New York’s New General Assembly Incubator Attracts Entrepreneurs With Camaraderie, Classes, and a College Feel

4/13/11Follow @arleneweintraub

Brad Hargreaves, co-founder of New York City’s newest tech incubator, was just 19 years old when he learned some bitter lessons about starting companies. He was the chief operating officer of GXStudios, one of the first players in online social gaming. The venture-backed company’s flagship product was GoCrossCampus, a multiplayer, rivalry-themed game played by college kids across the country. But there was a problem.

“We could not figure out how to make money,” says Hargreaves, now 24. GXStudios ultimately shut down.

Now Hargreaves is passing his wisdom to more than 30 companies headquartered at General Assembly, a new incubator that opened in January in Manhattan’s Flatiron district. General Assembly’s 20,000 square-foot space is designed like a miniature university, presided over by Hargreaves and fellow founders Adam Pritzker, Jake Schwartz, and Matthew Brimer.

Unlike the tech incubators of the early 2000s, this one is not backed by any venture capitalists. The funding comes from organizations like Skype, Ideo, Silicon Valley Bank, and the New York City Economic Development Corp. (NYCEDC) General Assembly, then, is more about educating and nurturing entrepreneurs and less about spewing out companies ill-suited for primetime.

From left: Hargreaves, Pritzker, Brimer, Schwartz

That makes General Assembly fundamentally different than the incubators of a decade ago, Hargreaves says. “The fact that we aren’t venture backed lends itself to an open environment,” he says. “It allows people to be more forthright about issues and to ask the community for help.”

As Pritzker, 26, leads a walking tour of the freshly decorated space, he emphasizes its educational mission. General Assembly holds about two classes per day, in topics ranging from HTML to online advertising to “How to Pitch Your Startup to Big Media.” Some are taught in small seminar rooms, others in bigger classrooms. One classroom has a giant sliding door that doubles as a chalkboard. “We have different typologies for teaching,” Pritzker says.

More informal networking events might be held in the incubator’s main entryway, where huge, black, modular couches can be quickly cleared out to open up more space.

General Assembly has just unveiled a new classification system for its courses. Each one has a label—Technology, Design, or Business—so entrepreneurs can design a curriculum that fits their needs. The classes are also tagged with numbers, ranging from 100 for easy to 900 for advanced. So “A Practical Introduction to Javascript” is labeled “Tech 463,” while “An Online Advertising Primer” is “Business 253.”

General Assembly’s founders have been working hard to attract teachers who bring real-world experience to the table. Recent instructors include Matt Cooke, CEO of Sandcastle, and Mike Potter, co-founder of Disrupto. “Someone who wants to be a CEO will be taught by someone who has been a CEO,” Hargreaves says.

And General Assembly differs from other incubators in that it offers three membership choices. Startup execs can apply to get workstations for $500 a month. Or, for $300 a month, … Next Page »

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