N Reduce Opens Up As Alternative to Ultra-Elite Startup Incubators

5/14/12Follow @wroush

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what are you going to do next? The teams that don’t check in get on the ‘Did not ship’ list, and if that happens two weeks in a row we will talk to them and say ‘Hey, this is probably not going to work out.’”

The weekly check-in requirement will give startup teams a deadline to work against and the opportunity to get help overcoming obstacles, Crocker says. In addition to the online discussion, N Reduce companies located in startup hubs will meet face-to-face for pizza and beer once a week. The San Francisco meetings will likely take place at a coworking space in SoMa, and there will be separate meetings in the South Bay, New York, and Berlin, Crocker says.

The program will end in mid-August, around the same time as Y Combinator’s demo day, with a series of two-minute pitches available via webcast to media and investors.

“We want to make it clear to investors that it’s not easy to get through this program,” says Crocker. Because N Reduce teams must ship every week or face expulsion, “we’ve got to work a lot harder than YC companies do,” he argues. “It’s do or die. In that sense we think we have a lot more in common with the early days of YC, when Paul Graham preached this how not to die mentality. It seems like they have not had to worry about that for a while—it’s hard to imagine a YC company dying in its first year because they have so much investment. We are in a different situation, and we have to make the best of it.”

N Reduce certainly isn’t the first group to try tweaking the accelerator model Y Combinator pioneered in the Web and mobile industries. Organizations like Blueprint Health and Greenstart have veered away from the YC pattern by supporting startups in specific industries like healthcare and cleantech, for example. And other accelerators such as Rock Health, which focuses on health IT companies, have dispensed with the equity investment.

But all of these groups have retained a central element: mentorship from a network of investors and seasoned entrepreneurs. N Reduce will be the first to strip the model all the way down to its bones, emphasizing collaboration between the startups themselves. Crocker says the organization is already getting e-mails from volunteers interested in advising the startups, but in essence, N Reduce companies will be mentoring each other.

“Everything is going online—why can’t accelerators?” says Crocker. “There’s an ability to start a startup from anywhere in the country and have that support network. I think the end result is just going to be more startups, which is going to be better for the economy. It’s definitely an experiment, but our goal is to take a step in that direction and encourage a lot of other people to do the same.”

[Update 5/15/12: The saga of N Reduce's name and logo continues. In the Y Combinator Hacker News comment thread for this story, Crocker says in response to one commenter that the mathematical function referred to in the name is eta reduction rather than N reduction. Overnight, N Reduce has changed its logo and is now using the lowercase eta or η symbol---which looks enough like a lowercase N to justify keeping the name N Reduce.]

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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