Brave Launch - Business Accelerator

Brave Launch is a seven-week virtual business accelerator modeled off of the National Science Foundation Innovation-Corps (I-Corps) accelerator program and Steve Blank’s Lean LaunchPad. The foundation of the program is evidence-based entrepreneurship and agile development, which pushes teams out into the real world to gain insights and develop their business model through customer discovery. Valuable to both start-ups and existing businesses, the program teaches participants this nationally proven model of innovation. Brave Launch supports economic development by accelerating the development of innovative companies. The program culminates in a demo-day during which teams have the opportunity to pitch to the members of the public, corporate partners, mentors, and the investor community, and win up to $5,000 in prizes.

Additional insights into the program

Alignment with the NSF I-Corps Innovation Standard

Integrating the I-Corps national training standard is fundamental to the success of Brave Launch. The I-Corps model of innovation and customer development is used throughout the U.S. and globally. Learning the principles taught in Brave Launch means you can speak the language understood by investors, startup communities, and granting agencies. It is consistent with principles you would use in the future if you receive U.S. government funding.

At the core of this model is Steve Blank’s rejection of the traditional business plan. He observed that most business plans don’t survive the first few months of customer contact, and that startups fail, not due to lack of ideas, but lack of customers. Instead, startups and corporate innovation teams need to structure their innovation and business development around what Blank terms the “Customer Development Process” which includes principles such as customer discovery, minimum viable product (MVP), and quickly testing hypotheses so, when needed, an idea is abandoned and the startup pivots to a new hypothesis.

In integrating these principles into Brave Launch, you will learn how to conduct customer discovery, how to develop your business model canvas, and how to really understand if your startup or corporate innovation idea will be successful. This is part of what makes Brave Launch so challenging—and rewarding. You will be held accountable each week by facilitators to integrate what you are learning into your own customer discovery and business model canvas, which results in your customer discovery and business model canvas getting stronger and stronger each week.

Brave Launch Facilitators

The 2021 Brave Launch is managed by the Illinois Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Bradley University. Joining our staff are two facilitators that have participated in regional and national NSF I-Corp programs.

  • Eric Sampson, Director, Illinois Small Business Development Center
  • Mike Stubbs, Director, Peoria Next Innovation Center and Technology Commercialization (in the Illinois SBDC)
  • Julie Collins, National Innovation Corps Instructor, Atlanta, GA, and facilitator of the national I-Corps that including Natural Fiber Welding
  • Alex Gorsuch, Co-founder and CTO at Ascent Integrated Tech, Engineer, Mentor for Defense and First Responder Tech. He is an NSF-Certified I-Corps Instructor at the Midwest I-Corps Node, he also taught Site I-Corps at New Mexico State University.

Participant Benefits include:

  • Discovering the real business opportunity for your idea.
  • Learning and networking with mentors, advisers, entrepreneurs, and investors.
  • Gaining knowledge of what it takes to launch a business or a new innovation within a company.
  • Development of a Business Model Canvas.
  • Meeting prospective partners that can help you move your idea forward.
  • Saving time and money by accelerating your business launch.

Your Innovation and Startup Is Just Beginning!

Brave Launch is hosted by the Illinois Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Bradley University. But your journey doesn’t end here. We are part of nearly 40 SBDCs across Illinois ready to continue to provide business startup and innovation assistance. There are also specialty centers including the Illinois SBDC International Trade Centers and Illinois Procurement Technical Assistance Centers. These centers are all embedded in their local communities and will connect you to additional resources.

Bradley University is a member of the Illinois Science and Technology Coalition which provides additional linkages to resources, investors, and mentoring opportunities.

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Where Are They Now?

Since 2016, Brave Launch has helped 24 businesses and over 100 individuals in their innovation and startup journey. Here are a few updates.

Natural Fiber Welding (NFW) (2016 Brave Launch)

Led by Dr. Luke Haverals, NFW since 2016 has grown tremendously. NFW received an NSF SBIR grant, which led them to the National I-Corps training in Atlanta. Since 2016, NFW has been awarded over $2 million in SBIR/STTR grants. Overall, the company has raised tens of millions in strategic customer and venture capital funding and is one of Central Illinois' fastest growing companies.

Ring Bandits (2017 Brave Launch)

Sydney Frietsch has continued to grow and thrive in her quest to solve the seemingly simple problem: where do individuals safely keep that special piece of jewelry, a key, or medication they must have on their person at all times? Her products have now been featured in Conde Nast Traveller and GQ, and her online store is amazing. As Frietsch remarks on her website, she learned the importance of knowing Ring Bandits’ customers through the Illinois Small Business Development Center at Bradley University.

LUX BLOX (2019 Brave Launch)

Mike and Heather Acerra continue to grow and grow, and gain national recognition including the Best in STEM 2021 from Newsweek. Beyond developing stronger STEM educational linkages, Lux Blox is also expanding internationally.

NTS Innovations (2019 Brave Launch)

NTS Innovations, which is headquartered in Peoria, Illinois, focuses on the commercialization of nanotechnology, the production of green energy, and other environmentally sustainable projects, all via 2D materials. NTS Innovations continues to develop its Graphene Energy Harvesting technology to provide innovative power supply to IoT and other devices.

EngineeringPeople (2019 Brave Launch)

EngineeringPeople provides engineering consulting services to large organizations and equipment manufacturers in both the private and public sectors, from Caterpillar Inc. to the U.S. Army. More recently, the company added software development to its lineup of offerings—employing machine learning, artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality to the areas of training and education. EngineeringPeople was recently selected by the United States Air Force to build a virtual training application for its new airmen and airwomen.

FAQs Apply Now

2021 Virtual Format

New for 2021 is a 100% virtual format. Each week, the teams will meet on Thursdays from 4pm to 6:30pm via Zoom. Prior to each synchronous class meeting, teams will do hypothesis testing of their business model canvas through reviewing videos, reading materials, and talking to at least 10 customers. During each class, teams will talk about what they learned and engage directly with mentors. Regular virtual office hours will be held weekly.

Dates and Deadlines

Virtual Brave Launch Networking Platform The 2021 virtual Brave Launch will be managed through the peer-to-peer and team networking platform TrustedPeer. Teams will be able to see weekly activities, share files, manage documents, and network with mentors and other experts on the platform.
7 Classes Thursdays, Oct 7 - Nov 18, 4pm - 6:30pm
Onboarding Meeting Thursday, Sept, 30 4pm – 5pm
Demo Day Thursday, Nov 18, 4pm – 6:30pm
Registration $250 per team
Eligibility Only residents and/or businesses in Illinois are eligible to apply.
Application Deadline Monday, Sept 13, 2021
Number of companies in cohort 8 teams (2 - 4 members/team)
Demo-Day Prizes: $5,000 $2,000 Best Pitch
$1,000 Best Business Model Canvas
$1,000 Best Pivot
$1,000 People’s Choice Award