The Founder Institute is the world’s premier idea-stage accelerator and startup launch program.
Through a challenging and rigorous curriculum, we provide early-stage and aspiring entrepreneurs with the structure, training, mentor feedback, global network, and lifetime of support needed to start an enduring company. Many leaders of the world’s fastest-growing startups have used our program to transition from employee to entrepreneur, test their startup ideas, build a team, get their first customers, raise funding, and more.
Here is what our Graduates say are the main benefits of the program
Errette Dunn, Founder & CEO of Rever
Committed Startup Mentors
Al Bsharah, Co-Founder of Email Copilot (acquired 2016)
Support with Investment
Gagan Biyani, Co-Founder of Udemy & Sprig
Zuzanna Przybyła, Co-Founder of Devinity
Branden Spikes, Former CIO of SpaceX, Founder of Spikes (acquired 2016)
Truly Global Network
Graham Mann, Co-Founder of Lean Systems
How it Works
Our approach is unusual, and so are our results.
There are plenty of free “business training” and “startup bootcamp” workshops that accept everyone and provide high-level startup education and encouragement.
This is not what the Founder Institute offers.
We are an extremely rigorous, real-world program for talented people that are motivated, open to honest and critical feedback, and ready to perform the hard work needed to build an enduring company. In fact, less than 30% of accepted Founders are typically able to make it to Graduation.
The Founder Institute is hard, because starting an enduring company is much, much harder" - Adeo Ressi, CEO of the Founder Institute
In the Founder Institute, we will push you to make years of progress in just 3.5 months time. Every week you will pitch your ideas and strategies to the top startup mentors in Washington DC, and they will provide you with feedback, ratings, and evaluation. You will get Office Hours with top entrepreneurs, and weekly real-world assignments and milestones to push your business forward. Founders that do not complete their assignments or meet a minimum rating from the Mentors may be asked to leave and join a future program.
The Founder Institute does not promise a path to startup riches - but we do promise that if you are ready to work hard and take critical feedback, we will provide you with the structure, mentorship, and network that gives you the best possible chance of startup success.
The Founder Institute is the most raw, 'street' program out there for startups” - Jason Calacanis, Host of This Week in Startups, Author of Angel
Applying to the Program
More than anything else, Great Companies Start with Great People.
As a result, we focus on the Founder versus the idea in our admissions process, and welcome applications from aspiring founders with a full-time job, solo founders, teams, and founders of established companies (pre-funding). After a short written component, applicants take our Predictive Admissions Assessment - a one-hour long collection of aptitude and personality tests that have been in development with leading social scientists since 2008 to identify people with the highest potential to adapt and thrive in a fast-paced entrepreneurial environment.
To date, over 35,000 people have applied, and the Founder Institute can predict with great accuracy somebody's potential to become a successful technology entrepreneur. Our entrepreneur research has been featured in The New York Times, CNN, and Forbes.
You can learn more about our unique Admissions Methodology at FI.co/admissions.
The Founder Institute appears to have developed an assessment that any population, any city, university, or country could use to determine who among them has the best shot at succeeding as an entrepreneur” – Aaron Patzer, Founder of Mint.com
There is a small Application Fee to cover the costs of administering the Predictive Admissions Assessment, but anyone who attends a Founder Institute event can apply for free.
Each Founder Institute program includes 20-40 Mentors that have built, led, or invested in high-growth technology businesses, and the average Mentor:Founder ratio is over 2:1. Our Mentors lead the weekly training sessions, and their mandate is to help our participants by sharing their experience, outlining the latest tactics, and providing critical feedback.
Unlike most programs, we avoid consultants, academics, and service providers whenever possible. In addition, Founder Institute Mentors are compensated through our Shared Liquidity Pool, so they are typically much more supportive than Mentors in other programs. In fact, our Mentors either become formal advisors or investors in Graduates in almost every cohort worldwide.
Upon completing the program, Graduates have access to the Founder Institute's Global Mentor Network, which includes 9,900+ Founders and CEOs from 6 continents.
For three months, esteemed mentors (consisting of CEOs, entrepreneurs, and investors) not only provided insights from their own journeys, but also looked at our businesses, challenged our assumptions, and pushed us to continually pursue validated learning" - Vicente DyReyes, Founder of Mise en Place
The Founder Institute curriculum provides early-stage and aspiring entrepreneurs with a practical, step-by-step roadmap to building an enduring business. It was built using Silicon Valley best practices and with input from hundreds of successful technology entrepreneurs from across the globe.
Each week, participating Founders attend a 3+ hour session to pitch the mentors and receive training and feedback on a specific topic, and then build their business for the rest of the week through a series of practical and challenging assignments, office hours, and group meetings.
Our curriculum is also updated frequently to reflect the latest best practices in early-stage tech entrepreneurship, leveraging the feedback and experience of our Local Directors running programs in 170+ cities worldwide.
Each Founder Institute session contains a mixture of progress reporting, training, feedback, evaluation, and networking with at least 2-4 program mentors.
Founders are also constantly evaluated and rated by the FI Directors, Mentors, and their peers, all with a goal of achieving as much learning and progress as possible in a short period of time.
We don’t give you theoretical “homework”. Founder Institute assignments include challenging, real-world tasks critical to building a business like interviewing customers, filling a mailing list, generating revenue, and forming an advisory board. Each week's assignments are based on the topic of that week’s session, and are designed to take approximately 20 hours.
Founders in the program also get customized assignments to push their particular business forward based on their recent progress, challenges, or feedback from Mentors.
Founders that do not complete their assignments are given an extremely challenging “Special Assignment” to rectify the issue, or they may be asked to leave and join a future program.
To help you complete your assignments efficiently and effectively, Founders also get access to a vast library of resources that include step-by-step guides, templates for things like legal agreements, financial models, and pitch decks, and a collection of top private videos from thousands of Founder Institute sessions from across the globe.
In addition, Founders engage in group work with companies building similar businesses in their class, and have the opportunity to participate in “Office Hours” with their Local FI Directors or Mentors.
Graduating from the Program
Graduating from the Founder Institute is hard, and less than 30% of accepted Founders generally make it through the program to Graduation. Reasons for not graduating differ, but each Founder who leaves is invited to join the next semester for free, when they are ready and more prepared to launch a business.
However, it should be noted that dropping out from the program is by no means a failure. Many Founders that drop join the next program (for free, as per our policy), or even thank us for saving them years of time (and possibly their life-savings) on pursuing a bad startup idea. For example, read this review from an FI drop out
For those that do graduate, they are required to complete all of the program assignments, develop their product, incorporate their company, build an advisory board, and outline or begin their go-to-market plan, all while receiving satisfactory ratings and validation from the program Mentors.
At the very least, each Graduate completes the program with the following:
- Well-Formed Corporation
- Advisory Board of Top Mentors
- Significant Product Progress
- Leads and Customers
- Validated Idea & Go-to-Market Strategy
- Investment-Worthy Pitch Deck
- Clear & Actionable Next Steps for Growth
Many Graduates are also able to secure funding and significant revenue by the end of the program (especially those that begin the program with some of the above milestones already complete).
The 3.5 month Founder Institute semester is just the beginning.
Graduates of the program receive a lifetime of support that far exceeds any comparable program; including access to the #FIWorldwide Network of 2,700+ startups and 9,900+ CEO Mentors, investment support, invitations to exclusive FI events ike FounderX, over $2M in partner discounts, and several post-Graduate support programs:
Learn more about our post-Graduate Support at FI.co/scale.
Our scale and number of successful Graduates is truly unprecedented.
In 2015 and 2016 alone, Founder Institute Graduates raised over $225 million from investors, and 10 Graduate companies were acquired. A conservative estimate is that our companies employ over 20,000 people and have raised over $600M.
Read about some of our recently featured Graduates below.
Do Tuan Anh, Founder of Appota. Read Do's story.
Jilliene Helman, Founder of Realty Mogul. Read Jilliene's story.
Branden Spikes, Founder of Spikes. Read Branden's story.
Lucy Beard, Founder of Feetz. Read Lucy's story.
Daan Weddepohl, Founder of Peerby. Read Daan's story.
Danny Adams, Founder of GoFar. Read Danny's story.
The Founder Institute is designed to keep costs low for Founders.
First, Founder Institute event attendees can apply for free.
Second, Founders accepted to the program are asked to pay a course fee to cover the costs of running the program (cost varies by location). This Course Fee is fully refundable before the start of the third program session, so that founders can make an informed decision if the Founder Institute is right for them. In addition, if a Founder drops out from the program after the refund deadline, they are invited to put their course fee towards the next semester in their city.
If you're lucky enough to get accepted and graduate from the program, these costs are negligible. In fact, I would go as far as saying that this is the best money you'll ever spend on your business" - Gary Herman, Founder of Story Home
When talented people work together towards a shared goal, amazing things happen.
In many ways, the “secret sauce” of the Founder Institute is the teamwork-oriented culture we are able to instill in each program cohort. We do this through a groundbreaking Shared Liquidity Pool, where everyone shares equity in the companies formed from each program cohort.
Here's how it works - each Founder Institute Graduate contributes 4% of their company equity in Warrants to a fifteen-year Bonus Pool with other peers from the current semester. When a liquidity event occurs, the Pool returns are then distributed as follows:
3/4 of the Pool Returns go back to the Local Community.
- - 1/4 goes right back to the program Graduates, split evenly.
- - 1/4 goes to the program Mentors, and each Mentor's individual share is based solely on anonymous ratings received from the Graduates. This incentivizes Mentors to take an active role in each cohort's success.
- - 1/4 of the Pool Returns go to the Local Program Directors for their efforts in organizing, building, and running the local semester.
- - 1/4 of the Pool Returns go to the Founder Institute, which provides operating capital for the business.
When one Graduate company succeeds, every participant from that program cohort receives financial upside. This is not a cost, but rather an investment, because 25% of the Pool's returns goes right back to the Graduates themselves, allowing them to earn returns based on the success of their peers.
Who is the Founder Institute for?
The Founder Institute is far more advanced than many educational, “bootcamp”, “workshop”, or free programs run by governments and universities, but is earlier-stage than seed-accelerators that provide funding and/or space for startup teams.
The Founder Institute is also designed to accommodate founders at many different points of idea stage, and as the program goes on Founders are given custom assignments based on the progress of their business.
The Founder Institute is a very unique program, so it is natural to have questions.
To help Founders make an informed decision, we host two Q&A Conference Calls with Founder Institute Directors every week. Many people are also able to find answers to their questions on our extensive FAQ page, Admissions Page, or by attending a local event to meet the Washington DC Directors.