Y Combinator is open to all online

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Y Combinator’s online Startup School was available this year to anyone and everyone Startup School is a free, 10-week, online course designed for any startup founder who would like to get help through the earliest, most difficult challenge of starting a company.

This year it was open not just to selected applicants but to any and every single applicant (some 15,000). And for the first time ever, $10,000 in equity-free funding was being offered to 100 of the most promising companies that join and complete the course. Those companies would also receive a video interview with a YC partner later in the year for advice or aid in applying to a future YC batch.

‘The most important thing is that you will have a group of fellow founders to connect with so you can support one another. Unfortunately, we’re still constrained by number of advisors who volunteered to lead each group, which means some groups won’t have an advisor. But having peers in a batch is what founders tell us is truly special about YC. We’re going to give you instructions on how to organize the group yourself and get nearly the same experience.’

Founders could choose to join the Startup School community and meet with an advisor on a weekly basis, or to simply follow along with the course by watching the lectures and materials. In both cases, the class was completely free.

Startup School lectures are delivered live in Mountain View, California at Y Combinator’s headquarters and then made available for viewing online. The speakers include YC co-founder Paul Graham, YC Partners like President Sam Altman and CEO Michael Seibel, as well as notable founders from the startup community.

Last year, over 13,000 companies applied to participate in Startup School, and 95 YC alumni volunteered their time to advise over 2,800 of those companies participating across 141 countries.

Throughout the 10 weeks, founders built their products, talked to users, created local communities, and launched their companies. 1,587 (56%) of the companies completed the course, and, since then, 38 of them have been accepted to the core Y Combinator program and received YC funding.

Stripe (‘online payment processing for internet businesses’) was giving startups discounted payment processing and an invitation to Stripe Atlas to incorporate and open a company bank account.

In addition, startups would have full access to deals and credits to a variety of other services, including Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud and Clerky.

Y Combinator’s goal is to help everyone, regardless of who or where they are, to start their startup. The materials from this year’s Startup School, like those from previous years, will remain online after the course finishes as a permanent resource for all startup founders.

John Whatmore, October 2018

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DeepTech comes to market?

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DeepTech comes to market? Science is discreetly stirring itself to bring innovations to market. Despite the difficulties of continuing to practice science alongside commercialisation, leading organisations are creating happenings that encourage entrepreneurialism.

 It is now four years since Steve Blank’s I-Corps programme startled the US’s science communities into focusing on bringing innovations to market, but not till very recently did Innovate UK support this kind of programme. So it is good to see the prestigious Crick Centre in London’s Knowledge Quarter offering to ten teams a 16-week London-based Accelerator programme this Autumn, each with a £40K ‘award’ with which to progress their business.

It is not easy for prospective applicants to learn from the internet what will happen on the programme or what they will get out of it (and there is a ferocious set of questions for applicants as to their suitability.)

‘The course includes’, says the description, ‘pre-accelerator, accelerator and post-accelerator activities designed to take founder teams from idea to Series A and beyond commercial launch.’ ‘Teams will have access to a network of global experts in all aspects of entrepreneurship, health sector knowledge, data science and investment strategies.  This network will provide workshops and mentoring to support the cohort helping them to maximise opportunities and address challenges.’

Innovate UK recently offered funding for this kind of programme to Imperial (around £1/2mn) for a dozen of its post-docs to take time out to participate in a programme focusing specifically on the customer development section of the Business Model Canvas. They were to meet a hundred experts in their field who could help them to make a real-world impact with their work. After an initial residential week, bi-weekly meetings were intended to encourage peer-to-peer learning, complemented by a series of Masterclasses and workshops; and time could be booked with business coaches and members of the management team.

Steve Blank’s more demanding I-Corps programme has been readily taken up by a number of scientific organisations in the US – with encouraging results, but its long-term effects are, like all programmes that involve change, very difficult to measure.

The Crick Centre has been hosting a regular series of ‘DeepTech Mixers’ (which will be incorporated in the programme), bringing together people highly engaged in this approach – engineers, scientists, VC partners, university researchers and startup founders – for presentations, panels, discussions, pitches and networking. These are designed to facilitate the exchange of ideas and encourage venture building and investment – by connecting startups with each other and with major organisations.

If programmes of this kind are right for Crick, are they not also right for Harwell, the Rutherford Appleton, the National Physical Laboratory, the Barbraham and others?

John Whatmore, October 2018

Costa’s Chatty Cafe scheme

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Costa’s Chatty Café scheme: a ‘water cooler’ for business nurseries

Learning from each other’s experience plays a big part in Incubators and Accelerators, so I am often surprised that some of them have no cafeteria-type space for encouraging participants to meet and hob-nob with one another; and others make poor use of such spaces.

Costa (of coffee fame) has just launched its Chatty Café Scheme, which provides Chatter and Natter tables, designed to encourage people to sit [together] and chat with one another over a coffee (the idea inspired by their sociability).

London’s 18th Century Coffee Houses were both more numerous and chattier that those of to-day – specialised as they were by field, trade or topic – for information, transactions or just gossip.

Y Combinator and Watershed in Bristol both have their participants meet regularly for a meal, at which each person has to talk about their progress, problems and plans; and you can then button-hole someone with a similar issue and pick their brains.

The offices of Uden Films in London were designed with cafe facilities at both ends of every corridor, where everyone could both make and drink their coffee.

 Where Accelerators and Incubators do provide cafeterias, their tables are usually arranged for people who want a quick coffee, perhaps with their colleagues, rather than for making acquaintances. Using Costa’s innovation could encourage more hob-nobbing.

Nottingham university’s incubator provided a complete kitchen/diner (with long table and benches), where participants could both prepare and eat or drink together, prolonging the time they spent there and thus their opportunity to hob-nob.  It was no accident that the Incubator’s manager was a delightful and chatty matron, and probably a good cook too! (Where providing board games might work in a Costa, juicy business updates might be more attractive to entrepreneurs.)

‘Free coffee’ mornings and ‘free beer’ evenings bring people together, but they depend upon chance in a way that purposed groups do not.  Action learning-type groups like those of Vistage (for comparable executives in business) and the Belgian Plato programme (for CEOs of comparable small businesses) offer a similar model. These provide opportunities for participants to talk briefly about their progress, problems and plans, and for others in the small groups to offer ideas from their own experience – an approach that has been adopted at Daresbury’s Innovation Centre.

Speed-dating is often used to help entrepreneurs to identify mentors who seem likely to be able to help them. Several new websites have addressed the issue of how better to enable people with reciprocal interests to get together: Bumble Bizz is ‘designed for networking and mentoring’; Mastodon calls itself ‘a decentralised social network’; and Nextdoor is ‘a private social network for your neighbourhood community’.

In a good conversation, you never know what you might get out of it! Costa’s innovation could lead to whole new tranches of support for young businesses in Incubators and Accelerators.

If you are doing something similar, would you let me know how it is going?

John Whatmore (john.whatmore@btinternet.com) 

October, 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ten trends in Business Nurseries

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Ten trends in Business Nurseries

Co-working spaces growing in number; and providing increasing support

Startups declining in number, (despite apparent continuing increase in self-employment) with a higher proportion in tech fields

Entrepreneurialism continues its attraction; but focuses on founders more than followers

Increasing use of Competitions and Prizes

Growth in Accelerators dominated by Corporates

Startups continue to be idea-focused, with a slight shift towards a problem/opportunity-focus

Investors increasingly focusing on businesses that are near to market

VC industry needs bigger and more expert players

Support continues to be undervalued; and under-managed

In terms of economic benefits, to-day’s focus is now as much on Scaleups as it is on Startups, but the scene is foggier

 

John Whatmore, July 2018

 

 

Incubator spawns Accelerator programmes

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Incubator ‘DMZ’ spawns specialised Accelerator programmes and wins accolades for Toronto

Toronto is proving to be a hot spot for boosting businesses, with three local incubators and accelerators now ranked among the world’s top university-backed launchpads for startup companies.

​The Digital Marketing Zone (‘DMZ’) at Ryerson University, known for supporting Canadian tech startups like marketing company #paid, credit education company Borrowell, and photography website 500PX, has been ranked the top university-managed tech incubator in the world, tying with Bristol’s SetSquared.

Another local business launchpad, University of Toronto Entrepreneurship, took fourth place in the recently announced rankings. In the category of university-linked accelerators, the York Entrepreneurship Development Institute took the top spot, with three other Canadian accelerators rounding out the top four.

Since 2010, DMZ has incubated roughly 300 startups that have raised close to $400 million and created more than 3,000 jobs. Over the last few years, it opened an office in New York City, developed a sales accelerator program, and forged partnerships with banks and companies like Facebook to develop accelerator programs in digital news, financial technology and early market validation for women-led founders.

Sam Seo largely credits the Ryerson incubator with the success of his tech startup Livegauge, launched in 2013, which provides sensors for marketing events so companies can measure the level of engagement from passerby. The company now has more than $1 million in annual sales.

“I had a business idea to launch, but not really a plan to commercialize the business,” he said. “After we got into the DMZ for the first three years or so, they really helped us shape the business.”

John Whatmore, July 2018

 

What makes for successful project group leaders?

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What makes for successful project group leaders People whose objective is to address tough problems start with different issues. Projects of this kind require different characteristics for successful leadership.

The Gates Foundation starts with health issues; the Scottish Government’s CivTech programme starts with public service issues; MIT’s REAP programme and Village Capital in New York start with local or regional economic issues. They then find leaders and build teams to tackle those issues – an approach which is the opposite of the entrepreneur movement – which simply encourages individuals to develop new products or services.

But one of their biggest problems in starting with issues is that of finding leaders to head up these issue-based programmes. Above all else, such people must be experienced experts in their field, but it is unlikely that they will have experience of running innovation-centred programmes.

Singularity University (www.su.org), founded in 2009 and based at the Nasa Research Park in California describes its aim as to leverage new technologies, and work together to start companies to tackle the world’s biggest challenges. It is a community of entrepreneurs, corporations, development organizations, governments, investors, and academic institutions that runs an annual programme whose activities include custom educational experiences for leaders, conferences that inspire and prompt action, and innovative labs that incubate and accelerate corporate innovation and social impact projects.

If you are thrust into the leadership of a major innovation project, the approaches embodied in design company IDEO’s Design Thinking (www.interaction-design.org) may be relevant – based on these five skills:

  1. Observing:“Listen with your eyes” and discover what people really care about
  2. Stretch your thinking beyond assumptions and get to bolder ideas.
  3. Interviewing:Conduct interviews to get deeper, more honest responses.
  4. Immersive Empathy:Learn what it means to “walk in someone else’s shoes.”
  5. Sharing Insights:Craft compelling insights that will inspire innovation.

Steve Blanks’s I-Corps (Innovation Corps Are there any limits to the scope for Accelerators) runs a Boot Camp – a nine-week course designed to teach business skills to entrepreneurial scientists in technology-based startups – that has now been rolled out for biomedical firms as part of an experiment by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), and has recently been trialled by at least two organisations in the UK.

Its ruthless pitching tests have encouraged some of the participating organisations to change course; and others to search more assiduously for commercial applications of their science. “You can be a great researcher and you can think you have great ideas”, said one Congressman, “but until you’re forced to talk to a potential customer, you never really know.”

Research suggests that creative groups (addressing tough problems with big pay-offs) tend to be led by people who are visionaries – passionate and enthusiastic and sensitive to ‘process’, able to identify and bring together the necessary resources and the variety of talents, and then encouraging, orchestrating and supporting them, and protecting the group through its ups and downs. The research (Leaders of Creative Groups  also shows that they learn these skills primarily by experience – from one such project to another.

Scotland’s next generation of business leaders will benefit from entrepreneurial learning in a programme designed to develop future business leaders across all sectors – corporate, family businesses, the public sector and the third sector – delivered for the first time by Strathclyde Business School, led by Entrepreneurial Scotland in partnership with Babson College in Boston, USA – a world leader in entrepreneurial development (A heavy-weight investment in top entrepreneurial leaders.

The programme is for people who are at a turning point in their careers, aiming to become entrepreneurs: they may be starting a new business, entering an entrepreneurial business or joining a business that is looking to become more entrepreneurial.

It aims to instil entrepreneurial thinking and strategic leadership – by giving participants access to toolkits and techniques with an entrepreneurial perspective. The approach is described as facilitated learning: delivered by the business school faculty together with industry partners, with the help of mentors and advisers, and consisting also of networking and peer-to-peer learning.

Leaders of new ventures would surely find models like these useful, (as would policy makers) – whether they are designing their aeroplane on the way down from the cliff top, leading on a big problem that they have never before encountered in their life, or fostering innovation in the Hebrides or London.

John Whatmore, June 2018

 

 

 

 

 

Few business nurseries focus on learning; but some do

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WORKING IN STARTUPS Founding a business attracts a lot of young people who have little or no business experience; but only a few business development programmes put much emphasis on learning – Village Capital, EntrepreneurFirst and the Clore Foundation among them.

 Becoming a company founder, some suggest, is to-day a more popular career than any other, but it is fraught with failure. Brent Hoberman has depicted it as like throwing yourself off a cliff and learning to build an aeroplane on the way down. While some succeed (YCombinator seems to attract heavy-weight innovators), many fail; (in the UK just under half new businesses apparently fail within three years), and many of those who start businesses simply become self-employed (or are out of work.) We desperately need to identify, select and train – for the various skills that are needed.

In 2016, Village Capital in New York launched a development programme for young people aimed at filling the gap between their education and the need for them to become employable in today’s venture-oriented world. It involved companies that would receive ‘training on business model development, customer hypothesis testing, financial modelling, partnership and customer development, and investor engagement. Entrepreneurs also have one-on-one time with mentors, industry experts, investors, top business leaders and potential customers’.

EntrepreneurFirst, an Accelerator for graduates to found new businesses, has become expert in putting people together who form effective teams, as has Village Capital in New York. EntrepreneurFirst achieves this by forcing its recruits to examine compatability in relation to purpose, in the very early stages of a startup.

The Clore Foundation, originally about leadership in the arts, runs a variety of leadership development programmes – for people in social enterprise. They are all part time; in groups; online as well as residential; a mixture of reflection – with coaching, and instruction; and all of them about working together to tackle their various current leadership challenges.

John Whatmore, June 2018