New York

IncubateNYC taps into the entrepreneur in everyone to remix the startup incubator

NEW YORK — In a city that’s no stranger to startup incubators and accelerators, how do you do something different? The cofounders of IncubateNYC, Brian Shields and Marcus Mayo, are taking up that challenge with an early-stage business program that offers a community support structure, workshops, and a mentor network for budding entrepreneurs.

Participants have to apply for the IncubateNYC program and pay a $50 monthly fee, but unlike accelerators, you don’t have to give up any equity in your company. (On the flip side, you don’t get any seed funding from IncubateNYC.) In exchange, you get access to a group of like-minded entrepreneurs and advisers to help you develop your business idea.

“The moment you stop thinking about your idea is when your business dies,” Shields said at the IncubateNYC launch party last night, held at Google’s headquarters in the city. “We’re trying to save ideas and businesses out here.”

Ultimately, the goal of IncubateNYC is to make entrepreneurship more accessible, Shields said. The program consists of a five-week intensive workshop, followed up with weekly meetings to keep participants on track. IncubateNYC also continues to help out participants after they launch their businesses (this is where the mentor network becomes really helpful). It has partnered with Google and Columbia University, and it currently operates out of Harlem and Manhattan.

In more than one way, IncubateNYC resembles a startup version of a book club — other members in your class hold you accountable for work you promised to do, and they also collaborate with you on the viability of your business direction.

Shields acknowledges that they may not be able to attract the same level of startup that NYC’s many incubators do, like Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator and TechStars. But from what I gathered at the launch event last night, IncubateNYC is far more interested in helping entrepreneurs develop their ideas, instead of being focused on building the next Facebook.

After all, not every startup can be massively successful — but plenty of them can still be viable businesses.

IncubateNYC’s generally inclusive attitude on entrepreneurs also makes it the most diverse startup group I’ve seen in the city. Instead of being overrun by white men, the program’s participants so far have included plenty of minority and women entrepreneurs.

“Usually you invest in a business, sometimes you invest in a plan, but it has to be pretty good and well baked. But in this case a bunch of people came together and invested in a vision, and second in Brian and Marcus,” said IncubateNYC investor and adviser Jurgen Leijdekker, who also serves as a senior operating executive at Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe. “Our big bet is that this is a generation of entrepreneurs … that wants to strike their own path, is disenchanted with the corporate world, and is willing to take that risk.”

One of the first entrepreneurs to go through IncubateNYC’s pilot program was Eric Ho (above, together with Brian Shields), creator of Husky Chat, a Chrome app that lets you chat with other people on any website. Even though he had a working version of the chat service before he joined IncubateNYC, Ho says he received plenty of helpful advice from others in the program. In particular, he appreciated the structure and diverse community from Incubate NYC.

“A lot of the accelerators are industry focused, you’re kind of talking to yourself,” Ho said. “I look at incubateNYC as my Alcoholics Anonymous.”

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