This summer Cleveland will see its newest startup accelerator host its first class of aspiring entrepreneurs.  FlashStarts is an accelerator program that was founded on October 15th 2012.  Their mission is to change the world one startup at a time.

FlashStarts Founder and CEO, Charles Stack, knows a thing or two on what it takes to startup a successful business.  In 1992 he created the website called  It was the first online bookstore which was acquired by CUC in 1996 and eventually Barnes and Noble in 1998.  In 1999 he founded Flashline which was acquired by BEA in 2006 for $50 Million and later by Oracle in 2008 for $6.5 Billion.  Mr. Stack has also been involved in venture investing where he has invested in a wide range of startups.

Mr. Stack has spent most of his career in Ohio so I asked him what makes it such a great fit for him.  “Thank God for the Internet.”  To paraphrase a classic line- “On the Internet nobody knows you are an Ohioan,” he joked.  “But seriously Cleveland is a spectacular location: we have not one but four seasons, the greatest amount of fresh water on the planet, high-speed air travel, high-speed Internet, and a huge inventory of low- priced homes built in the 19 teens and 20’s with unmatched quality.  Combine that with great people and great schools, why would anybody want to live anywhere else?”

Serial entrepreneurs get an adrenaline rush by starting new projects.  “The most fun time in a startup is in the very beginning.  It’s like standing in the middle of a giant field surrounded by forest,” said Mr. Stack. “You know there are paths through the forest but you can’t see them from where you stand.  Start walking in one direction and eventually an opening will appear.  Sometimes the path will end well, sometimes it will end badly, but the excitement is palpable.  Many of the early decisions determine the ultimate success or failure of a startup.  My thinking with FlashStarts was if one startup was fun 10 would be more fun.”

Mr. Stack is setting himself up for an incredibly fun summer.  In fact the fun has already begun.  One of the things that make this accelerator stand out is the fact that applicants receive feedback almost as soon as they submit their application.  Many large accelerator programs don’t take the time to send a rejection letter let alone feedback.  FlashStarts has teamed up with Decision Desk to make it easier to get through applications as well as provide feedback.  “The accelerator process while effective is somewhat artificial.  No one expects to build a startup in 84 days.” Stack Explains, “Like a tall man on the short bed, healthy growing startups stick out on both ends.  Our repetitive application process allows startups to make progress upon first contact with FlashStarts.  We provide early feedback in the form of challenges to the teams.  This allows the teams to begin moving toward success and familiarizes us with the team.”

FlashStarts will accept all applications regardless of the team’s idea but they have a particular “sweet spot” for Enterprise IT (EIT) and Healthcare IT (HIT).  According to Mr. Stack, “Northeastern Ohio offers immense opportunities-with hundreds of healthcare companies and billions of dollars in investment.  This is a great location to launch a Healthcare IT startup.”  He also added, “We have extensive backgrounds in building successful enterprise IT   businesses- all the way from concept, to product, to market, to profit, and to acquisition.”

Teams who are accepted into the program will receive $20,000 in cash, an initial $11,000 plus $3,000 for each member of the team.  FlashStarts will receive 6% equity in the form of common stock.  Select teams may receive an additional $200,000 in additional funding in the form of a convertible note.

Another thing that makes FlashStarts unique is that they allow solo entrepreneurs.  Most accelerator programs stick to accepting three member teams.  Mr. Stack has usually started his ventures as a solo entrepreneur and wanted to make sure he found a way to enable solo entrepreneurs to participate.  “I believe our apprentice program encourages individuals without partners and even without business plans to launch an entrepreneurial career.”  Apprentices will receive a $3,000 summer stipend plus a small equity interest in a startup.  The application process is similar to that of the three person teams but not all questions will apply.  The only requirement set forth for apprentices is that they be college graduates who are driven to succeed.

The application process comes to an end on May 10th.   Applicants who have been accepted into the program will be notified on May 17th.  The entrepreneurs report on June 3rd and will be working on their companies until August 23rd when they will demonstrate their products to potential investors.  Selected teams will be chosen from there to move on to phase two starting September 3rd where they will receive follow on funding.  If you have an idea you would like to pursue, apply here, and good luck!

Lastly, as an aspiring entrepreneur I’m taking advantage of my role here with Silicon Rust Belt to pick the brain of the incredible entrepreneurs I have the pleasure of interviewing by asking them this question:  If you were in a room full of bright eyed young entrepreneurs what piece of wisdom would you wish to impress upon them?

Charles Stack: That’s easy.  Learn empathy.  The ability to understand the viewpoint of another person is the secret to life.  Whether in sales, or relationships, or product development deep understanding of the mindset of the other person is essential for success.

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