Entrepreneur

Got ideas? New incubator will match you with enterprises that need your brain

Are you bursting with big-think ideas that could change the world? Can you take those ideas and actually, you know, build something tangible? If so, there’s a new matchmaker in Silicon Valley that wants to fund you, mentor you, and set you on a path to solve the specific challenges of enterprise partners.

That’s the premise of 2020, a new seed fund started by Gaye Beceren and Shani Shoham. Last week I attended 2020’s kickoff in downtown Palo Alto, where more than 250 entrepreneurs heard presenters from Cisco Systems, Nice Systems, Faurecia, and Nokia Siemens Networks talk about the challenges they hope to solve.

If this sounds like other incubators, there is a twist: 2020 isn’t looking for startups that already have a product or technology. Instead, Beceren and Shoham figure everything will fall into place once they’ve identified the right people.

“We don’t take existing startups,” Shoham told me before the event. “We are more focused on finding talented entrepreneurs, even before they have ideas.”

The fund announced today that it has started accepting applications from interested entrepreneurs.

Here’s how it works: 2020 will spend four days screening each applicant, assessing their personalities and their skills, and then testing them in a hackathon. After that, Beceren and Shoham will put together teams, give them seed funding over two rounds, and provide six months of mentoring.

“We will narrow it down to 12 teams for our entrepreneur-in-residence program, and from there it’s six months of mentoring as each team works on a specific need,” Beceren told me. “We can have multiple teams working on a specific need.”

In general, 2020 expects to invest $50,000 in each team, in two stages. New teams will receive $25,000 in the “ideation” phase, for which 2020 will receive a 10 percent stake in the startup. Teams will get the second round after they develop a preliminary prototype, for which 2020 gets an additional 5 percent stake.

“What’s unique with us is we qualify the teams,” said Beceren.  “So we lower the financial risk for the enterprises and lower the market risk for the enterprises.“

And what problems are their enterprise partners looking to solve? At Cisco, the new mantra is “focus.” Instead of the 30 adjacencies (read: anything that drives demand for networking gear) that CEO John Chambers has talked about for years, the networking giant has narrowed its focus to five priorities: its core networking businesses, collaboration, data center technologies (including virtualization and cloud computing), video, and smart communities.

“What we care about right now is new business models,” said Chris Thompson, senior director of business incubation and emerging technologies at Cisco. “When you think about technologies, think about those five areas.”

Nice Systems wants to make it easier for call center customers to monitor and interact with customers over both traditional and social channels.  (A message we’ve been hearing for a while from Salesforce.com, among other CRM vendors.) As a result, Nice wants entrepreneurs who understand the issues of big data, cloud-based infrastructures, predictive analytics, and reducing call-center costs, said Paul Melmon, vice president of engineering.

Chances are, you’ve never heard of Faurecia, among of the world’s biggest automotive parts suppliers. “We are like the Intel of the automotive industry, minus the branding,” Faurecia’s enterprise-in-residence Steffen Bartschat told the audience.

Faurecia’s goal: To find innovations in other industries that enable cars that are smaller, lighter, more efficient — yet forge an emotional connection with their owners.

At Nokia Siemens Networks, the challenge is the cloud, said Tuuli Ahava, head of Nokia’s Silicon Valley Innovation Center.

Entrepreneurs will learn more about each partner’s specific challenge during the vetting process, sad Beceren. The fund will begin accepting applications in the new few days.

Beceren and Shoham are still acquiring investors, but expect to start with a $10 million fund, eventually growing to $40 million.


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