Startup South Bend – Elkhart Pre-Accelerator Program Helping Early-Stage Entrepreneurs Validate their Ideas
Entrepreneurs are idea people. However, taking an idea from concept to reality is tough – so tough that an estimated 90 percent of all startups fail annually, according to an estimate from Failory.

Startup South Bend – Elkhart (Startup SBE) and enFocus are helping early-stage entrepreneurs take an idea and evolve it into an investment-ready business pitch. Many startups begin with what they believe is a good idea. However, they can quickly run into business obstacles that stall their progress or set them up for future problems.

Startup South Bend – Elkhart’s Pre-Accelerator Program is designed to help early stage entrepreneurs validate (or invalidate) their idea while adding to the entrepreneurial ecosystem and providing participants guidance on sound business practices.

This is not a new idea or offering. Startup SBE and enFocus first began their work with early-stage entrepreneurs in 2018. Patrick Jones, Program Director of Operations from enFocus, has been helping the founders of startups connect with mentors and learn about things like problem validation, market size, and financing.

“In the past, it’s been very free-flowing,” Jones said. “The Pre-Accelerator Program is more structured and uses a cohort model. Everyone gets to learn together and see the struggles that face startups; it’s about building up the ecosystem. Everybody’s going to be working together.”

One of the aspects of the program that Jones is most enthusiastic about is the mentoring component. He is not alone; having a mentor is becoming one of the identified best practices for successful startups. It has been documented that mentors help early-stage entrepreneurs avoid missteps, they expand the entrepreneurial community for their mentees, and provide a broader networking field which yields success later on.

The Pre-Accelerator Program’s cohort will benefit from both group mentor experiences and 1:1 mentoring sessions. The group mentoring sessions are for pitch development and feedback. Once a participant completes the program, they should be able to clearly and concisely talk about their idea to investors. One-on-one sessions allow for time to work through individual business challenges.

“(Participants) are people who have a high-potential idea (or what could be a high-potential idea) and they need help. Maybe it’s mentorship and the need to hear from someone whose done this before, or they need some advice about their next steps, perhaps guidance figuring out legal issues, or where to get their manufacturing line of credit and secure funding,” Jones said.

One of the benchmarks for the program is increasing the entrepreneurial ecosystem in our region. Loneliness and isolation eat startups for breakfast, and over half (61%) of startup CEO’s admit feelings of loneliness have hindered their performance.

The Pre-Accelerator Program “increases the ecosystem,” Jones is fond of pointing out. He is “excited to connect other entrepreneurs to each other and to their mentors.”

Realistically, this opportunity for some may evolve into a co-founder experience. Some ideas will wash out, but Jones is hopeful that new ideas and partnerships will emerge through the relationships created during the ten-week program.

The Pre-Accelerator program is appropriate for early-stage entrepreneurs who are focused on starting a product -based business that has the potential to employ a local workforce – also known as a high-potential startup.

“We are getting them ready for more downstream opportunities, including accelerator programs like at the IDEA Center or Y Combinator,” Jones said.

How do I know if the Pre-Accelerator program is right for me? 

  • I’m located in St. Joseph, Elkhart, Marshall counties in Indiana or I’m willing to launch my company there.
  • I have raised less than $50,000 in funding/revenue to date.
  • My idea addresses a national or global market (i.e., no lifestyle businesses).
  • At least one founding member can commit 6 hours per week for ten weeks.

What are the benefits of applying?

  • You will complete a startup pitch deck and an executive summary.
  • Have access to up to $2,000 in early-stage funding for prototyping and validation activities.
  • Be introduced to mentors, coaches, and potential investors.
  • Sometimes ideas fizzle out. Here you’ll have opportunities to connect with other entrepreneurs who possibly become new co-founding team members.
  • The program is no charge, and no equity is taken.

What happens after the Pre-Accelerator program?
Startup South Bend – Elkhart will help you identify the next steps, including:

  • Participating in the University of Notre Dame’s IDEA CENTER commercialization engine.
  • Introductions and referrals to investors.
  • Invitations to demo days and/or special pitch events.
  • Continued assistance from mentors.

Important dates to keep in mind:

  • April 6-May 8, 2020: Accepting applications
  • June 3-July 29, 2020: Tentative Sessions each Wednesday 5-7 PM
  • August 2020: Pitch Event
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About Startup South Bend – Elkhart
Startup South Bend – Elkhart, one of the South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership’s non-profit initiatives, has been working to promote and foster the regional entrepreneurial ecosystem by stimulating the entrepreneurial spirit and culture in its citizens, identifying and nurturing new business startups and supporting the growth of existing high-potential businesses. For more information, visit

About Elevate Ventures
Elevate Ventures is a private venture development organization that nurtures and develops emerging and existing high-growth businesses into high-performing, Indiana-based companies. Elevate Ventures accomplishes this by providing access to capital, rigorous business analysis and robust advisory services that connect companies with the right mix of resources businesses need to succeed long term. To learn more about Elevate Ventures, visit


Media Contacts
Regina Emberton (SBERP) 574.344.4686 ext.4802 or