Posted on March 3rd, 2011 No comments
Dreaming of your own startup? This is your moment. The next Denver Founder Institute starts in May, and it’s now accepting early applications.
As an alum from 2010 I can tell you that this is a great program that comes with a top-notch network of entrepreneurs from around the world. We entered the program with a fuzzy idea and emerged with BookBrewer. Some other cool companies were born too, including JetJaw, VisuTalk and CipherPoint. I recommend FI to anyone who is serious about starting a company.
This year’s Denver session will be co-lead by Jon Nordmark, CEO of UsingMiles (founder of eBags) and Jim Franklin of Oracle Crystal Ball fame. They’re two of Colorado tech’s best, but they’re also joined by a strong lineup of CEO mentors. You can see past mentors from Denver and other FI programs here.
If you’re not in Denver, there may be another Founder Institute program near you, as it currently operates in 17 cities worldwide. Learn more and sign up at http://founderinstitute.com.
What Makes Founder Institute Unique?
The Founder Institute isn’t the only technology incubator program out there, nor is it in competition with them. In fact, some of the CEOs who mentor Boulder’s excellent TechStars program also get involved in FI (including Franklin, who’s also a mentor in TechStars).
If you’re serious about starting a company and think an incubator is right for you, you’re looking into many programs. So what makes Founder Institute different and unique?
For one, you don’t have to quit your day job, as all of the weekly sessions are at night. Most start around 6-ish and go until around 9. You get to hear the real-life stories of people who started companies and succeeded, then talk to them afterward (sometimes over beer). This is way more fun than it sounds, and your mind will be buzzing every night with ideas from what you learned.
For another, the goal of the program is not necessarily to lead you up to an investor pitch day or to get funded right away — although there are opportunities to talk to investors. You’ll learn a lot about how to get funding should you needed it, but you’ll also learn about how to “bootstrap” — which in some ways is more effective at first because it shows potential investors that your business has legs. Most of the focus is on your idea, your product, your business model and your ability to execute. How you choose to run or fund your business after that is completely up to you.
And finally, while I don’t know enough about the other programs to know how they compare in this regard, in Founder Institute you get a lot of feedback from your fellow class members. You’re assigned to three different working groups of 4-5 people throughout the semester and are encouraged to share information about your businesses, collectively brainstorm and poke holes.
I personally found the small-group aspect to be the most helpful in the end, because let’s face it. Entrepreneurship is hard and often lonely. Having a community of peers makes a big difference in the end. Having to constantly talk about my business with others in a safe, non-threatening way helped me identify problems and other opportunities early on before spending my hard-earned money making mistakes (although I did make some of those, and you will too).
The most unique aspect that I don’t believe exists in other programs is shared ownership. After a certain date in the program your peers get a small fraction of your business, and you theirs, so you all have an incentive to help each other succeed. In my view this is largely symbolic, as the percentages are so low to make a big payout unlikely unless someone is sitting on the next Facebook. You primarily help each other because of your friendship and shared goals, but I won’t exactly complain if one of the companies in my class makes it big and I get a check in the mail as a result.
And that gets to the best thing about Founder Institute, which I suspect other programs share. After “graduation,” you’re part of a global community of other entrepreneurs who are always ready and willing to help each other out. What you’ll find as you embark on a startup is that anyone crazy enough to have founded a company before is always happy to help newcomers. Founder Institute takes that a step further by also knitting together a community of entrepreneurs who help each other long after graduation.