accelerator helps students learn skills that will help them be taken seriously.

“I’ve seen the immense talent and dedication and drive that these students have,” Carter said. “They deserve to be taken seriously.”

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