Wow. That was quick. It only seems like yesterday that 20 people started in the inaugural session of the Chicago chapter of Founder Institute (FI) and four months later 14 companies graduated (mine included - www.engageapro.com).
Lots of people have been asking me about the FI experience. Here's the scoop:
FI is not a traditional incubator. It is a pre-seed incubator that takes people with the right personality and determination to build entrepreneurial technology companies and gives them the approach, critical thinking, and mentorship to make it happen.
You get out of Founder Institute exactly what you put in. No more, no less. If you have a crappy idea, negative personality, and expect to be babied, you won't last long. And, it's good that it is designed that way. The program moves quickly with non negotiable deadlines for assignments. I think we lost six participants along the way.
In Chicago, the quality of mentorship is/was second-to-none. Hearing Mike Evans' (Grub Hub's co-founder) story of moving from Series A to Series E was particularly inspirational for me.
I started in Founder Institute with an idea to build a social music discovery platform and ended up doing a pretty major pivot to building a Yelp for professional services. I could not have made this huge step without my FI colleagues, mentors and local Director (Jason Jacobsohn).
The shared ownership structure via the 3.5% warrant aligns incentives in a manner that is unmatched by any other incubator that I know of. All of our FI colleagues in Chicago are rooting for each others success. I've seen the opposite occur at some other local incubators where I have some friends.
At graduation on Tuesday night, ten new companies pitched to a panel of highly respected Chicago-area VC's. I've gotten a few follow up conversations from my pitch. It's not funding yet, but it's a great start.
Lastly, Adeo Ressi (the guy behind FI and one of the busier guys around) is genuinely concerned about the founders and our individual success. In my case he spent time on the phone with me helping to guide my thinking about a particular issue I was struggling with.
I'm very pleased with what I got from Founder Institute. It helped me leave the corporate world and become a full time entrepreneur.
Oh, and if you want to see our winning pitch from the graduation the other night, here it is:
Hit me up with any questions.