Startups…and Downs

Short answer: a mini-MBA, finishing school, geek-fest and gold rush. Color coordinated team t-shirts de rigueur. 

Long answer: see Hari Sreenivasan’s excellent overview for PBS Newshour"Can Tech Startup Schools Teach #TheNextBigThing? 

Simply put, why do in a year what can be done in three months? Business incubators look downright dowdy next to accelerators, whose very speediness lends a sense of urgent drama. They are glamorous, brimming with the seductive possibility of inst-tech celebrity: 15 minutes of Jobsian-style fame pitching a game-changing idea to a crowd of cheering colleagues.

Most accelerators focus on the tech sector, set up by investors who use them to cull the field, groom the likely, and get a piece of the next billion dollar brainstorm for pennies on the (potential) profits.

For the startups, accelerators offer validation, network and a short-cut to cash. Demand so far exceeds supply, some programs boast of being harder to get into than an Ivy League school.

Just making the cut is a win—especially in the Wonderland world of tech, where “failure” translates to “experience,” and “fail fast” is the ADD-tinged m.o.

People abroad think it’s really strange that you come to Silicon Valley and you ask people what they do and they start talking about all of their failures. What people here have learned is that it takes many failures before you achieve success. So the more you fail, the more likely it is you are going to succeed. This is what’s differentiated America from India and China and from Europe.

Vivek Wadhwa

Still, the hope is for success.

Yet for all the vetting and bonafide sparklers (I am looking at you Onswipe—and if anyone there wants to walk me through tweaking my tumblr CSS to use the service, please get in touch…), so many of the pitches are just painful.

Really, enough with the apps for pre-ordering food or tickets because, god forbid, you should ever have to stand in a line. Or apps that edit experience so you see only what an algorithm deems profitable (I am looking at you Immersive Labs and filter bubblers everywhere).

Those in favor of impatient, narrow-minded, stereotype-addled, materialistic misanthropes, please get in this line (though book ahead for a prime spot). Those who prefer the unpredictable tangle of serendipity and curiosity, come with me… 

For TechStars founder, David Cohen, the idea is almost an afterthought: 

Somebody might come in with the greatest idea in the world. That’s the last thing we look at. It doesn’t matter that much to us. We know that about half the companies are going through us are going to pivot and change the business that they’re going after. That’s incredibly common. Not just in this context, but in startups in general. So really you’re looking for people with the right skills, the right passion, the motivations to do a great job…

But the ideas really do make a difference. And now that it’s cheaper than ever to create and launch a tech product, here’s hoping for some great ones. 

Back in the ’90s, a typical startup had to go out and raise millions of dollars. Five, 10 or 15 million dollars just so they could go and buy the servers that they would need, so that people could find their services on the web. It’s now possible to raise $100,000 or $200,000 and, if your’e willing to “eat Ramen,” as they say, for a couple of years, that’s enough money to actually make real progress.”

— Wade Roush, Xconomy

H’mmm. The “Next Sure Thing” is Ramen?

— J.A. Ginsburg / @TrackerNews