I am one of the Managing Partners of a private venture builder called FedTech. We are not an incubator or accelerator. We recruit people with extraordinary grit and drive who are looking to take a deep dive into cutting-edge technology coming out of remote government labs, academia, and companies. Twice a year, working with upwards of 20 teams, each with a specific technology, we guide and advise them through our signature Startup Studio program. With a group of instructors and entrepreneurs well versed in early-stage startups, we bring the teams through the lean startup process and teach about problem-solution fit (the precursor to product-market fit). Over 8 weeks, each team will go through the customer discovery process and do over at least 50 stakeholder interviews. They refine their “elevator pitch” and look into potential use cases of their technology. This Spring there are 19 teams comprised of 57 entrepreneurs, all trying to figure out if there is an application for some of the coolest technologies coming out of the Department of Defense (DoD), NASA, National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Department of the Interior and other agencies. FedTech is the guiding force in creating 19 startup companies, all at one time.
Our anchor sponsor, National Security Innovation Network (NSIN), is part of the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU), and its mission is to build networks of innovators that generate new solutions to national security problems.
We are realistic. We know not all the teams will form companies; some will clash with each other, some will realize the timing of the market isn’t right and some will find a totally different fit for their technology than they had originally thought. This is part of the process. In a perfect world, our goal for the 8-week program is that every team turns into a successful company. While all 57 people are going through the same curriculum, no experience is the same. The entrepreneurs all have different experiences coming into the program. Some have Ph.D.s in technical backgrounds and some have strong business backgrounds. Some have built and sold companies before, while some are newly graduated MBAs. In addition to creating 19 startups at one time, many of the founders had never met before. They have decided to take time away from friends and family to embark on this journey together, all with the hope of one day running a successful startup.
FedTech is essentially a startup too. We began in 2015 and with each cohort, we get stronger. Since we are primarily government funded, we take no equity and charge no fees to enter into the program, making us the most founder-friendly venture building program on the planet (that we know of). The teams that discovered there was a problem-solution fit for their technology go on to form companies in the Startup Studio program. They then license the intellectual property from the research lab and build towards their product. It has been amazing helping the companies from our first cohorts scale and sell their products.
While guiding 19 teams with the potential to start a company all at one time is not easy, our program provides an invaluable experience. In future posts, I’ll talk about how we form teams, how we select technologies, how we form resilient teams, and how we launch them.