If you are not paying attention to off campus entrepreneurship education and seed initiatives, then you should start. Read this great piece (h/t @MichaelGaiss) by Fred Destin sharing his experiences and thoughts on Seedcamp and related issues.
There seems to be a kind of marketing war going on between all of the incubation/acceleration programs, what with YCombinator getting 600 applications a minute or Techstars providing some awesome TV. At some level you could argue all these are fighting for a limited crop of A+ entrepreneurs, but I tend to take a slightly more prosaic view on this. Each of these initiatives serves a defined community and tries to rise above transience by building sustainable processes of value creation for startups. Each has a unique place and role to play in improving the early stage ecosystem, as was well argued by Jonathan Wegener.
Beyond any marketing spin, the only thing that really matters is whether startups go through these programs and come out at the other end stronger, funded, ready to go win in the marketplace. For my money, well-supported, locally backed, collaborative initiatives are the only real way to go. There is no shortcut to generating real engagement between startups and mentors and spending quality time together on problems that truly matter to entrepreneurs and limit their chance of success.
I have been lucky enough to be involved in both Seedcamp and Techstars Boston, and to see how these two initiatives deliver value in different ways. Techstars as a 3 month residential creates a real furnace of entrepreneurial emulation. Seedcamp, designed for a more distributed European ecosystem, is very efficient at creating connectivity and access. Both usually get very strong reviews from entrepreneurs. I also wrote recently about 500Startups, another impressive initiative.
Maintaining quality is a sustainability challenge for all accelerator programs, which is why I think they are fundamentally hard to scale. Quality primarily relies on getting high quality mentors and designing formats that deliver real value to entrepreneurs. It’s tough to scale good mentors, and god knows I have witnessed some pretty awful mentoring. But I have also and mostly seen companies get real breakthroughs in strategy and execution thanks for the variety of views and quality of probing that they are subjected to.
The piece offers many insights into the building of successful entrepreneurs, firms, and ecosystems. We are hoping to build some of this at Mason with StartUp Mason, Center for Social Entrepreneurship and Center for Entrepreneurship and Public Policy.