The incubator that focuses on slowness

The incubator that focuses on slowness

In 1727, 21-year-old Benjamin Franklin invited, as he himself recounted, his "most ingenious acquaintances to a club for mutual improvement" which he renamed Junto, from the Spanish word for "together". On Friday evenings Franklin and the dozen or so people who made up Junto (all men, of course) gathered in a Philadelphia tavern to discuss topics relating to morality, politics or national philosophy, carrying on debates "in the sincere spirit of research. of truth […] with no love of dispute or desire for victory ".

Nearly three hundred years later, I connected on Zoom with a study group inspired by conversations from the Franklin club. All the attendees in the virtual meeting were young and extremely serious, and seemed particularly knowledgeable about topics like tokens and cryptocurrencies. While the meeting took place just as the Luna stablecoin was imploding, the seminarians dismissed the cryptocurrency crisis as a passing distraction. The important thing, they agreed, was to create products that people wanted to use.

An incubator different from the others Measured and long-term oriented visions like this could be the hallmark of South Park Commons (Spc), an ambitious incubation program that has been running this and many other similar seminars for seven years , which include chats with tech-industry luminaries, panel discussions, and demonstration days. Spc's public exposure has been relatively limited so far, despite the incubator having already launched more than 150 startups and invested in companies with a total value of $ 35 billion. The incubator's low profile is in line with the project's high-sounding tone: in a technology ecosystem where ideas and funding are generated almost simultaneously, the SPC focuses on providing its 450 members with a solid foundation in a specific industry and an understanding of social impact well before the elevator pitch phase. "People come to SPC because they want to take the time to be sure of what they're going to do next," explains Samantha Whitmore, a machine learning scientist who took the incubator's Web3 seminar and is about to use these teachings to launch your own company.

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Arrow The creators of the program are Aditya Agarwal and Ruchi Sanghvi, who met and then married when they worked at Facebook (Sanghvi was the program manager who developed the platform's News Feed), and then took over management positions at Dropbox. After taking a break, Sanghvi realized in 2015 that there was a gap in the world of high-speed startups: it lacked a safe haven where talented tech entrepreneurs could gain deeper knowledge and skills needed in an industry while they thought. to their next company. The couple therefore decided to create a startup incubator different from the others. They modeled the Junto sessions and Franklin's admonition that, to paraphrase, "haste is bad counsel." While other incubators get founders from zero to one hundred in no time, Spc focuses on the preliminary stages, bringing its members, in their spare time, from -1 to zero. Along the way, future founders gain knowledge that makes them better leaders, arguably less obsessed with becoming the next Travis Kalanick or Adam Neumann. It's the kind of reality Franklin could have created had he been a venture capitalist.

"In the tech industry, everyone is jumping into the next company or starting a startup from scratch in three months," Sanghvi explains. "But deep tech takes some time. Nobody seemed to have the time and space to build these kinds of companies. "

Like Franklin's Junto club, SPC started small and informal: about ten people around the Sanghvi dining room table. When the project was officially launched in 2016, however, the meetings moved to a space dedicated to San Francisco's South Park (from which the incubator takes its name); now Spc also has an office in New York's SoHo neighborhood. Sanghvi and Agarwal have created a structure that requires a commitment in terms of time and dedication to aspiring members, all idealistic, young and with a penchant for technology. Nine out of ten candidates are rejected. In 2018, the SPC began funding some of its members, with the idea that some of the money would go into funding for the project. The SPC also encourages qualified investors among its members to contribute to the financing. Recently, the incubator started a scholarship program that provides for the award of $ 400,000 for aspiring founders who are developing a business plan; once realized, the money will turn into an investment.

Spc's approach might seem in stark opposition to that of “fast” incubators like Y Combinator. But in reality one model does not exclude the other. On the occasion of a recent meeting in Spc's SoHo office - during a panel discussion titled How to Build Trust and Start a Business - I met a co-founder of an NFT company who painstakingly cultivated his project at Spc and then join Y Combinator. \

Focus on cryptocurrencies and expansion WiredLeaks, how to send us an anonymous report Predictably, cryptocurrencies are an important topic for Spc in this period. The incubator has even created an autonomous decentralized organization (Dao) to manage some of its investments. Sanghvi admits that some Spc members have also wondered if the project isn't focusing too much on the blockchain. Sanghvi, however, considers the current one a normal phase of technological cycles: "Technology goes in waves - he says -. Now is the time for the wave of cryptocurrencies, in 2017 there was artificial intelligence".

Non I can help but wonder, however, what Franklin would have thought of cryptocurrencies. Franklin's club, Junto, encountered several problems that Spc could learn from. As word spread, the friends of the members of the circle continued to insist on joining. Franklin opposed the expansion, but proposed an alternative: each member of the collective should have founded their own club, adhering to the principles of Junto but without using its "brand". The initiative had mixed results, and many of the secondary clubs ended up failing.

Sanghvi says that while he hopes South Park Commons can leave a mark on the world, he does not want to disperse the project too much , at a time when it is expanding from San Francisco to other cities. "I want Spc to continue to be [a project, ed.] Tailor-made - he says -. To make sure that it does not become commercial and does not turn into a machine. Our fundamental legacy will be the space and support that we will give to technologists, to allow them to think about problems and solutions on a deeper level. "

This article is from Steven Levy's newsletter for US.

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