Wednesday, January 9, 2013


It's not easy to describe Flashpoint, the brainchild of Merrick Furst, a Distinguished Professor in the School of Computer Science. At first glace Flashpoint looks like a start-up incubator but it really plays a different role, not so much helping a new company achieve their vision but instead helping them engineer that vision.

Merrick's philosophy is that once we get an idea for a company, we convince ourselves that company would be successful. Humans have a natural cognitive dissonance much like this illusion where we think the bottom line is longer than the top. Even though we know these lines have the same length, we cannot shake our cognitive belief that they differ. The same applies to our belief about the success of our ideas. Cognitive dissonance can make us keep faith in a vision instead of realizing that vision needs a small or possibly dramatic change in direction.

Flashpoint has weekly meeting with a collection of mentors, mostly successful entrepreneurs, who constantly challenge the assumptions and beliefs each group has about the main ideas for their start-up. Merrick has made even the start-up idea itself an engineering process. Merrick has a nice blog post describing his canvas approach that sets up the questions a start-up needs to address in a way both analyzable and testable. This allows a continual cycle of improvement in even the basic ideas a start-up builds upon.

Flashpoint just completed their second cohort of teams and about to start the third.  Merrick is constantly applying his own philosophy to Flashpoint itself with each generation. Will Flashpoint change the way start-ups get started up? Time will tell but so far Flashpoint has gotten to a great start.

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