I strongly believe that entrepreneurial education and community building is not a zero sum game. So when Jim Franklin, the CEO of SendGrid (one of our portfolio companies and a TechStars Boulder mentor) asked if I would write a post about the Founder Institute program in Boulder, I told him that I’d give him control of my blog to write a guest post on it. I have enormous regard for Jim and Jon Nordmark, his co-host of the Founder Institute Denver program and want to be supportive of anything they are involved in. So – following is Jim’s view on the value of Founder Institute, how it differs from TechStars, and a call to action if you are interested in it.
If you read Brad’s blog, you probably have some connection to the world of startups. Do you dream of starting a company, but you just can’t quit your day job right now? I may have just the thing you are looking for.
Last summer Founder Institute held its inaugural class in Denver. Jon Nordmark, CEO of usingmiles.com and founder of ebags, was the host. Jon brought in dozens of CEO/founder mentors and graduated a class of 15 companies including BookBrewer, JetJaw and CipherPoint. Also, the graduating founders have gone on to do joint projects together such as LocVox, which GlueCon recently selected for its “demo pod.”
What the graduates tell me is that they thought the education was worthwhile, and the camaraderie among the group is worth even more. Starting a business can be a lonely venture, and these graduates all have a meaningful connection to each other.
I had the opportunity to mentor a number of the participants and developed several great relationships in the process. I was impressed by the quality of the founders that we have in Denver and Boulder, and I’m looking for big things from graduated companies like BloomWorlds, and ZebraMinds.
For this year, I’ve joined Jon as co-host. We look forward to working with the generous mentors as well as another great group of founders. Founder Institute is a great way for Jon and I to ‘pay it forward’ and help the next generation of entrepreneurs to make Colorado a great place to start a business.
Because I am Boulder-based and also a TechStars mentor, I am often asked about the differences between TechStars and the Founder Institute. Scott Yates, an FI graduate and founder of BlogMutt, wrote an excellent post on this topic last year, and tells me that looking back as a graduate he thinks his analysis still holds up.
The key difference I see between the two programs is the overall goal: at TechStars your team will be in Boulder full-time and demo your work at Investor Day. All TechStars participants form an operating company by the end of the program. With the Founder Institute you will get an education on what it means to be a founder from others who have been there and done that. Most of the participants are operating a new company by the end, or shortly thereafter, but some just keep working their day job until the moment is right for them.
In addition to TechStars, we have many resources for entrepreneurs in Colorado, and all of them have their differentiating points. Here’s what I see as unique aspects of the Founder Institute:
If you are ready to commit 15 hours a week for 14 weeks to get your next business ready to launch, I look forward to helping you do more, faster (although, not too fast!)
And whether or not you launch your business, you will be a much better-informed founder when the time is right.
I’d like to thank Brad for the chance to blog in his space, and I’d like to thank Jon for his continuing effort to help the Colorado entrepreneurial ecosystem, because we all benefit when we have more, better founders in our universe.
Apply before the May 1 and let me know if I can help you with launching your business in 2011.
A handful of folks that I know and respect have gotten involved in the Founder Institute’ Denver program. Andy Vuong of the Denver Post wrote a nice article on it titled Founder Institute is training minds for a great idea. Several people have suggested that the program is competitive with TechStars – including the first sentence of Andy’s article. However, I just don’t see it that way and encourage all kinds of programs like this in the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
In the case of the Founder Institute, it has a very different tempo and dynamic than TechStars per their weekly agenda. While there is a little overlap in the mentor group, their’s is very Denver centric. And it’s a part time program vs. something that is fully immersive.
Jon Nordmark, a well known Denver entrepreneurs who founded eBags is running the program. John previously ran a fun program called Startup Basecamp – I was at the one in 2000 where my infamous “bowling and get wasted test” (actually, just the description) made an appearance. I have a lot of respect for Jon and expect he’ll do a great job with this.
If you are interested in starting up a business and looking for an educational program around it, consider applying to the Spring 2010 Denver Founder Institute program.