Hopping the Fence: A Couple of Nonprofit Geeks Jump Into the World of Tech Startups

The Bright+3 crew has long been interested in how the nonprofit world can learn from the best practices or organizations in the private and public sectors.

And yes, of course, the private sector has a lot to learn from nonprofits, too, as we’ve argued elsewhere (such as our “Be More Like a Nonprofit” post), but we are a lot more interested in improving the capacity of the social sector to kick ass in its mission-based work.

Couple that with an entrepreneurial itch (to use Jon Stahl’s expression), add a healthy enthusiasm about technology, and throw in a heavy dose of fascination at the entrepreneurial world, and you get our new adventure: Trey & I applied for, were accepted in, and are now two weeks into a summer-long intensive incubator/accelerator for technology startups.

I can’t say that we picked Founder Institute based on a careful review of the options; really we stumbled into the application opportunity and did enough research to know it seemed solid and well-regarded. But it’s turned out to be a really strong fit. It caters to founders that have other jobs (rather than being fully immersive), the focus is more on producing skilled entrepreneurs rather than launching companies (e.g., acceptance into the program is based more on the strength of the applicants than on the strength of their business proposal), and the program takes a smaller cut of equity from new businesses than some other incubators (and creates a shared bonus pool for graduates to share in each other’s success).

Although the program started just a week ago it feels like it’s been a few months . . . intensive, demanding, and challenging. Fun, as well, especially now that we think we are starting to figure out a clear business idea (more on that later). And despite the emphasis on entrepreneurial skills over business-building, we are still expected to do the latter, and we are moving full steam ahead.

In the meantime, one early observation: it is extremely cool to watch some of the extremely skilled, serial entrepreneurs who mentor in the program think out loud when they are evaluating business ideas and when they are crafting their own ideas. On the former, it’s a sharp, incisive, and very quick ability to run every idea though a series of critical questions about the market size, getting to market, the competitiveness of the market, and a host of others. It’s impressive to watch (and it can be brutal to be on the receiving end of an analysis). The latter is even more impressive, seeing the world through a lens that identifies points of friction and pain and constantly asking “what if there was something that . . . ” or “wouldn’t it be cool if . . . ” A lot of those ideas might not, in the end, pass muster, but it’s a very cool way of thinking about the world that produces a constant stream of ideas for solving problems.

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