From Dropbox to Airbnb, some of the latest tech startups to hit it big have one thing in common: They all came out of incubators and accelerators.
Why? One of the most important benefits of incubators and accelerators, says Cameron Teitelman, founder of the nonprofit StartX in Palo Alto, Calif., is the community that they foster among entrepreneurs and their alumni, mentors, and partners.
StartX, which began at Stanford University, welcomed its inaugural
group of startups in 2010. Since then, 125 companies have completed the three-month program and gone on to raise a total of $150 million in funding. In a few cases, they’ve been acquired by Apple, Yahoo, and other giants. StartX is supported by volunteers, grants, and corporations, including Intuit.
StartX is one of a growing number of incubators and accelerators that have sprung up in recent years in Silicon Valley and around the globe. Y Combinator, whose alumni include Airbnb and Dropbox, and TechStars are among the many.
StartX may owe part of its success to its Stanford roots. Participating startups must have at least one founder who is affiliated with the university, either as a student, a recent graduate, or a faculty member.
StartX has also created a culture of sharing among its group. “We’ve documented everything we do,” Teitelman says. “Our documentation is a mix of text to read and people to talk to, (such as) ‘here are people who have done this before.’” All of this historical knowledge is made accessible to newcomers, he says.
For instance, the startups share information about investors, mentors, attorneys, media, and other collaborators. Who should the entrepreneurs talk to before making a certain decision? Who seemed shady? The founders “give us feedback on what (the mentors, investors, lawyers, etc.) are good at and what they’re not good at,” he says. “We pull this information and distribute it to all our founders.”
StartX entrepreneurs also keep checklists, templates, and blueprints of all their activities, such as their participation in Demo Day, when they pitch their startup to an audience of potential investors. It’s detailed “down to the emails sent,” Teitelman says.
One participating entrepreneur calculated that he saved about 1,000 hours over three months, just by tapping others around him for help, Teitelman says. He adds that entrepreneurs also benefit from the emotional support and camaraderie that comes from sharing the experience of starting a company.
“The culture of people sharing information and the collective intelligence you can create around that is incredibly powerful,” Teitelman says.
Not all incubators and accelerators are created equal, of course. (Do your homework before you join one.) But Teitelman believes that StartX, a nonprofit that does not take a cut from the participating startups, will continue to help entrepreneurs make their mark. “Our purpose is to make the most effective entrepreneurs over the course of their lifetime,” he says.