The Founder Institute is a startup incubator for technology companies. Similar to programs such as Y Combinator, TechStars, and Excelerate, the objective is to help entrepreneurs through mentorship, training and peer groups to accelerate the building of a meaningful business. With access to over 500 technology CEOs and founders, and a goal of launching 1,000 companies per year, they have been aggressive in supporting entrepreneurs in over 30 cities around the globe. Except Chicago. Until now.
Last month, they announced that they were looking for candidates to apply for their inaugural class in Chicago. I’ve kept up on FI because it is not a residential program, requiring you to quit your full-time job. This makes it ideal for persons like myself, who may are seasoned, mature professionals who can’t take the financial risks and/or manage the logistics of moving that are the hallmarks of most programs. Additionally, the selection process consists of application, an optional video, and a predictive social science test, meant to assess the candidates entrepreneurial aptitude. Again, a process that I believe is less about subjective criteria and more about selecting candidates who are more likely to succeed based on optimal skills and traits.
And so, I applied. The experience of detailing why you want to be considered for such a program was a stressful yet cathartic experience. You’re sharing why you are willing to dedicate 20+ hours a week of your life over the next 4 months to pursue a dream. The Sunday that I completed it the application and video, I felt more confident than I ever had that this was what I wanted to do. The next steps was the predictive testing, which reminded me of the MENSA testing I took years ago (my IQ is in the 92nd percentile – too dumb), and took over an hour to complete. Now, it was out of my hands. But a week and a half later I got the news: I was accepted! What I remember most about that moment was a sense of validation – that I have the potential to succeed. And, that Founder Institute was willing to make an investment of time and resources to increase the likelihood that I will.
Since then, I’ve connected with a few of my classmates, and spent considerable time doing preparatory reading as well as planning out my calendar. While the class itself is only 1 night a week, there is homework and the expectation that you will collaborate with your work group a couple of days a week. It’s been compared to a condensed MBA, and I’m inclined to believe it. It’s brought back a lot of the discipline I’ve honed in terms of time management, planning and work organization. Combined with a deep desire to make the most of this opportunity, I think I’m as prepared as anyone can be.
I’m going into this with 2 projects that I’ve invested time and money in prototyping, and a 3rd that is just an idea. Over the course of the next few weeks I need to buckle down and determine what 1 project or idea has the greatest likelihood of success, and put everything else aside. Also, I will have to work on a pitch: how do I respond when someone asks me “so, what is your startup doing?”. That 1-3 minute engagement could be the difference between pass and fail, engaged and uninterested, funded or empty-handed. And all this while managing a job and family too boot. But I’m not complaining.
As much as I can, I’ll share my experience with everyone. At some point it may make sense to post/re-post to the blog of whatever project/idea I decide to focus on. While I am doing everything I can, I really do need your encouraging, supportive thoughts and prayers. I’m excited about the road ahead. Ready, Set, Go….