Race to Revenue '21: ND's Summer Startup Accelerator Kicks off for the Third Time

Author: Emily Tyson and Lillian Piz

R2r 2021 Starts Facebook

Monday, May 24th will mark the official start of the third summer of the IDEA Center’s Race to Revenue program. Amongst the hundreds of business ideas submitted by students this year, ultimately 25 ventures were selected to participate. (Scroll to the end of this article for a complete list of the 2021 Cohort.)

Race to Revenue, developed and led by John Henry, the IDEA Center's director of student startups, is Notre Dame’s summer startup accelerator where aspiring student entrepreneurs and founders have the opportunity to work full-time on their business ideas as a fully-funded internship. “One of the reasons we built it was to provide students with a focused time and space to work exclusively on their project. The funding of the internship gives them credibility, and turns what is a non-traditional career path into something a lot more traditional.”

The 2021 cohort of 25 teams includes some Racers who will receive funding from sources other than the IDEA Center. Additionally, a third of the 2021’s Racers will be self-funded. Henry says this shows that the 2 year-old program is “bursting at the seams” and that the student demand  is currently exceeding the donor supply.

While the funding might be traditional, everything else about the Race to Revenue internship is anything but. “We make it easier for them to take a risk, and when they take a risk they tend to perform really well,” says Henry. Selected students (called “Racers”) have typically demonstrated significant traction, commitment, and "coachability" when working with the IDEA Center during the academic year. During the summer, they are fully immersed in building their businesses and reaching a range of milestones; while it is called Race to Revenue, the different startups don’t always have the same milestones. For example, one Racer could be working towards a proof of concept while another could be collecting beta testers for an early version of their app. All Racers are encouraged to execute their work thinking not only about product development but customer development as well.

At the beginning of the summer, Racers are matched with a mentor who will help coach them as they journey down the road towards achieving their milestones. Henry explains that unlike the students who come through the pipeline during the academic year and are typically juggling multiple responsibilities, Racers are wholly focused on their startups. “There is a strong career commitment to giving up a summer internship to focus on this, so [Racers] get [mentors] who launched VC backed companies before or exited companies.” These coaches are seasoned entrepreneurs, many of whom have gone through accelerator programs themselves such as TechStars.

Race to Revenue is structured into two types of programming which Henry calls Tactics and Testimonials. Tactics refer to workshops in which Racers acquire the important tools they need to fill their lean startup toolbox; Testimonials are delivered by expert entrepreneurs;  in 2021, over 40 speakers will offer stories and advice to the Racers. The program, however, is “light on theory and heavy on hustle,” according to Henry. It concludes with a Demo Day when the founders will have the opportunity to present their work completed over the course of the ten weeks and get connected with potential investors or networking opportunities.

Additionally, the hope is that once the Racers successfully complete the summer program, they will return in the fall even more rejuvenated and excited to move their startup forward. “If you can commit [the students] to being [in South Bend for the summer] with other like minded people, and identify milestones with mentorship to help them accomplish it, then you’re going to increase the chance that they achieve certain momentum, to prevent distraction from happening when they come back next year.” Not only have past Racers returned to campus ready to work, but many have pushed their startups towards success with new milestones.

With the goal of instilling a life-long love of entrepreneurship, Race to Revenue strives to help students realize what they are capable of accomplishing as they pursue a passion they might not otherwise have without the IDEA Center’s resources. Henry emphasizes that “the student entrepreneurship mission is to ‘change students’ lives through the discipline of entrepreneurship.' Racers will have increased their practice, and therefore increased their confidence, and make it more likely that they are able to actually become entrepreneurs.

2021 Racer Cohort (Click here for profiles):