Backdoor Entrepreneurship: Inside the Incubator

Have an idea but not sure how to get it off the ground?

Consider a business incubator. Or a seed-stage accelerator. Or a startup program. Whatever you want to call it.

Here’s the gist. Each of these 6 programs is specifically designed to help early-stage startups get their idea up and running…the right way. From help with paperwork and business plans to access to VCs (venture capitalists) and entrepreneurial professionals, these programs are an amazing avenue for startups that haven’t gained traction, that are looking for a way to take things to the next level.

I first learned of these programs back in 2005, when I read that an old hiking buddy of mine, Sam Altman–founder of Loopt–had dropped out of Stanford and hooked up with Y-Combinator for additional support. Read about Y-Combinator and 5 other programs below.


Location: Mountain Park (Silicon Valley), California

Certainly the most well known seed-stage accelerator company, Y-Combinator–founded in 2005–offers two 3-month programs each year to its applicants. In exchange for acception into the program, Y-Combinator takes on average about 6% of the company’s equity; $17,000 for startups with 2 founders and $20,000 for those with 3 or more.

As of early 2010, Y-Combinator has funded 172 startups, including Loopt, reddit and Check out this interview (courtesy of with front man Paul Graham to learn more.

Business Tips via Mixergy, home of the ambitious upstart!


Location: London, England

Seedcamp was created to “jumpstart the entrepreneurial community in Europe by connecting next generation developers and entrepreneurs with over 400 mentors from a top-tier network of company builders; including seed investors, serial entrepreneurs, product experts, HR and PR specialists, marketers, lawyers, recruiters, journalists and venture capitalists.”

Their flagship event, Seedcamp Week, takes place each September. At the end of the event, 5 teams are selected to receive an investment, typically €30-50k. These winning companies are invited to stay in London for a further 3-month period to develop their idea with Seedcamp’s support.


Location: Boulder, Colorado; Boston, Massachusetts & Seattle, Washington

Founded in 2006, TechStars provides seed funding for teams forming web/software companies.  Similar to Y-Combinator, companies receive up to $18,000 and a flat 6% equity stake. Here are a few companies that went through the TechStars program: Travelfli, oneforty, DailyBurn.


Location: Greenville, South Carolina

From the NextStart website:

Do you have a creative and unique idea for a new product, new venture, new business model? Do you dream about getting to know people who want to help you, provide a little bit of money, and teach you what to do next? If so, we invite you to apply to the NextStart program. If you are one of the start-up teams selected, we will provide you with a small $5,000 initial investment per entrepreneur (maximum $10,000 per start-up), office space for the summer, access to workshops and programs, and a network of experienced mentors who will help you refine your ideas and launch your business. At the end of the summer, you will have an opportunity to present your business plan to potential investors.

I haven’t heard much about this particular program, but if you’re in or around South Carolina, it appears worth checking out!

Bootup Labs

Location: Vancouver, British Columbia

Taking founders from “concept to company,” Bootup Labs offers an 8-month program with intakes of 6 startups in January and May. Based in Vancouver, Bootup Labs targets  consumer internet, mobile, gaming and enterprise internet businesses. Like other incubators, Bootup Labs offers a $100,000 convertible line of credit for 5-15% in equity.

The Difference Engine

Location: Middlesbrough & Sunderland, England

What looks to be a spanking new digital acceleration program (and claims to be the first major one in Europe), The Difference Engine is a 16-week program that “combines investment capital of £20,000 (for 8% of the business) with mentoring, support and office accommodation with various other services provided by our partners.”

Their very first program starts this month (February 2010)! I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out.

4 thoughts on “Backdoor Entrepreneurship: Inside the Incubator”

  1. Great list. I’ve heard of most on them here in the States. Nice to know that it’s being replicated abroad as well. Here’s another one local to Austin. Capital Factory – They do a really good job here and their founder Josh Bauer is very active in the community.


    .-= Olgs´s last blog ..olgaLG: @20sTravel Right! Here’s the added bonus…Gerard Butler as the hollywood phantom. Don’t get tired of watchin that?!? =-.

  2. These are awesome Alan. I’ve heard of Y before, but glazed over the idea of ever actually approaching one of these types of “incubators”.

    You’ve had me take a second thought. The more I dig around on the web for advice on product idea feasibility testing and a recent task of putting together resources for pitching what my start up (can I even call it that?) does….the more I realize I need mentors, I need advice, and I need to put myself in big scary situations to make this thing real…or have that much more experience. Thanks dude.
    .-= Robert´s last blog ..Helping Alan – Mac Tools and Tech for Freelancers =-.

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