The Founder Institute is a unique program that focuses on founders instead of ideas, and helps founders and companies get to traction and funding at the pre-seed stage. As a result, we approach admissions very differently than other startup organizations.
Read about our unique admissions methodology below.
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.
What do we look for in Applicants?
At the Founder Institute, we believe Great Companies Start with Great People, and the greatest variable in the success or failure of any company is its leadership. As a result, we focus on the Founder versus the idea in our admissions process.
While most seed-accelerators evaluate your product, company, or traction, the Founder Institute focuses on the pre-seed stage and instead looks for people and teams with the raw skills, experience, determination, and problem-solving skills to adapt and build a great company.
Who Should Apply
The Founder Institute is designed to help founders and teams at the pre-seed stage. This includes;
- Aspiring founders who are still employed full-time
- Solo-founders, or teams
- Founders of established companies (generally less than a few years old, and before significant funding, revenue, or traction)
- Founders open to building an enduring business in a number of different ways, whether through bootstrapping, funding (not a requirement), or otherwise.
We define tech or tech-enabled businesses as any business that leverages and can scale through technology. In addition to traditional "tech" businesses (software, hardware, biotech, etc), this includes businesses selling physical products via e-commerce. We are not vertical-specific, and have Alumni building software, hardware, bio-tech, greentech, fashion, food, non-profits, and more. Service-related businesses (ex. a marketing consultancy or web development shop) are not a good fit for our program.
Who Should Not Apply?
- If your company has significant funding, traction, or revenue, then you are probably too advanced for the Founder Institute. We recommend you apply to a "seed-accelerator" such as Techstars.
- If you are building a service-related business, like a marketing agency.
- If you are not committed and ready to perform the hard work required to build an enduring company.
- If you are just trying to "flip" a company or "get rich quick".
Starting Your Application
To start your application, visit FI.co/join .
The application begins with a short written portion, where we ask about your professional background and areas of interest. Applicants also have the option to share their business idea and details with us, but this is not required because we are much more interested in evaluating the individual.
After completing the written portion you are invited to take our Entrepreneur DNA Assessment which is our main criteria for acceptance.
The Entrepreneur DNA Assessment
We are serious about our belief that "Great Companies Start with Great People". In fact, we have been working with leading social scientists since 2009 to develop a test that identifies people with the raw skills and personality traits conducive to entrepreneurship.
Through many years of iteration and calibrating the real-world performance of thousands of startups with the test results of their founders, we have developed online aptitude and personality tests that have proven to be over 85% accurate in predicting entrepreneurial success. Our research has been featured in The New York Times, CNN, and Forbes.
The Entrepreneur DNA Assessment is a required component of our admissions process, and the current iteration is online and takes approximately 30 minutes to complete. There is an Administration Fee to take the test ($10 USD for Washington DC), however anybody that attends one of our free startup events can apply for free.
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.
What does the Assessment Measure?
The Assessment measures many different aptitude and personality traits, but below is a sampling of traits we have found to correlate positively with entrepreneurship.
High Emotional Stability
Emotional Stability is related to neuroticism, and people with high emotional stability have high impulse control and can remain calm in stressful situations.
High Fluid Intelligence
Fluid intelligence measures one’s ability to quickly learn a ruleset and apply it to solve problems. In others words, it is someone's ability to learn and adapt quickly.
Openness measures one’s creativity, curiosity, willingness to try new things, challenge accepted norms, and see and appreciate the world around them.
Agreeableness measures cooperation versus antagonism. A moderate to high level of agreeableness reflects an ability to balance strictness and flexibility.
In addition, we have found many traits that negatively correlate with entrepreneurship, including emotional instability, predatory aggressiveness, excuse-making, deceit, and narcissism. Some major traits have no correlation with entrepreneurship, such as I.Q.
What are some sample questions?
The majority of the Assessment contains either puzzles or personality questions.
The puzzles, such as the two examples below, measure the aptitude of applicants. These puzzles have only one correct answer (you can see the correct answers on the very bottom of this page).
The personality questions, on the other hand, do not have "correct" answers. Instead, they are used to measure personality traits, and combinations of personality traits. Below are five sample personality questions.
Is there any way to prepare?
There is no way to prepare for the test, however we strongly recommend you take the test in a quiet location with minimal distraction.
Will I get to see the results?
We do not share the raw results of the Assessment, because that is proprietary information. However, as part of a new beta test, you may be offered the opportunity to see an instant "Entrepreneur DNA Report". You can see a sample report here.
We will not reveal any application information to the public.
Application Review Process
All applications to the Founder Institute are human-reviewed, so you will not receive an immediate answer. Our Admissions Team is based at our Silicon Valley Headquarters, and they are typically able to provide an Admissions Decision via email within 72 hours (this timeframe may be slightly longer over the weekend, or during U.S. holidays).
Admissions are done a rolling-basis, and every applicant is judged in comparison to the other applicants in their semester. Our Admissions Team uses the following review criteria (in order of importance):
- Entrepreneur DNA Assessment
- Written Application
- Professional Background and Experience
- Input from Local Local Leaders
- Other (this includes things like your communication with Admissions Team, etc)
After reviewing your application, the Admissions Team will assign you to one of the four categories below. You will receive an email notification, and you can also see your state at the top of your profile page when you are logged in.
- Accepted - Accepted Founders are invited to complete the final steps to enrollment, and immediately get access to all course materials.
- Reviewing - If you are in this state, then we are conducting a more thorough review of your application or Assessment. In many cases our Admissions Team will reach out to you with specific questions over email. This is not necessarily a good or bad thing, it just means that we are digging a little deeper on your application.
- Finalist - If you are designated as a Finalist, then you are placed on the "Waiting List" and your application will be re-reviewed at a later date. Since we judge all applicants in comparison to other applicants in a semester, this allows the Admissions Team to more thoroughly review an application once most or all of the local applications are collected. Over the course of our history approximately 30% of Finalists have been accepted, but this varies widely depending on each semester.
- Declined - If you are not accepted to the program, please do not let us stop you from building a company. All declined applicants are given access to free company-building materials from our program, and are welcome to move their existing application to future semesters for consideration.
What are the Deadlines?
Each Founder Institute semester has two deadlines: the Early Admissions Deadline, and the Final Admissions Deadline.
The Early Admissions Deadline (Feb 28, 2021 for the Washington DC Virtual 2021 program) is designed to encourage people to apply and enroll in the program early, so that they can start working on the program Deliverables. To encourage early applicants there are a number of perks, such as free applications, and more.
The Final Admissions Deadline (Mar 28, 2021 for the Washington DC Virtual 2021 program) is when we stop accepting applications, and when our Admissions Team begins to finalize selections for the semester.
Since all admissions are done on a rolling-basis, the earlier you apply, the greater your chances of acceptance.
What are the next steps if you are Accepted?
If you are accepted into the program, you then have the opportunity to enroll on the site and immediately get access to all course materials. To enroll in the program, you will need to:
- Sign the Terms of Service
- Pay the Course Fee ($799 USD by Feb 28, 2021 ($999 USD after Feb 28, 2021) for the Washington DC Virtual 2021 program)
The Course Fee covers the cost of operating the sessions and administering the program, and is FULLY REFUNDABLE before the third session of the program (2021-04-13), so that participants can see if the program is right for them.
Accepted Founders are more than welcome to take their time completing their enrollment, and we offer one-to-one calls with FI team members to answer any questions they have. However, many semesters do fill up, so we encourage accepted founders to enroll as early as possible.
How do Co-Founders Enroll in the program?
The Founder Institute encourages founding teams to apply to the program, and a typical cohort contains roughly 40% teams, and 60% solo-founders. Founding teams can decide to send one Co-Founder, multiple Co-Founders, or all Co-Founders to participate in the program, but each Co-Founder must apply separately (noting the name of your company in your application, in the “Company Name” section).
Puzzle Answers: the correct answer to Question 1 is #5, and Question 2 is #1.