The Founder Institute (FI) has been around for almost a decade after being established in the start-up capital of Silicon Valley. Since then, the business incubator has helped launch more than 3,000 companies, raising $700m (€609m) by graduates in the process.
With a presence in over 180 cities around the world, FI ran its first program in Sweden in 2017. Naturally, it chose to launch in the ‘unicorn' capital of Stockholm, which is home to the likes of startups such as music giant Spotify and fintech company iZettle.
The demanding 14-week program offers in-depth workshops on all aspects of business planning whether you are in the idea, prototype or early company stage. Key to FI's success is access to mentors who are active entrepreneurs in getting companies off the ground.
Mentors such as Michael Lantz, CEO of video experience company Accedo, whose customers include Netflix and HBO.
“The startup ecosystem in Stockholm is fantastic and I really feel that what the Founder Institute is doing is filling a hole for entrepreneurs. There was certainly nothing like this out there when I started my own company 14 years ago,” Lantz tells The Local.
Photo: The Founder Institute
Lantz is one of FI's 50+ mentors who are serial entrepreneurs, savvy to the needs and demands of the startup scene. Advice from mentors can help build your network and lead to investment opportunities, he says.
“You can have a great idea but not have the right training and tools. Entrepreneurs need mentors and this program provides that. It can be a bit like a ‘Dragons Den' type format where the mentors provide feedback and, when it is needed, tough advice,” says Lantz.
The program, which begins on November 21st, has two group meetings every week in Stockholm. Students are expected to commit between 20-30 hours a week to cover the course syllabus from business idea to product to launch.
The FI program is much like starting a business; you get out of it what you put in, says Lantz.
“The best bit of business advice that I was given was never to underestimate the amount of work that you need to put in. This FI program is particularly useful for those who are starting their first company.”
A recent graduate is Hrishikesh Rajan, who completed the FI program in Stockholm last year. Rajan was in the process of setting up his company, TrusTrace, which builds Blockchain technology solutions to help the fashion industry become more transparent.
“We were in the early stages with TrusTrace when we did the program. It was particularly useful on the networking side with the other participants,” Rajan tells The Local.
Among the modules covered are developing your business idea by focusing on research and customer development, startup legal advice and IP concerning your product, and branding and marketing for your launch.
“The course is a big time commitment and my advice to prospective program participants would be to research which FI mentors are suitable for your business. We got a lot of advice on the legal side and found the workshops to be very useful,” says Rajan.
Another recent graduate is Christian Wibom. The Swede is currently flat-out developing his first business - Figuratic - a virtual fitting room experience for the fashion industry.
“One of the best things about the program is that you can do it part-time. You are expected to put in 30 hours a week so it is intense! But you can manage to work and do the program,” Wibom tells The Local.
As a new entrepreneur, Wibom was particularly attracted to gaining access to mentors who are experts in online shopping as well as those who are adept at product development and pitching; some of the mentors become investors themselves. Together, the mentors on the Stockholm FI program have founded more than 100 companies.
“What I took away from the program is that there are so many things to think of; it's not just about having an innovative product. Doing the company building assignment was very interesting. You need to start validating your business idea,” says Wibom.
He adds: “The mentors give you good insights and feedback. And they can also open doors for you. Most entrepreneurs are passionate about their product but you also need to know if there is a use for it. Honest feedback is vital and you shouldn't take it personally.”
‘A winning formula'
Depending on what stage you are at in your startup, FI can provide tailored advice and support. For example, those at the idea stage can be helped to find co-founders; those at the prototype stage can get support on hitting the right market while those in the early company stage can get support on launching a sustainable business with a global network.
Photo: The Founder Institute
Mentor Randy Cottin has a worldwide outlook after previously running companies in Venezuela and Costa Rica as Rocket Internet's venture country and regional manager for Central America. Since moving to Umeå in 2016, Cottin has created Loogup - a service engine platform for home buyers that aims to democratize the real estate sector and help homeowners make smarter, more informed decisions.
“FI is an accelerator that focuses on the founder instead of the idea. And this is a belief that I share with FI. Ideas will come and go, some are unique and some not much, most will pivot some will mutate, but the founder is the key element of success. And when you combine a great idea, a great founder and the world's largest network of entrepreneurs and mentors, you have a winning formula,” Cottin tells The Local.
The company behind FI in Stockholm is Desifer; an organization that supports startups at every stage of development and provides access to the corporate world through their network. Desifer will provide funding for the top three graduates - 100,000 SEK (€9,573) for the first and 75,000 SEK (€7,179) for the second and third - as well as weekly mentoring for the top graduate from Adeo Rossi, CEO of the Founder Institute.
Randy Cottin will join the mentor team this year as entrepreneur in residence to share his vast array of startup experience and is excited about what is on offer for the latest batch of students.
“In FI, the founders ‘learn by doing' and launch a company through structured training courses, practical business-building assignments, and expert feedback. It is designed to be challenging and to bring out the best out of each founder.”
And for those unsure whether to commit to the 14-week program, the serial entrepreneur says the following:
“It is improbable that at any given time in your life all the variables will come together to make the decision that right now is right moment to become an entrepreneur, there will always be excuses. But if you see yourself launching a company in the next 6 to 12 months, then this is the first step towards making things happen. We usually don't regret the things we did but instead the thing we didn't do, not joining Founder Institute now might be the biggest of all.”
This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and sponsored by The Founder Institute.