As one of the first six companies to complete Gazelle Lab‘s accelerator program I can say that it was well worth the effort. If you’re a startup in Tampa Bay then I highly recommend submitting your application NOW. Check the FAQ on their site for an up-to-date list of the benefits you receive and be prepared to part with 6% of the company in exchange for those benefits. In my opinion, it was more than worth it. Also be prepared to work full time on your venture, if you’re holding down a day job and trying to do this… Let’s just say that you need to make a choice between one or the other. Be prepared to work late. Be prepared to speak in front of an audience of up to 1,000 (or more!) or as few as 10. Be prepared to bring a team that can execute – you cannot do this alone as it’s not just a technology solution but a business you’re building. Be prepared to take criticism of yourself, your idea and your company. You’ll be fielding a lot of feedback from mentors and other founders so if you haven’t figured out how to ‘trust your gut’ you probably need to have another founder with that skill or learn for yourself. There’s a saying at TechStars that “It’s just data” and it’s true. Your experience, perceptions and beliefs turn it into actionable information. That’s the ‘gut check’ we’re talking about. Get as informed as you can. Read Venture Deals, Do More Faster and Lean Startup at a minimum before you enter the program. I also recommend Business Model Generation as you’ll need to answer the “How do you make money?” question fairly early on.  Finally, be prepared for things to change right in front of you. It’s just how things work today. If the facts change (such as your target audience) and you don’t change your mind… You’re not going to survive. I had to change the founding team on day 1 as well as the business model and product four weeks into the program. Nobody’s fault – we just couldn’t get the companies we were targeting for strategic partnerships to open up. I had to make a decision to change everything and in the end, we came up with a better product that was more disruptive and far more scalable.

Now, one more thing. If you’re in a corporate job and are feeling a little bored, burnt out or just plain “missing opportunities” then you’re in luck. The “corporate refugee” was a recurring theme of many conversations with both the media and mentors. If you’ve been in a corporate position for a while then you bring a wealth of connections, experience and a built in “gut check” of your own. Hopefully you bring a healthy lack of tolerance for bullshit. I strongly encourage you to consider jumping into the Gazelle Lab program if you’re in this situation. I did and I have not regretted it for a second. You can DM me on twitter if you want to talk.

Since this is Part 1, subsequent parts will delve into the “Be prepared to’s” that I spelled out earlier. This is a great time for Tampa Bay, StartupBus is coming in March, StartupWeekend is coming again next year and BarCamp Tampa Bay was the biggest we’ve ever had. Keep pushing!