The first question an entrepreneur usually has is: Where can I get start-up funds? The second might be: Who can help me with the process?
There are a few organizations that can help.. First Growth Venture Network, TechStars, YCombinator and Dreamit Ventures operate in the same manner: putting mentoring on the same level as the actual funding. All take young entrepreneurs and connect them with venture capitalists, angel investors, entrepreneurs and advisors.
For startups, there’s no cost to apply or participate in the program, and the sponsors don’t require startups to hand over an equity stake in the companies. “This is not so that startups will get funded by someone in the network,” said Ed Zimmerman, founder of First Growth and chair of the Tech Group at law firm Lowenstein Sandler. “It’s about building mentor relationships vertically and building a network of high-quality entrepreneurs horizontally.”
According to Zimmerman, his group will meet four times per semester for roundtables, networking, and cocktails. Startups will also be in frequent touch with their advisory teams outside of these formal meetings. TechStars has a summer-long program in Boulder, Colorado and Cambridge, Massachusetts. Ten companies per city are accepted and get up to $18,000 in seed funding, a summer of intensive mentorship and the chance to pitch to angel investors and venture capitalists.
“The mentoring is just as important as the funding aspect,” said Zimmerman, who is an active angel investor. “It’s people who will help young entrepreneurs avoid the pitfalls when starting a company.”