TheFunded to Bring Startup “Training Camp” to San Diego—Eyeing Other Cities From Seattle to Boston to Paris
The inaugural class of the TheFunded Founder Institute, a San Francisco-based training camp for startup CEOs, isn’t graduating until Sept. 8—but the institute’s founder, Bay Area serial entrepreneur Adeo Ressi, is already expanding the program to San Diego and elsewhere.
Ressi, who previously founded the VC rating site TheFunded and operates the institute as an affiliated entity , tells me San Diego is probably the furthest along in his expansion plans, followed by Los Angeles, Washington D.C., and Paris. But Ressi also intends to “syndicate” the Founder Institute program to Boston and Seattle (where Xconomy operates) as well as New York, Denver, Singapore, London, Paris, and Berlin. “The only market missing from the list is Israel, and I just don’t see that happening anytime soon,” Ressi says.
The institute’s San Diego operation is being organized by Jeanine Jacobson and Cliff Currie, who have both been active in the region’s startup community. Jacobson served for seven years as executive director of Athena, a San Diego professional networking organization for women working at life sciences and technology companies. Currie, who worked in digital video at Google, Yahoo, and other companies, co-founded StartupCircle, a San Diego organization for early stage entrepreneurs, and is vice president of the San Diego Young Entrepreneurs group.
Currie tells me their timeline is “pretty aggressive.” They intend to recruit mentors and partners in September, solicit applications and select about 30 students in October, and launch the San Diego program in November.
Ressi describes the Founder Institute’s four-month program as a hybrid that combines the benefits of an incubator and a startup training camp for very early-stage entrepreneurs. “The institute is designed to help founders launch world-class technology companies,” Ressi says. “We do that by providing a great level of training, membership, and services.”
Ressi, whose previous companies include Game Trust, methodfive, and Sophos Partners, says the Founder Institute counts as his ninth startup, and has been entirely self-funded. It grew out of the insights Ressi says he gained from operating TheFunded, an online community that enables CEOs to post anonymous reviews about their interactions with venture capital firms—and the sometimes secretive ways they operate. With 12,000 CEO members, Ressi says the TheFunded also serves as a great resource for understanding how startups succeed or fail. “I probably know on a first-name basis most of the successful CEOs, at least in the United States, and it’s not a big number,” Ressi says. “Founders make a lot of mistakes early on that end up ruining their business.”
The Founder Institute’s inaugural class in San Francisco consists of 79 entrepreneurs who attend evening sessions several times a month, which enables students to continue working at day jobs. The curriculum, which is led by experienced business mentors, focuses each class on assignments that are intended to directly benefit the early stage businesses that student-founders are working to develop. In addition to CEO mentors, Ressi says the institute also has recruited corporate partners and service providers, such as such as Intuit, Microsoft BizSpark, and the Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati law fim, to provide the founders with needed products and services.
At a time when entrepreneurs are not getting much help from traditional sources of venture funding, Ressi also has developed an unusual funding model for startups enrolled in the institute, one intended to encourage hesitant investors and share the prospective upside with CEO mentors, partners, and other students in the program. The institute asks participating founders to contribute warrants equivalent to 3.5 percent of each company. The warrants form a pool that is shared among the CEO mentors, partners, students, and other participants in the program. (CEO participants are also asked to pay a course fee, which Currie says will likely be $495.)
Prospective investors are welcome to attend three “investor friendly” sessions in which students make 15-minute presentations, answer questions, and get immediate feedback. Currie, who attended one of the San Francisco investor sessions with Jacobson earlier this week, says, “It was a very collaborative process, something I’ve never seen before.”
The idea is for everyone to get a stake in the outcome. As Ressi puts it, “What we are trying to encourage is an ecosystem within the institute that has the best interest of the entrepreneurs at heart—and that shares the economic interest as well.”