NEXT Comes to the Triangle to Push Startup Customer Development - 1

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NEXT Comes to the Triangle to Push Startup Customer Development - 1
NEXT is coming to the Triangle to put emphasis on customer acquisition and development. And they go out of their way to let you know that the program might not be for you - in a good way. The FAQ is actually full of dissuasion, so much so that I started nodding my head in agreement.

Don't have an idea or a team? This is not for you.

Wondering how much time you need to allocate? You may need to reconsider.

Can't make every session? They get it, but if you're going to miss more than one, you might be wasting your time.

This isn't all rah-rah and motivation disguised as education. Startup is a rough road. This is business. And they're freaking serious.

NEXT is a program from UP Global, the recently combined organization that includes both Startup Weekend and Startup America. It's a five-week, instructor-led and mentor-driven course to help founders build their startups from formation to customer acquisition and retention.

It's meant to fill the void between something like a Startup Weekend, where companies are formed on the fly and get as far as they can in 50-something hours, to the accelerator stage, where companies are usually expected to have some presence in the market along with a fully-built team and an executable plan.

I didn't even know that in-between stage existed. Back in my day you had start, succeed, and fail. Also churn, but that wasn't invented until the early 2000s.

I first heard about NEXT from Groundwork Labs' Director John Austin at the end of last month's Triangle Startup Weekend, where he was a judge. We were talking about the companies, those who won and those who didn't, and we got on viability and customer acquisition.

In a funny-you-should-mention moment, he brought up NEXT. NEXT will serve those companies that mirror the ones coming out of Startup Weekend -- validated idea, some traction on the execution and, most importantly, as he put it:

"At least one founder who is extraordinarily serious."

Turns out, Austin will serve as the NEXT instructor, while Startup North Carolina and Startup Weekend organizer (and ExitEvent writer) Mital Patel will be the NEXT organizer.

"I worry about the content and getting the mentors what they need," Austin says. "Mital is doing the logistics and the PR."

Added Patel, "I'll show up for beer and pizza too."

They're both volunteers (and it should be noted that Groundwork has nothing to do with NEXT, but Austin's day job running that accelerator makes him a solid choice for instructor), as are the mentors - all current and former mid-to-growth stage entrepreneurs.

The classes run a gamut of customer-focused topics, including discovery, markets, fundability, competitive positioning, and go to market planning. Each week, the students present to mentors and peers based on homework that was based on the previous week's topic. There's a final presentation at the end.

The goal is to have 20-40 students per session, and two sessions per year, sandwiched between Triangle Startup Weekends and local accelerator application periods. Austin would like to move it around the Triangle, with this one in Durham, then one in Raleigh, then one in Chapel Hill.

The cost of the course is $199 per person, but they have an early-bird rate of $149, and an extremely early-bird rate of $99 for the first five people who sign up, which you can do via EventBrite. It runs from September 11th through October 16th, and it'll be held at the American Underground classroom.

The Triangle will also serve as a sort of guinea pig for some new elements to the NEXT program.

"They've done 20 across the world," says Patel. "This is the first under UP Global, we just beat out Seattle, and the first in this modified format."

There's a lot of firsts with the NEXT program and it's the first for the Triangle, so Austin and Patel will host live information sessions with pizza and beer, where potential students can show up and get questions answered. They'll be lining up mentors for these information sessions, with one in Raleigh on August 28th and one in Durham on the August 29th.