Flashpoint: 'A New Way to Think' About Startups

Flashpoint’s recent “Innovation For All” conference gave entrepreneurs and investors a behind-the-scenes look into the method behind the madness at one of the most successful, if under-celebrated, programs in Atlanta’s startup ecosystem.

“The essence of human nature is we have this capacity to be innovative and be entrepreneurial and find new ways to solve things – that’s at the heart of it,” said Furst in a podcast conversation with Tech Square ATL. “But if you look around, what you see is enormous numbers of failures. You see a very, very small number of successes, which we celebrate in the biggest ways. All the amazing successes we celebrate hide from us the enormity of the failure rate.”

Given the enormous rate of startup failures, Furst wondered if there was a better approach to creating wealth. Perhaps, instead of focusing on building companies, it would be more effective to build structures that could better ensure a startup’s success.

Enter Flashpoint: a program dedicated to helping entrepreneurs build better companies by way of “startup engineering,” a methodology that seeks not just to build one successful company, but to equip entrepreneurs with skills they need to rethink their businesses from the ground up. 

“Flashpoint helps people who want to start companies understand what’s holding them back from finding success,” said Furst. “The main product of Flashpoint is a new way to think."

“The unique part is most other incubators and entrepreneurial accelerators that I’ve seen focus on the product. Flashpoint is really more about the entrepreneur” said John Avery, an engineering manager at Panasonic Innovation Center.

Each year, Flashpoint accepts about a dozen entrepreneurs into each cohort, who undergo a grueling course load of behavioral economics, customer discovery, and mentorship. Not quite incubator, not quite accelerator, Flashpoint is built on the premise that by understanding their own cognitive biases, entrepreneurs are better equipped to understand the needs of their customers.

“[Flashpoint] forced us to go out and talk to three or four hundred retailers over the course of the program,” recalled Brooks Robinson during his presentation at the Innovation For All Conference. Robinson is CEO of marketing automation company Springbot, which now serves over 1,300 brands and received a $10 million Series B round last December.  Robinson participated in Flashpoint’s second cohort and credits much of his company’s success to its origins in the program.

At the end of each cohort, Flashpoint companies host Demo Days both locally and in major startup hubs like Chicago, New York, and San Francisco. Demo Days are a chance for entrepreneurs to pitch their ideas to an outside audience, hoping to attract investment from major VCs.

The "Innovation for All" Conference was part Demo Day, part conversation about the power of formative, informative, and transformative innovation. The audience heard from global innovation experts like Karl Ronn, Paul Letvik of AirBnB, and Paul Ollinger, as well as seeing pitches from Flashpoint's seventh batch of companies.

While Demo Days are common in startup accelerator world, “there’s something about these demo days that’s different” claimed Furst, “which is: they have a humanity to them … In the end, it’s not [about] your cool product, it’s about the people that are going to use it. Unless you take an interest in the customers, then you’re really paying attention to the wrong thing. The more you can pay attention to your customers as people, turns out it also tends to humanize you as a person.”

Flashpoint often flies under the radar in Atlanta’s broader startup ecosystem, despite its tremendous success in reinvigorating the Atlanta entrepreneurial community. Since its inception, Flashpoint companies like Pindrop and Ionic Security have attracted over 150 million dollars in investment capital from the likes of Google Ventures, Andreesen Horowitz, and Kleiner Perkins. Companies that originated at Flashpoint have gone on to create a market value of approximately $1.2 billion. Many of Atlanta’s biggest names have been involved in the venture: folks like Paul Judge, Allen Nance, Sig Mosley, and others. Connections made at Flashpoint evolved into startup staples like Hypepotamus, the Atlanta Startup Village meetups, and more.

Furst doesn’t seem to mind Flashpoint’s underground status: “We’re much more interested in creating wealth in a legitimate way, and less about the excitement, fluff, and pageantry.”

Flashpoint is currently accepting applications for its eighth cohort. Visit www.flashpoint.gatech.edu for details.