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EduTech, Human Resources, Mental Wellness, and more startup ideas

The following includes a transcript from this Founder Insights podcast episode – these transcripts are produced by a third-party natural language processing algorithm, and are not checked word-for-word by humans for complete accuracy—so, there may be some errors or typos!  Listen to the episode in full below - or subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Google Play to never miss the newest episodes from all of our Founder Insights podcasts.

Rachel Sheppard  0:00 

Welcome to our seventh episode of unfiltered. I'm Rachel Shepherd, Global Marketing Manager here at Founder Institute. And I'm joined today by Ryan Micheletti and Mike Suprovici. You guys want to introduce yourselves?

 

Mike Suprovici  0:10 

Hello, everyone. My name is Mike Suprovici. And I lead the alumni success group here at the founders to and our role is to help our alumni companies scale in any way that we can, whether that's with fundraising, whether that's with network introductions, partner introductions, sales, things like that.

 

Ryan Micheletti  0:27 

Hey everyone, my name is Ryan Micheletti. I'm head of operations for founder Institute and I run the Silicon Valley program. My role is basically to work with all the different ecosystem leaders around the world to make sure we're creating great companies in the program.

 

Rachel Sheppard  0:42 

All right, and we're going to run through some of them startup ideas we've received recently through the ideas that fit co inbox thank you to everyone who sent in those submissions and we're going to deliver our most honest feedback. So warning as always, it's going to be brutal, direct in unfiltered with

 

Get Started Paloma from Lima. Sorry Paula from Lima says My team and I are developing an education crowdsourcing website platform allowing SME leaders to take face to face Business Management related courses taught by high level specialists. Our goal is to help SMEs access high level business education through crowdsourcing to increase survival chances at their businesses.

 

Mike Suprovici  1:24 

Yeah, I mean, it's it's a it's a it's a really interesting kind of marketplace. So the challenge with SMEs in general is just like the cost of customer acquisition and and how to think about that, because, you know, with small businesses, they're kind of in this like, weird like paradigm. So if you have, there's what do you think about that when you think about like, you know, go to market and customer acquisition, there's like, there's two, two opposite ends of this. There's basically like direct sales and then there's like, advertising more or less. All right?

 

So with direct sales, right, like you have salespeople, whether they're inside calling on people or whether they're just going outside and talking to folks. And on the other side, it's kind of like the marketing side where you're basically doing Google ads like social media, things like that, to try to get people, you know, things like that. And then there's like this gap, this like right in between those two, where it's just really, really difficult to acquire like customers. And that's kind of where usually small businesses kind of fall into. So let me explain that. So with the small business, typically, you generally do need some sort of high touch, so you probably need some sort of sales. So you need to either call them or you like, go meet them at their business. But because they're small, they can't pay you a lot of money. And so you've got like this really weird situation where like the cost of customer acquisition is basically like lower or higher. The cost of customers is higher than the than the lifetime value, in other words, that the amount that they can pay you and that causes a lot of challenges. Why like selling to small businesses in general is a very, very different A little challenge, you know, and so that's something that you kind of want to think about. So maybe a way to go about that is to try to find a very specific type of customer archetype that makes sense for this so maybe it's like you know, when you think about like a small business maybe you don't think of it like a small business maybe you think of it like a contractor, or like a person that like works in like a we work or in a co working space and does like freelance like, you know, design or something like that, where there's just like an independent person because then you could probably fit them under like this entire like marketing way to do it, where you're essentially like, selling like direct ads and things like that, to try to get them and you don't need actual sales people. Once you get into like other types of businesses that actually have like a lot of people or a decent amount of people working in like say a restaurant, that's when it gets like really tricky because you literally do need like, you know, sales people and that's that's just hard to do. So just think about that.

 

Ryan Micheletti  3:53 

I love the idea of going after freelancers for small medium sized enterprises because the reality is like Mike said, it's going to be hard to scale. And there's also other players in the space. They're doing these kind of master classes with with experts, it seemed like your differentiation was that you were targeting these small business leaders. But I think that there's a much bigger opportunity, it'd be easier to scale, if you went after freelancers who are trying to kind of build their own repertoire and career and skill set, because, you know, we're basically seeing that trend and a couple years, like half the workforce is going to essentially be contract or freelance based. So I think that the timing of this could be could be good. And you're essentially still targeting people who you would argue are small businesses because they have their own sort of incorporated company around the around their, their consulting business.

 

Rachel Sheppard  4:42 

So what's the next step for them, then if we think that they should maybe look into a smaller subset of their target market?

 

Mike Suprovici  4:48 

So I would say pick a very, very specific archetype. At this point, narrow is your friend, look, you could argue that you can go to all of these different places, but if we were to look at like the founders to portfolio and I, you know, I've got pretty decent inside here because I look at like 4000 companies and the companies that succeed early on are the ones they're able to like really, really, really, really narrow their customer archetype. So in your case, maybe it's a, you know, a freelancer that that does design, that is a millennial that works at a we work, I mean, you know, and that is a male or is a female, like that kind of targeting, okay, once you get really good product market fit with them, and by the way, you could probably spend years just working with that type of, you know, customer archetype, then you can start to kind of replicate this playbook across other places. If you go try to go to net too wide right, then you're essentially going to have a very difficult challenge in basically being very good for everybody. Because even though your product may work for an archetype that looks the same, or it looks different, but kind of similar, you know, what ends up happening is is that your entire like, Go to market strategy, the way you sell to them the marketing, all those processes are gonna have to be different. So it's almost like a kind of like a consulting business in a way because you're going to have to change that for everybody. Right? So stay small at this point is what I would say.

 

Ryan Micheletti  6:12 

Yeah, and I think you can test this pretty easily. I mean, you know, there's so much tech out there you could do like a zoom conference, you do a webinar and I think you could test this and and you could use the same sales channel whether it's advertising or direct sales to target these kind of SM leaders which if you go that route to Mike's point you want to get specific right or you could go after like a specific freelance market but test it out and just see if you will know after you know, this first test which direction this is this is pulling you in.

 

Rachel Sheppard  6:45 

Alright, so Ravi from Bangalore says my company ache Kiana focuses on early childhood education to help children in the age group of three years to six years learn natural sciences through a play based approach. We enable their natural ability to wonder question and learn through thinking and tinkering, based on our research and experience in using stories roleplay and experiments to kindle Kindle children's curiosity towards natural phenomena.

 

Mike Suprovici  7:13  

So with a business like this, Ravi, your customers the pair, it's not, it's not the child, and like your entire pitch was about that. And I get why, because you're trying to kind of like, you know, get get as excited about the potential what this will do. But really, it's all about the parent, right? The parent are the ones they're gonna be paying the way the way you market this, whether it's an app or not. But if it's an app in the App Store, you're definitely marketing this towards towards parents. And so think about it more like in terms of like the benefit towards the parent. And obviously, you're going to have to create an incredible user experience with the child in order for them to keep using it. But, you know, just think more along the parent is what I would say with this one. Like how can you get the parent to get super excited about this?

 

Ryan Micheletti  7:55 

Yeah, I mean, it's it things are so competitive, especially out here in Silicon Valley. Parents are throwing money at anything that could give their child an advantage. So definitely a pitch this from the approach of like how this will help the child and how it's an investment in their education. And then, you know, it's it's almost assumed that the role play and the experiments and all of that will be fun and engaging for the kid, but, you know, it's, it's all about getting the parents on board with this, I would actually use this I wouldn't go out and sort of seek it but like, if this kind of came across my plate, I'd be interested in trying it out. And you know, you don't mention what your business model is, but I would try and do some kind of subscription here. Keep the parents coming back monthly, create new content, keep it engaging, and I think you could probably capture that that child from you know, age three to six and charge monthly for it instead of like sending it out packages or whatever, however you are planning to deliver it.

 

Rachel Sheppard  8:53 

Okay, so next step for him would be to switch up his pitch a little bit and also go after, you know, sort of Market more specifically towards parents, how would you go about testing that? Medium?

 

Ryan Micheletti  9:04 

Well, we actually have a grad that kind of does this, right? It's not so much of like three to six, it's totally different. But the idea is that she's going to parents to basically sell services or sell sort of like a product to engage kids to learn math, right. And she's had pretty good success with a bootstrapped MVP, in terms of just kind of getting some initial feedback from parents, what do they care about? What do they not care about? What are the types of roleplay and experiments so I mean, part of is just content creation and just go and go and do this for free. Just see how the what the kids think, see what the parents think and refine it from there.

 

Mike Suprovici  9:40 

Yeah, and also, there's probably a very kind of interested like very specific type of parent that would care more about this than another type of parent. So it for you, the way to find these parents are like I would find parents that maybe have like a science education or something like that, because they you know, they want to their kids to know that stuff really well and just go after them and see if you can get them to try this out. Right? Obviously give it to their kids

 

Rachel Sheppard  10:09 

all right yaffa from Jerusalem says my company perfect for people shoes is developing four dimensional footwear to help adults with hard to fit feet slip into the most comfortable shoes they have ever worn.

 

Ryan Micheletti  10:22 

I really want to know what four dimensional footwear is super interested. You know, is it like in some kind of Portal somewhere you know, you got like a six toe or something? I really don't know I would be more specific with like, what that means. Like I get kind of the value prop you're helping people with hard to fit fee, get into comfortable shoes, but, you know, quantify with some data, right? say like, you know, 50% of people who have who wear shoes, like, you know, it's not a good fit or like fit like figure out a way to quantify it so that you're able to kind of frame the market opportunity a little bit more and then I'm not sure what for tonight. dimensional footwear. So I would sort of explain what you mean by that.

 

Mike Suprovici  11:05 

Yeah, don't be afraid to basically start mentioning kind of like what your secret sauce is with this kind of a thing. Like, honestly, like, nobody's gonna steal your idea. You know? Because if you think about it, an idea is pretty easy, right? Like, what does it take to come up with an idea, right? You're like hanging out in the shower. Boom, I got an idea. Wow, that was like really hard, right? Not really. What's hard is the execution of the idea. And what's also hard is the perseverance to make that happen. While a lot of like, you know, difficult challenges will happen, it will take place, right? And will you continue to persevere about that? So just because somebody thinks this is a cool idea, and maybe they want to go and work on it to that doesn't mean they're going to persevere through it. So it's like, if you have like, the passion for this thing, like, you know, you have already a pretty big advantage over anybody else that's doing it. So, you know, with something like this is like, you know, you probably want to talk about like, you know, maybe you think 3d print, you know those shoes or something like that based on like some sort of like picture that you take with your phone or something that makes me be like, Okay, this is interesting. This could be like a pretty, pretty big business, right? Because you know otherwise if you were like doing a lot of this stuff manually it becomes almost like a consulting business and I don't know that that can get super super like large you know, if you have to use like a lot of people power for something like this, right? So I don't you know, again, I'm just extrapolating based on like, the limited amount of information but in your pitch, you definitely want to add a little bit more about like the the secret sauce, and, you know, and how do you think you're gonna get get to market with this?

 

Rachel Sheppard  12:41 

All right. Jay from Detroit says my company safe whistle is developing a third party anonymous feedback platform to help organizations get more consistent feedback through reporting and transparency. We create a culture of damage prevention rather than damage control.

 

Mike Suprovici  12:57 

So is this like an HR play is kind of what I'm thinking? And if I would go. So with this kind of a pitch for sure, you probably want to talk about, like an example, right? Like, you know, there's so many cases within HR that you can pick, like a person said, I did this and they went to the HR manager to complain about this. And that didn't get resolved because of this. You know, this happens in 45% of cases in America, we're solving this problem with this product because what this product does is that it connects all the people sends notifications to the right folks, and it makes it actionable, because you know, that if the person hasn't checked off this notification, the thing didn't get resolved. And I just made this this up, but I think you can almost like build this around that right and and then you want to think about, you know, who who's like the customer and what problem like, what's the main problem? So with HR related stuff, honestly, like, the way companies think about a lot of HR stuff is like how can I prevent lawsuits Basically, so it's almost like an insurance play or insurance policy. Another one is customer retention or employee retention. So, you know, it's either one or the other, it's going to be like, like prevention, which is lawsuits, or it's like retention. But generally, like if people have problems with with HR, or like, they're not getting there, you know, complaints like or whatever solved. And that means that that's usually more like a lawsuit, like related thing versus like, an employee, like, you know, retention strategy, right. So think about it like that as employee retention strategy. And or is it like insurance? And that's going to be almost like an entirely like different business. And I think if you kind of start thinking about that, then a lot of what you do, whether it's go to market, whether it's like your sales materials, whether it's even like the product decisions that you make, are going to be fundamentally different.

 

Ryan Micheletti  14:54 

Yeah, I you know, to echo some of that it's unclear like who The people are that are one giving the feedback into like, why? So like, you know, within the organization, there's usually a person or like a role that would care a lot about this. So it could be like the director of HR, or it could be some kind of managers like figure out who would care the most about this. And like the specific to them, because usually the problem has been solved for a person, not just that this kind of organization as a whole. And, you know, just be specific if this is like employee anonymous feedback, customer anonymous feedback. And, and I think that that would make this a little bit more cohesive.

 

Rachel Sheppard  15:36 

Yeah, it's unclear to whether it's like conflict resolution, or if it's some other type of reporting within the industries or within the company as well. So yeah, definitely lots of clarification. It sounds like it's next step for Jay. Awesome. Nathan from Houston. He says my company Zhu Zhu group is developing an online platform for sports clubs to digitize their administrative departments. Our competitive advantage is that we use existing athletic research to help children choose the right sport and club for them.

 

Ryan Micheletti  16:07 

One potential issue I see with this is it depends on what the sports club is, right? Because there's like different tiers. There's some that are like, you know, professional grade where it's like, they actually have budget for this. But then there's like t ball where it's like, you get a kid and his parents are running it and like, you know, they're, they're doing it as a volunteer and there's no budget. So kind of within that I would be specific about who within that sports club sort of spectrum you're, you're targeting, but the digitizer administrative departments like you know, it's pretty clear to me that you know, it's hard to administer and you know, you're solving a real problem there. Your competitive advantage type out athletic research to help children choose the right sport and club for them. It sounds like you're targeting parents, again, like going back to the the ending was the second page where we're talking about kids and parents. So this is Really like, you know, this would be something that if you're going to be charging the parents like you want it to show value from the parents perspective.

 

Mike Suprovici  17:09 

Yeah, so I don't know if it's a real problem there. I think it just really depends on what the what the club is, you know, honestly, if it's like a small club, I don't think they care enough to want to pay for something like this. You I mean, you may know more about me than me about this, you know, just because you've been doing a lot of stuff on this, but the smaller it is, the less likely that this is a problem. This becomes a problem for administration's for like people that have lots of people that they need to manage. And they're literally losing money as a result of all the time that's been wasted pushing papers and not finding papers and billing and all of this crap that they have to do, right. So it's like a almost like a hair on fire problem, right? And so the way I would look at it, like it's like this, right, okay. Think about it like this. Okay, if your hair's on fire, what do you do? Right? You put it out. Like that's it. You don't do anything. Else, nothing else. And so when you think about the customer for a solution like this, you kind of want to think of it like that. Right? Like who has this hair on fire quote unquote problem with regards to administration? Where is this like the biggest bottleneck and those are going to be your first customers?

 

Rachel Sheppard  18:22 

Awesome. Okay. mariotta from Dr. Yvonne says linguae storm is an online language learning and tutoring platform. Currently, we're developing an AI system which automatically corrects all grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation related mistakes. Thus, everyone can learn at their own pace and improve tone related difficulties, especially for the Chinese, Japanese and Korean languages.

 

Mike Suprovici  18:43 

Yes, too many languages. I love the vision long term, right? I think you will go but I mean, just Chinese itself have just been a big problem, big business, big opportunity. I mean, if you just do one and do that really, really well. I think you're You're kind of on your way. You know, and that's the thing with, like, with what you're trying to do, like, you know, AI is not that great. I mean, it's getting there, it's getting a lot better. And so you need to do like you need, like incredible amount of data and data sets in order for you to parse all that to be able to get like the results that are good almost all the time, because I don't know if you'll get them 100% but let's say you can get pretty close to that. And so just you by introducing multiple languages, you've like turned like, kind of like a one problem into like a multi dimensional problem that's like really challenging to solve, right? And so like, just focus on one language, just focus on you know, it sounds like you're also going after children. So focus on you know, the core for language learning for that specific particular age group. And just like really nail that, you know, and then you can really go from there and try to scale it.

 

Ryan Micheletti  19:54 

There's, there's actually some big companies that are doing this kind of like language, tutoring. But it's more about like connecting mentors to people that are trying to learn the language like through you know zoom or video chat, but it's it would be kind of interesting if like a Siri to teach you a language right and they can like correct it. So I kind of like the vision here because then you know, I know that the mentors are a cost center for these big companies that by the way are making a lot of money. So it's just like kind of replacing the the Uber drivers in the equation if you can replace the mentors in the equation and make this sort of an automated system it actually could be they could make a lot of money be very profitable.

 

Rachel Sheppard  20:36 

That'd be super interesting if like an Alexa was able to correct you if you were like trying to speak a language and it was able to tell you that you said it wrong -

 

Ryan Micheletti  20:43 

Or probably correct my English!

 

Rachel Sheppard  20:46 

Yeah. Okay, awesome. All right. So narrow down to one language. And that should help a lot and then explore other other opportunities with that. So with with this, how would merit many on Do that, if you think that she should go about testing, maybe some other opportunities with this idea.

 

Mike Suprovici  21:07 

Yeah, I mean, I don't I don't even know, again like this. A lot of this is pending on you actually being able to deliver what you say, right? You know, the vision sounds amazing, I think the execution on something like this is going to be really challenging. I don't I don't know that you that the execution is there, it can be there. And if it is, that's that's awesome. So kudos to you. You know, in regards to testing to see if people want something like this look, there's there's a ton of like, like Facebook groups and things like that, where people are trying to like learn language. And then you can kind of try to introduce this concept and see how people feel about like using an app to do so. You know, dual lingo has done a pretty good job at this. So finding dual lingo customers and and really, you know, trying to try to go after them and see comments on whether somebody The challenges will do a lingo and kind of one of the big ones is like the spoken word part of Duolingo. Right? Like, you know, and and, and and how do they do think through, like role playing and if that's like an actual need, right and and go from there. But I mean, the biggest thing is, you know, can you actually deliver, right? That's pretty tough.

 

Rachel Sheppard  22:19 

All right. Andrew from Detroit says spring shift is creating a community of compassion by organizing events and utilizing technology to teach, quantify and grow empathy. We are addressing the mental health crisis by providing a community and tool for those who suffer with mental illness to grow in their ability to bring themselves into a brighter future.

 

Mike Suprovici  22:42 

So this is a great category right column just raised like a like a billion dollars or something like that. You know, this is one of the, you know, fastest growing categories in the App Store. And, you know, you can make a lot of money with us if you do it right. You know, I, I feel like with your pitch, it's like a little too high level, honestly, you know, empathy is like a very high level thing kind of subjective in a way. And so it's like, I get a man like, I mean, I'm kind of into this stuff, you know, and there's we have several folks in our network that we're working on, you know, things like this, but it'd be really good for you honestly, to pick like, kind of like, a specific thing where empathy can like really help, you know, what I mean? Like, or a very specific kind of, like, mental health challenge or, or disorder or however you want to look at it and really like just like, hone in on that on that vertical a little bit, and then kind of figure out how to do how to how to do that, right. Because right now, it's like, is it is this delivered, like, you know, via like lessons that are pre recorded, or are you connecting somebody with a therapist? I mean, I don't know. I don't know exactly what you're doing. Either way, I'll say like, pick a vertical somewhere, there's like a real big need. And really, really, really, really drill down on it.

 

Ryan Micheletti  24:07 

Yeah, scaling an event based community business is really hard. You know, we've done that at ephi. And, you know, we've had to build all sorts of custom tech and things to do it. So I would say this, there's so much so many different areas that you're kind of touching. But there's like a cornerstone, right? Just like the cornerstone of PayPal is I can send my friend money through text or email or whatever, like, what's the cornerstone transaction that happens in this, right? Because you're like teaching empathy, but like, almost like, why does that matter? What's the transformation, like what is like the actual thing that all of these other things can be built on? Because you're talking about doing events and building the community? quantifying it, you're talking about focusing on people with mental illness, which is like kind of a tough market to be targeting. So I would just Figure out like, what is that thing that one Cornerstone that that this is that will help transform people's lives that gets them from A to B, and then figure out what that is test it and then build everything else on top of that.

 

Mike Suprovici  25:11 

Yeah, find like that killer use case, basically. Right? And then you can work with and build community around it.

 

Rachel Sheppard  25:19 

Right. Alright. Sounds good. Last one for today. Stacy from Detroit says my company younger and ambitious is developing a tutoring service to help children in grade school pre K to 12th grade, build confidence and improve their grades. Our competitive advantage is that we incorporate psychological concepts to approach academics and we begin with the individual before the academics.

 

Mike Suprovici  25:45 

So what's unclear with this is that are you going to like school districts or is this like a direct to consumer or direct to parent play, you know, so you probably want to talk about that in your pitch in order for just so that you can get like, better like feedback, right from people that you talk about, right? Because going K through 12 on this is a fundamentally different business and you're solving a problem for a different person than, you know, solving it for like a parent, right? And in K through 12, you're in even K through 12 is to go like high school or, you know, kindergarten, whatever. And it's either like the parent or the principal or the director of assessment at that school district. And they all have kind of like different ways to look at it. Whereas the parent also has a different way to look at it, like we've talked about before, right? So just just think about that, because that affects everything that you do, right? Like if you go to school districts, the cost of customer acquisition is going to be really high, which means that you have to sell this for a lot of money. But the benefit is, is that once you're kind of in you're in, more or less, I wouldn't say in perpetuity, but pretty close, like it's pretty hard for them to rip you out, right because all their systems are essentially built around this whole entire concept. So even though it's hard to go in that way, you know, it might not necessarily be a bad strategy, just something to think about, right? You know, if you're going direct to parent, which is what you would have to essentially do for the other way, you know, I think that you essentially have to get parents to buy in to this idea of like, the, the psychological benefits, right? And so, you know, like, what kind of parents like are looking into that, like, what the demographics of folks are looking into that and believe in that right. So, again, this is pretty easy to define them right? Like you can run a bunch of Facebook ads for parents that have kids in high school that use calm and headspace and you know, whatever other meditation app and are into this thing, right or and like mindfulness on Facebook, right? And you can find some folks and you can see kind of how they think about it. I would go a little bit deeper also in your pitch on your on your what, what the psychological thing is right now you give me like an actual example of where something like this would actually help like you know if, you know I, you know, I, I practice, you know breathing before my test I you know, I'm going to be less stressed and I can do this or something. I don't know, I don't know what that is, but you probably want to think about that.

 

Ryan Micheletti  28:16 

Yeah, I would, I would show like the connection between building confidence and improving their grades. Does every parent wants their kid to be confident every parent wants their kid to get good grades and like if you could show the connection between the two, I think that'd be powerful. I do like the angle of kind of incorporating psychological concepts. There's so many other tutoring services out there that focus on the grades, but like if you can fix the person and get the person right then everything else kind of follows that. And you know, so I think that that's important. And then you know, you kind of pitches as a tutoring service, which it is, but I would, I would start thinking about how it can become more of a tutoring product with maybe like some services built in Or you could kind of scale it that way. But, you know, just in general service based businesses are hard because you have to hire people to scale. So I would figure out like how, you know what, how can you get this in like every school district? or How can you scale this like throughout, you know, the entire US without having to hire thousands of people to do it?

 

Mike Suprovici  29:20 

Yeah. Ryan's right. So the the challenge of scaling a service business is that there's always the same ratio between the number of employees that you have and the amount of customers right so, you know, if you have several tutors, a tutor can only handle you know, 30 children per month or high school students per month. And and, you know, if you have 10 tutors, that means you can only do 300 Okay? So there's like this direct relationship between the amount of people that you have and you know, the amount of customers that you have, whereas like there's no relationship between the amount of iPads that Apple sells and the amount of employees that they have Right, because they basically have built this product called like cells. It's more or less itself, right? And so it's so think about kind of how you can prototype this. I totally agree with with Ryan. But this is great. I mean, all these ideas are pretty cool. Like a lot of impact startups impact is super important for humanity, and particularly right now and it's really great to see all of you come up with these great, you know, companies that could potentially make a big difference in the world.

 

Rachel Sheppard  30:24 

Yeah. And three from Detroit. Detroit really showed up. Yeah, nice. Awesome. All right. Well, thank you, everyone, for your ideas. We really appreciate it. And we'll see you next time.

 

*  *  *

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