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

 

A heavy-weight investment in top entrepreneurial leaders

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A heavy-weight investment to create a cohort of top entrepreneurial leaders for Scotland Many of to-day’s big problems require entrepreneurial talent to manage them, but few managers have experience of managing entrepreneurial projects. This is a programme whose aim is to turn mid-career expertise into entrepreneurial talent.

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.

This six month leadership development programme which is one of a number of related initiatives by the Saltire Foundation, is led by Entrepreneurial Scotland in partnership with Babson College in Boston, USA – a world leader in entrepreneurial development.

The programme is for people who are at a turning point in their careers and have the mind-set and ambition 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.

A ‘lively’ two week section involves field trips, case studies and introductions to others involved in Scotland’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Participants will have already spent nine weeks in Boston and Silicon Valley learning from some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs with the aim of helping them to acquire the skills they need to become entrepreneurial leaders.

Upon returning to Scotland they embarked on individual projects within their own organisations or a sponsor organisation. This is followed by two weeks of residential training, and then participants go back to their projects before graduating from the programme. But they remain in contact, connected online for master classes, able to network, to continue to exchange experience and contacts, and in a post-course Linkedin group.

Nineteen experienced entrepreneurs from a wide range of backgrounds (a scientist, a barrister and a musician among them) made up the cohort, the selection involving extensive profiling undertaken by Insight, a Dundee-based organisation, together with Entrepreneurial Scotland, a network organisation based at Strathclyde.

Strathclyde Business School will be looking to see whether they have achieved their business outcomes; whether they have successfully made the transfer to an entrepreneurial function; whether the programme has indeed unlocked and unleashed their entrepreneurial potential; and whether the programme has renewed their love of learning and development. The post-programme assessments are made by Entrepreneurial Scotland, but ‘life changing’ is a commonly quoted outcome. The programme for the next cohort is now to add entrepreneurship masterclasses, delivered by top professors and local entrepreneurs at different stages of business growth.

The programme costs £32k per person, but many of the participants have been able to attract sponsors. The award-winning Diageo Learning for Life programme funded a place for a candidate from the licensed trade in Scotland; and leading organisations LINC Scotland, Cultural Enterprise Office, and Social Investment Scotland also backed individuals on the programme.

For more, see https://www.sbs.strath.ac.uk/feeds/news.aspx?id=1131

John Whatmore, April 2018

 

 

A workshop for programme leaders in Incubators etc

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Fostering Innovation in Incubators A half-day workshop for programme leaders to exchange experience – on 27 June, 2018, at Cockpit Arts, Cockpit Yard, Northington Street, London WC1N 2NP.

Cockpit Arts, home to 170 small businesses, is an award-winning social enterprise and the only business incubator for craftspeople in the UK – with an outstanding support regime.

9.30 Introduction: John Whatmore, scribbler and former Nesta Associate

9.40 David Crump, Head of Business Incubation, Cockpit Arts. The issues and the approaches adopted in Cockpit Arts

10.15 Visit to the Incubator – meeting some makers

11.00 Coffee

11.20 Reactions to the visit – from participants

11.45 A panel of leaders from parallel fields tell us about their approaches and experience

12.15 Discussion – Fostering innovation in incubation: ways forward

1.15 Feed-back: What did you value most and who do you want to meet again?

1.30 Finish

Places very limited. Preference will be given to programme leaders in incubators and similar co-working spaces.

Apply to John Whatmore at john.whatmore@btinternet.com, giving your organisation together with your role there.