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:
- You can keep you day job.
- You don’t have to relocate to Boulder.
- If you graduate you contribute 3.5 percent of your company to a pool that is owned by you and the other graduates and mentors from your class. You are quite literally invested in the success of your peers.
- The mentors are exclusively experienced CEOs and founders – no service providers.
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.