Understanding IDEA’s stage gates
IDEA is Northeastern University’s Venture Accelerator. We provide entrepreneurs the support, in-kind resources and educational experience of developing a business from core concept to launch.
Most integral to the IDEA experience is the stage-gate process. There are currently 200 active ventures in the program that are working through the stage gates.
Loosely based on the lean startup methodology, we provide our founders with a business planning framework that takes them through customer validation, business modeling, and execution and scaling. The idea is that by virtue of the process and the exercises each stage provides, ventures will move through the gates having tested their assumptions, and be prepared to execute on a viable course of action.
The IDEA management team, coaches, and mentors play their part by helping ventures make their way through the stage gates, and accelerate their success, or failure. Accessing the right resources at the right time during early stage growth can be critical in taking a service or product, to a sustainable business.
The ready stage focuses on having founders understand the problem they are trying to solve. They do this by talking with their customers, designing a solution, doing competitive analysis and preliminary market research. IDEA coaches run office hours to help ventures refine their value proposition, review customer feedback, and think about an initial solution design.
This time spent on customer discovery is critical in setting a strong foundation and understanding of the problem the venture is solving. Furthermore, defining a unique value proposition early in the process, grounds the founder in the value they are providing to the customer and what makes them unique. It’s beautiful to see countless assumptions being challenged and ideas evolving and changing over time.
The ready stage concludes with a solution design pitch, where ventures pitch their learnings from their initial discovery work, customer feedback, and solution design for review.
Set stage ventures work to develop their business model. This includes developing their product or service, considering revenue models and creating a go-to-market strategy.
Through in house coaching from our Entrepreneur in Residence, workshops, and expert one on one’s with mentors in industry, we continue to help ventures develop a minimum viable product and consider the financial viability of their business.
It is here that ventures also begin thinking about unit economics. Figures for customer acquisition cost and life time value allow for a reality check. Founders begin understanding the larger implications of starting and running a business will have.
The set stage also allows for ventures to benefit from IDEA’s network of service providers and in-kind resources. Our network of service providers includes finance, law, marketing, public relations, and technology services. For example, ventures are able to address issues pertaining to intellectual property protection and entity formation proactively.
Ventures can also apply to a variety of student-run service providers around the University, with services ranging from design , tax and accounting support, and product development services. More on Northeastern’s interdisciplinary approach to entrepreneurship in a future post.
The set stage concludes with a business model pitch, where ventures pitch their business model and go-to-market strategy.
Go stage ventures work on acquiring customers and growing their business. This is also when they can apply to IDEA’s gap fund. When confronted with a specific gap hindering the progress of their business, IDEA supports its ventures with a non-equity grant.
We also have a variety of investor readiness and networking opportunities for ventures who are fundraising. To launch from IDEA, ventures have to raise 200k in external funding or be sustainable on their own revenue.
With support from Northeastern’s Center for Entrepreneurship Education faculty, IDEA’s unique approach to early stage business planning has led to success for many. To date, we’ve launched 42 companies who’ve gone on to raise over $48M in external funding.
At its core, the process is about thoroughly understanding a problem, designing a solution, checking if the solution is viable as a business, planning, and executing.
Our mission is to launch successful companies by providing an exceptional educational experience. Going through the stage gate process allows our founders to be able to test their assumptions and realize through the process itself if there is merit to the way they are solving a problem.
For me, the most interesting part of working with ventures is to hear about the innovative way they are solving interesting problems and how their business will impact the world around them. The stage gates help challenge our biases and assumptions and help us methodically design a solution to a problem. I’m excited to continue working with our ventures and see them continue to grow and explore as they progress through IDEA.