Economic Development, Nonprofits, and Small Business & Startups

SURGE graduates first startup cohort

Program helps founders test ideas through focus on customer and marketplace feedback.

November 29, 2019
Print
Text Size:
A A
SURGE
Amanda Chocko, standing, developed SURGE’s BoostCamp based on Stanford University’s curriculum. Courtesy Lakeshore Advantage

The first cohort of Lakeshore Advantage’s 12-week entrepreneur startup program graduated.

There were nine startups involved in SURGE’s first BoostCamp cohort.

Based on curriculum developed at Stanford University, BoostCamp is meant to help founders rapidly develop and test ideas through focus on customer and marketplace feedback, using data to establish a repeatable business model.

The program was developed by Amanda Chocko, who began a year ago as the director of SURGE, a program of Lakeshore Advantage that was created to focus on startups.

The program was launched in response to feedback from Lakeshore Advantage clients, who were looking for ways their startups could be supported, according to Emily Staley, Lakeshore Advantage’s vice president of marketing and communications.

The startups vary in industry, but what leaders learned is that the methodologies of how to establish startups don’t change, which is how the program is applicable to them all, Staley said.

As a major piece of the program, Chocko said participants talked and engaged with many stakeholders and customers. That’s because many entrepreneurs neglect to explore the market regarding the viability of their ideas, leaving them developing an idea that may be based on untrue assumptions.

“Customer development is a framework that helps entrepreneurs through a process of actually going out and gaining insights from their customers so they're actually building products and services that people want and will pay for,” Chocko said. “And this really helps to eliminate the risk and give them a better chance of success.”

In the last decade, this process has been adopted by universities, accelerators, incubators and startup communities around the world, she said.

The participants were asked to speak with at least 50 customers and stakeholders during the process, which requires a lot of networking and cold calling. That also means the entrepreneurs have to be prepared to hear feedback they may not want to hear.

In total, the groups made contact with more than 570 customers during the training period. 

Participants also worked with a group of mentors throughout the process, who helped them navigate a variety of steps in the startup process. The group of mentors for the 12-week program included: Austin Asamoa-Tutu, Russell Fyfe, Nicholas Hayhoe, Bryce Kaiser, Hannah Raycraft and Laurel Romanella.

During the process, Chocko said some founders may realize their startup is an “ugly baby” —when an idea really doesn't have what it takes to actually become a viable company.

“In that case, you learned a lot early in the process,” she said. “You're able to cut your losses and move on to the next big thing.”

During early market research, Chocko said businesses may learn information that allows them to keep their ideas but propels them to take it in a different direction; this is called a pivot, and the startup of Deos Contemporary Ballet was recognized as having the biggest pivot.

The startup offers ballet dancers paid work during the summer offseason when many of them otherwise would be working in restaurants or some other area.

The company has been self-funded as the founders invest to build an audience, connect with dancers and create a brand.

“We spent a lot of time trying to cultivate relationships with individual consumers, which can be very time-consuming,” said Andrew Hoekstra, a founder of the company. “The pivot that we ended up learning through this program was to reach out to businesses for company-sponsored events.”

That gave the company more time to concentrate on bulk sales, as well as creating relationships with people who may not otherwise think of attending a ballet, which is the foundation of the company — “making ballet relatable.”

During the first summer, the company hosted 12 dancers from around the country. Last summer, the company hosted 11 dancers.

Hoekstra said the goal is to reach profitability in the next five years and then reinvest to scale the business.

Another startup involved, SolisMatica, started with founder Charles Elwood as the single freelancer. He has since quit his day job to run the business, which now has other employees.

Chocko said SURGE will happen annually, and she’ll likely make some adjustments based on what was learned during the pilot. There were about 20 applications for the first year, and she thinks it will be more competitive as word of the program spreads.

For those interested in applying in the future, Chocko said the best fit would probably be startups in the prototype phase.

Participants this round paid $150 to join the program and got $100 back upon completion. The amount may change next time, she said.

Funding for SURGE BoostCamp came through the Holland SmartZone.

Inaugural cohort

The nine startups that made up SURGE’s first BoostCamp included:

Anvil Tech: anviltech.io

Founders: William Thatcher and Steve Merritt

Anvil is a tool that helps people pay off student loans through guiding and managing their portfolios.

Deos Contemporary Ballet: deosballet.com

Founders: Andrew Hoekstra and Tess Sinke

Deos Contemporary Ballet performs original choreography about “real-life experiences” meant to be relatable to anyone. The company offers paid positions during the summer months when professional dancers are on seasonal layoff.

G3 Acoustics: g3acoustics.com

Founders: Rob Hamelink and Brian Servis

G3 Acoustics helps restaurants and sports bars offer patrons the ability to hear their desired TV broadcast. The Tabletop Audio technology uses Wi-Fi to send selectable TV audio to tables.

Honey Batcher: gethoneybatcher.com

Founder: David Wang

Honey Batcher is a technology that supports photographers by “weeding out bad photos during the editing process.”

RentalEval: rentaleval.com

Founders: Nathan Biller and Elizabeth Blair

RentalEval tracks data for property managers and property owners to help them make data-driven decisions.

Revolin Sports: revolinsports.com

Founders: Hugh Davis, Greta Davis, Rock MacInnes and Sophie Vanden Bosch

Revolin Sports provides athletes with environmentally sustainable sporting equipment. 

Simply Trade: app.simplytrade.io

Founders: Andrew Blanchard and Peter Mooney

Simply Trade is a digital platform that tracks trade and asset performance across multiple exchanges and provides a signal marketplace for buying and selling cryptocurrency trading signals.

SolisMatica: solismatica.com

Founder: Charles Elwood

Solismatica uses the business analytics service Microsoft Power BI to transform disconnected raw data into visualizations for midsize to large companies.

WURK Chicago: wurkchicago.com

Founders: Pelle Gierlach and Xander Kaznowski

WURK Chicago is a landscaping company that employs area high school students and youth.

Recent Articles by Justin Dawes

Editor's Picks

Comments powered by Disqus