As any accelerator team knows, the weeks of blood, sweat and tears culminate in d-day—or demo day. Nerve-wracking and exhilarating all at once, this graduation of sorts is a company’s high-profile shot at showing off their idea and (ideally) attracting the attention of investors or customers.
On September 23, the Cleveland-based FlashStarts accelerator held its inaugural demo day at IdeaStream’s Westfield Theatre. The event drew 200-plus interested investors, supportive entrepreneurs and community members, area resource organizations and even proud parents, who watched as the ten teams presented their ideas.
Over the course of about an hour, these companies made compelling presentations and (in some cases) openly addressed the fact they are looking for funding. In fact, FlashStarts’ demo day purposely coincided with the first day in 80 years that general solicitation was legal, meaning that entrepreneurs could publicly advertise that they are seeking investors. The very first presenter, Crowdentials, actually formed in response to this change in the law; it provides a service to help startups verify the accreditation of potential investors.
Other teams aimed to solve (or at least streamline) specific challenges. RegulatoryBinder.com helps hospitals digitize clinical trial data and organize it online, while Ohio Independent Cinema’s goal is to help small movies gain a bigger audience. Youth-oriented ideas were also popular: Smooth is a financial planning platform geared toward millennials that takes the mystery out of managing money, while BOLD Guidance is an app to help students navigate the college application process and AProofed provides affordable editing services for college students. Two separate teams are focused on helping professionals market themselves and their skills online (LegalFunnel for lawyers, the BranDR for doctors), while Curiosidy is developing software to improve the storytelling capabilities of company intranets, in order to facilitate better communication.
FlashStarts gives each team $20,000, extensive assistance/guidance (including a robust pool of interns) and space, in exchange for six percent equity in the form of common stock. “A lot of entrepreneurs, a lot of authors, even other accelerators all around the country think there’s one model that fits all startups,” FlashStarts co-founder Charles Stack said in a recent podcast about accelerators. “If we’ve learned anything over the last couple decades, it’s that that’s just absolutely not true. Each startup has to follow their own path, and the secret to success is figuring out what that path is.”
So far, this philosophy of individualized support has paid dividends for a few companies: Crowdentials has already received follow-on funding from FlashStarts, while AProofed recently launched its services at Kent State University. Having an impact even after the accelerator ends is ultimately what FlashStarts hopes to achieve. “We can help young entrepreneurs with crazy ideas build fast-growing, high-growth companies here in Northeast Ohio,” Jennifer Neundorfer, managing partner and co-founder of FlashStarts, told Plain Dealer. “The real goal is wealth creation for the entrepreneurs, for investors and for the region.”