The SmartStart program is an excellent resource for anyone with a business idea. Our approach is designed to educate and guide entrepreneurs through the process of validating and growing their idea. You’ll develop essential entrepreneurial skills while building a roadmap that details your business opportunity. After completing the program, you’ll have a solid understanding of what it takes to create a sustainable business.

Course Details

The program involves six separate class sessions, over the course of 6 weeks, along with homework outside the class. Each class session lasts for about 2 hours and is typically held after work hours (for example, 5-7 pm). The work you complete throughout the course ultimately becomes the content for your pitch deck. To graduate from the SmartStart program, you will pitch your idea to a group of community members. Classes are held virtually and in person, in Houghton or Hancock.

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SmartStart Session Overview

Session 1___________________________

  • Chapter 1: What is your big idea?
  • What Is The Problem?
  • Homework: Contact or list at least 5 customers

Session 2___________________________

  • Chapter 3: where Does Your Idea Fit?
  • Chapter 4: Who is Your Customer?
  • Homework: Contact or list at least 5 customers

Session 3___________________________

  • Chapter 5: What’s Your Path to Market?
  • Start Preparing Your “Pitch”
  • Homework: Contact or list at least 5 customers

Session 4___________________________

  • Chapter 6: Where is the Money?
  • Chapter 7: What is Your Competitive Edge?
  • Homework: Contact or list at least 5 customers

Session 5___________________________

  • Prepare/Practice for Pitch Event
  • Chapter 9: What is Your Story? Your Value Proposition?
  • Additional Content

Session 6___________________________

  • Prepare/Practice for Pitch Event
  • Chapter 9: What is Your Story? Your Value Proposition?
  • Extra Bonus Topic (depending on team’s needs)

Session topics include:

So What? What’s your idea? What’s the problem? Where does your idea fit?
Who Cares? Who’s your customer? What’s your path to market? Where’s the money?
Why You? What’s your competitive edge? Can you execute? What’s your value proposition?

You’ll get access to experienced business experts (legal, intellectual property, marketing, research, financial) and the guidance of SmartStart Program Director Jason Mack. He provides entrepreneurial coaching to help you develop a business value proposition for your technology ideas. His experience in startup development provides the resources you need to launch your product into the marketplace. Outcomes include:

  • A full understanding of all components of your business – not just your idea
  • Understand how to captivate a market and identify target customers
  • Build the best and most efficient team
  • Develop a financial forecast that incorporates cost, not just revenue
  • Ways to possibly protect your idea through trademarks, copyrights, and patents
  • Confidently present your business proposal to investors
  • When necessary, the ability to create a business plan


Anyone with an idea or existing business is welcome to apply. Our mentoring and coaching program welcomes community members, students, researchers, and local business people who are passionate about their ideas. Ideas/businesses do not have to be technology related.

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Cost for the program:

No cost! Just your time.


Our coaches are certified in the Wendy Kennedy pre-incubation program and provide step-by-step guidance to help you clearly articulate how your technology idea will fill an unmet marketplace need. Coaching materials include:

  • Wendy Kennedy’s, “So What? Who Cares? Why You?” manual
  • Business Model Generation
  • Start-Up Owners Manual
  • A Step-by-Step Guide for Building a Great Company