PreFlight program helps early-stage entrepreneurs.
Williamson County entrepreneurs now have more convenient access to a well-established, 12-week education program launched by the Nashville Entrepreneur Center. PreFlight began in Nashville in 2012, and this year has been made available more locally, thanks to a partnership between the EC and Williamson, Inc.
“We wanted to create a program that would help earlier-stage entrepreneurs orient themselves to the entrepreneurial landscape and decide if their business is something they should pursue full-time,” says John Murdock, vice president of entrepreneurial development for the EC.
Williamson, Inc. Existing Business Manager Nick Biniker echoed that rationale.
“A lot of the entrepreneurs in Williamson County are unique in that they are working corporate jobs and advanced in their careers. However, they have a great idea and want to get going with it, but aren’t ready to give up their job security to go full-time as an entrepreneur.”
The PreFlight Program
PreFlight is built upon a series of weekly interactive classes, which are held in Williamson Inc.’s conference room. Murdock leads the classes.
“We cover all the basic building blocks of launching a business,” Murdock says. “We start by evaluating the customer problem that is going to be solved in the marketplace, and then cover prototyping the solution, building a business model that will generate profit, marketing the message, and the basics of financial modeling. At the end of the program [PreFlight-ers] have the opportunity to pitch to investors who give them feedback on their business.”
Another value-add is that those enrolled in the program have access to the EC’s mentor pool, “who have expertise in the skill sets they might need access to, such as legal,” adds Murdock. “The mentor pool also has expertise in the industries in which people are trying to launch businesses. [In the classes,] we have people who want to grow a small business, those with a high-potential idea that want to be the next Facebook, and everything in between.”
The PreFlight Experience
William Figueroa, founder and CEO of MechOps, is representative of a typical PreFlight-er.
“I started in the program with an idea, just trying to get it off the ground and to understand the process,” he says. “MechOps plans to automate the process of cloud-enabling IT systems so companies can avoid training or hiring cloud experts while significantly reducing the time to realize cloud benefits.”
Figueroa says he has been impressed with both the breadth and depth of the program, and how PreFlight prescribes “the steps to follow to get from idea to product to clients.”
“Though the process of doing the work in the program and engaging with the mentor pool I’ve been able to get connected with six potential customers that turned into alpha users who are waiting for the first version of the solution,” he says.
In fact, Figueroa regards access to the advisor pool as the biggest benefit of the program.
“You are encouraged to take your idea and the work product you are creating and go to the advisors and say, ‘Here’s what I am thinking. Is there anybody I can connect with that can help me move forward?'”
For some, the feedback and education received from PreFlight convinces them not to move forward with their idea.
“We help people evaluate their businesses more effectively,” Murdock says. “Sometimes the conclusion is: This isn’t the right business for me. And that’s great; it’s an inexpensive way to learn that you shouldn’t pursue an idea, versus spending your life savings and then finding out six months later.”
According to Figueroa, the program can be a catalyst for those who are serious about developing their idea.
“You get a lot of very candid, direct feedback. If you come with an open mind and act on the feedback you’re going to be successful as you go forward because PreFlight forces you to execute,” Figueroa says.