LA Startup Incubators / Accelerators / Mentorship Programs as Compared to NCAA Football Conferences

by Ryan on November 8, 2011

NCAA logo

So the writer’s block consensus was to write about LA startup incubators and mentorship organizations (2x as many votes as the other proposed topics). In the spirit of a college football season, I’ll break down the LA startup incubator scene by drawing comparison to the top conferences in NCAA Division I Football  (*Please note that I left the Big East off of this list because the conference is in such turmoil these days I didn’t want to get any heat by making a comparison there).

Launchpad LA (the SEC)

Having won the past 5 National Championships, the SEC attracts the top recruiting talent and is the most dominant division in college football today. So if one of these incubators is the SEC, my vote goes to LaunchpadLA. Run by a Mark Suster, the world’s #3 VC Power Blogger ($10 says he’ll be #1 when the new rankings come out in January), LaunchpadLA has not exactly been structured as an accelerator (at least not in the past), but more of a mentorship organization.  Launchpad has previously not made direct cash investments in companies, but that’s all changing…Today Launchpad announced that each member of class 3 will receive a $50,000 investment from a pool of capital contributed by folks like Rincon Ventures, IdeaLab, and AudioMicro corporate counsel, Stubbs Alderton, among others.  In addition to seed capital, LaunchpadLA will also be offering free office space to it’s members in addition to dedicated in office time with it’s mentors.  Launchpad’s mentorship program was previously structured whereby the entrepreneurs are assigned 2 mentors – one of which is a more senior, previously successful entrepreneur, and the other a local VC.  As an alumni of LAunchpadLA, class 1, clearly the rankings here are a bit biased.  That being said, I can honestly attest that our participation in LaunchpadLA class 1 has opened more doors and made more real life, valuable connections, than any other affiliation, conference, or networking event in our company’s 4 year history.

Mucker Lab (the Big 12)

A newcomer with a good PR and a seemingly solid team, Mucker lab comes in at #2 on this list due to their long and impressive mentor roster as well as their official TechStars affiliation. Now it may seem that anyone can start a TechStars affiliate (TechStars has an open source affiliate model), but I imagine that to actually be given the blessing of  Brad Feld Co., Mucker had to prove its the real deal, as a location like LA has been ripe for an official TechStars accelerator for so long.

UPDATE:  It’s important to note that Launchpad LA is also a TechStars affiliate and that David Cohen and Dave Tisch of TechStars are investors in the new Launchpad LA fund.

IdeaLab (the Big 10)

There’s not much I can say about IdeaLab because truth be told I don’t have any personal experience with the folks there.   Headed by GoTo (which became Overture, Yahoo’s equivalent of Google AdWords) founder and serial entrepreneur Bill Gross, IdeaLab’s an incubator that’s been around for a while now.   Bill’s the kind of guy that speaks at the TED Conference and if you’ve ever seen an interview with him, he’s clearly on a higher level of intelligence than most folks (me included) could ever hope to be.  That alone should be enough to make you want to check out IdeaLab.  It’s also important to note that IdeaLab is one of the investors in LAunchpadLA’s new class 3 fund so the two conferences are closely related.

Originate Labs (the Pac 12)

Originate’s an incubator that brings something a little different to the table:  They invest technology resources (in addition to cash). In short, what this means is that they trade software development services for equity. In a world where most of your early capital goes into product, I feel that Originates model is a welcomed addition to startup investment scene. After all, if youre willing to give XX% of your company to a CTO or other co-founder, why not give up less, get your product to market, and get some momentum going without having to be married to a technical co-founder from the get go, especially when solid technical resources are seemingly hard to come by in Los Angeles (at least that’s what some folks say)?  In addition to the technology resources they invest, Originate recently announced an affiliation with the Tech Coast Angels, whereby TCA will work with Originate to invest cash in promising Originate projects. Sort of the best of both worlds.

Amplify (the ACC)

Now I am not entirely sure what the deal is with Amplify as its a newcomer to the LA accelerator scene. What I do know is that its headed by Paul Bricault of Greycroft Partners and though I don’t know Paul well, he sure seems friendly and based on his This week in VC episode he’s highly experienced in the Hollywood / New Media scene. I’d write more if I knew more, but for now there is just a parking page up on the Amplify website and some light chatter among LA entrepreneurs.   I’m not sure if / how much cash they have got to put to work, the structure of the program, or any other details.  I’m now hearing that highly successful entrepreneur, LA angel, and Betterworks CEO Paige Craig may be involved, and that alone should be enough to make you want to be a part of Amplify. Pay close attention to this one and expect more details to be revealed in the near future.

UPDATE: Amplify LA just announced they have raised a 4.5M fund from TV Producer Mark Burnett, Greycroft Partners, Rustic Canyon (shout out to Ed Fu and David Travers!), Tim Draper (the “D” in AudioMicro investors DFJ Frontier), LA angels Paige Craig and Tom McInerney, as well as other notable names. They’ll be investing $50k per startup and providing office space and mentorship.  More details here and here.  Given the news and amazing team, they ‘re surely due for a conference upgrade (perhaps to the PAC 12 or BIG 10). In the interest of not having to re-arrange this entire post, they’ll have to stay here in the ACC for now. Cheers!

Founder Institute (Mountain West)

Now just remember, before you rip on the Mountain West, keep in mind that Boise State plays there (at least for now as rumor has it that they may be defecting to the Pac 12).  Now I don’t know of any huge exits out of the Founder Institute (holler at me in the comments if I’ve missed one) but that doesn’t mean theres not a few in the making. That being said, if you’re startup is funded already, the Founder Institute mentorship program could be a mess to deal with.  The reason being is that they ask for equity in exchange for participation in the program, which makes sense within any incubator / accelerator if they are putting in cash but FI doesn’t make cash investments to my knowledge. They also give you some funky matrices style IQ-like test before accepting you, which is cool and will make you feel smart when you pass.  The downside of them asking for equity in exchange for participation is that if you’re already funded, you’re existing investors are going to question why they had to give up cold hard cash in exchange for shares while you gave up share just to participate in a mentorship org and papering the transaction could be a mess of unnecessary legal fees. The good news is the way in which the Founders Institute handles the equity contributed by each company – the shares actually go into a pool with all of the other companies in your class and you each get ownership on one another’s startups. A pretty cool approach which certainly helps to hedge the risk.

UpStart LA (Conference USA)

My friends Ben Padnos and Eric Jackson are UpStart mentors.  That’s all I really know other than what’s on posted on the UpStart LA website, which sports a seemingly promising mentor list, though the roster does includes a few service providers (i.e. attorneys, recruiters, etc.), just something to note.  No knock to service providers here, the right ones can certainly make great mentors. Since we’re comparing football conferences here, UpStart would have to be Conference USA, which definitely has some solid teams, including the Cougars of the The University of Houston, who are undefeated thus far in 2011 and ranked #11 in the nation.

Now I’m trying to come up with a creative way to close the post, but having just read the TechCrunch / BothSidesOfTheTable annoucement on the LAunchpadLA fund, I think it’s best to close by quoting Mark’s article (which itself includes a quote from Bill Gross)…

“There are at least 6 incubators now being set up in LA. Can the community support them? I use the words of one of the wisest men in this space who started much of this revolution, Bill Gross of Idealab who said:

I think that the more initiatives, the better … I think it’s the many initiatives and variety that make Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley and that we need to do more of that here.”

So we’ll be supportive every initiative in town and doing all that we can in LA to encourage more tech entrepreneurship across any startup incubation or acceleration programs.  And we agree with that. If our community supports more potential entrepreneurs to try, if it funds more people with dreams, if it surrounds talented people with mentors, if it coaches them through their first deals and their team formation … that’s got to be a great win for society overall and for LA in specific.”


Science-Inc (the Big East) : Just one week after this post was initial published, Mike Jones, the founder of UserPlane and the former CEO of MySpace, announced another incubator / accelerator hybrid called Science Inc.  Conference turmoil aside, this is a serious endeavor with $10M to put to work and would have to at least be comparable to a big time conference like the Big East (in the context of this article).  Science-Inc. not only has a solid team of mentors that work hands on with the companies, they also have real money to put to work.  Mentors / advisors at Science include AudioMicro advisor Sean Percival, LA’s top SEO master Tony Adam, Mike Macadaan, Tom Dare, and Ryan Sit.  While the other incubators may boast VC participants with dry powder, many other incubators themselves don’t have a lot of capital to put to work.  The combo of being able to put in actual hard cash, as well as hands on advisory resources and deep entrepreneurial experience, makes Science a very serious player.

Start Engine (Independent): This one came in way late and I don’t have much time to update today so I’ll just link to them and say that they appear to have some public company CEO’s (JDate / Spark Networks) and execs (e.g. CityGrid Media) on their mentor roster, which definitely sets them appear from some of the crowd above.  It’s also a 90 day (fast churning, good luck keeping the entrepreneur roster quality) accelerator model program.  For now, because they are late on my radar, Start Engine will have to be placed in the Independent Conference, where storied teams like Notre Dame and BYU play.

Related articles

Enhanced by Zemanta
  • marklanday

    Thanks for the rankings.  I would say that IdeaLab would be ranked number 1.  IdeaLab has staying power and top exits.  Most of the incubators listed take equity as the cost of participating in the program. 
    I am a retained executive recruiter and about a third of my start up/growth clients have had positive exits.  I am not a celebrity in the tech scene and would say some of these celebrity mentors were somewhat lucky(I understand you make your own luck) right place at the right time and do not give the students/entrepreneurs much more than a war story .  I  have been a mentor for accelerators and incubates, and as an executive search consultant was voted one of the top mentors over VCs and CEOs with exits.  Like any program, you get out of it what you put into it.

    Another one to add to your list is Howard Marks’ start engine.

    Best wishes,
    Mark J. Landay
    Dynamic Synergy – Executive Recruitment
    mark at dynamicsynergy dot com

  • Thanks for the comments Mark! I really appreciate it. You see the SEC doesn’t always win the national championship and so I was really trying to say with the NCAA football analysis is that a good company can come out of any one of these programs. I don’t know IdeaLab so well myself so calling them the SEC would be hard for me but I appreciate the input. I plan on updating the post to include Start Engine and one other that’s likely soon to be announced. Cheers!

  • Pingback: » LA Startup Incubators/Accelerators/Mentorship Programs as Compared to NCAA Football Conferences GenTair : todays News and tends()

  • As a rabid college football fan, I’m not sure I like being called Conference USA, but I appreciate the inclusion.  I suppose I now have to root for the Houston Cougars to stay undefeated!

    We share the same overall view on the current accelerator/incubator activity… it’s great for LA and we’re happy to help the others.  Entrepreneurship is not a zero-sum game, and at the heart of upStart.LA is a desire to help our startup ecosystem and all its participants.

    On that note, we’re hosting an educational panel about Accelerators & Incubators from a founder’s POV on Thursday night (11/10) in Santa Monica.  The panel includes:

    – Joey Flores, founder of Earbits (a Y Combinator company)

    – Alex Benzer, founder of FanMix (a TechStars company)

    – Mark Evans, founder of NetPlenish (a 500 Startups company)

    – Rafi Gordon, founder of StyleSpot (an Idealab company)

    Tickets are available at

    Dan Dato
    Co-founder of upStart.LA

  • In regards to your comment about “service providers” I want to highlight Mark’s point… it’s not always the rock star that makes for the best mentor.  The few service providers that we have included are active participants in our LA startup ecosystem, and we have made it clear to them (and all our mentors) that participation in a program like upStart.LA is about helping entrepreneurs… not selling services.  By including a handful of these service providers, like Mark, we hope to have a well-rounded and dedicated group of hands-on mentors that can both advise and support our founders.

  • Thanks Dan! I’d have put you all in the Big East but with all the craziness in the Big East these days I’m not sure you’d have loved that one either. Houston is a solid team. No knock to being in conference USA. Thanks for the info on the event. I’ll try my best to swing by and hope to meet you someday soon.

  • Interesting article Ryan. definitely seems like the sexiest of the bunch and their roster of mentors is really impressive. Very excited about today’s announcement and what that will mean for the entire LA tech ecosystem. As a Big Ten alum, I’m a fan of the Idealab comparison 🙂 My business partner came from an Idealab startup and I have a mentor who is a former Idealab exec. Top notch people come out of there in my opinion. 

  • Understood. Thanks for the comment. Service providers can certainly be great and the presence of them alone isn’t a problem. I was merely pointing it out for the entrepreneurs that read. I’ve updated the language a little. Cheers!

  • Most definitely….I need to learn more about IdeaLab. The Big 10 is SOLID! I’m actually an alum myself – U of Illinois.

  • Ryan, I’m a Big East alum (Rutgers), so I think I would’ve liked that comparison better… the Big East might be in turmoil, but at least we’re still an AQ conference!

  • Rob Mallery

    Nice article, and I like the NCAA comparisons.  Cool idea! 

    Originate is well positioned.  We are on the West coast (San Mateo and LA), our CEO is a UofA grad (along with several other members of the team), and our President teaches entrepreneurship at UCLA’s Anderson school, so we are proud to represent the Pac12.

    You hit it on the head when you say that Originate brings something a little different to the table.  We’re not your classic “incubator/accelerator” and we’re pretty much the only game in town in terms of tech talent for equity. 

    As far as winning the National Championship…Go Ducks!

  • thanks for the comment rob. Ducks look solid!

    All the best,



    …Sent from my iPhone 4s

    (please excuse typos and brevity)

  • Pingback: Los Angeles has Accelerators | Los Angeles()

  • Stating the obvious – having a large number of incubators, accelerators and tech start-ups increases the chance of having a few successful companies emerge.  What has been lacking in Los Angeles relative to the Silicon Alley is a couple of significant technology companies that attract the top flight engineers, developers, designers, marketers, managers and support people.   These large, successful companies become the anchors for the entrepreneurial community that breeds start-ups.  As we don’t have these anchor firms we need to find a way to simulate their contribution to the development of a dynamic entrepreneurial community.

  • Thanks for the comment John. I see where you are coming from here.

    Good news is that Google has a beautiful new LA office (located in Venice) and you may want to read this post for details / points related to what you have brought up –>

  • Matthias Galica

    So there should clearly be some Heisman Trophy equivalent, and I’d like to win it mostly because I’m envisioning the figure cradling a Macbook Air in one hand while staring intently into a mobile device in the other.  I could then also go on to never live up to any of the expectations. 

  • Oh that’s a funny comment! 🙂

  • Rob Mallery

    Now c’mon Matthias, that’s not fair.  Hesiman trophy winners have the exact same chance of success as any tech startup…
    One per decade 🙂

  • I would rather bet on the independent team winning vs a team within a conference.  The best start-ups are built by 100% dedicated tech team, in a garage, heads down 100% focused on ONE problem to solve.   Start-ups are a dime a dozen these days and easily copied in this environment.  For this reason, remaining stealth for as long as you can is your best bet as a founder.  

    These incubators / accelerators will likely be a great resources for 1st time entrepreneurs.  However, 2nd and 3rd time entrepreneurs typically don’t need the hand holding our financial resources to succeed and therefore they are not a fit.  

    Best of luck to all of these accelerators / incubators because SoCal desperately needs a tech moral boost.  The SoCal VC industry has been decimated in the last decade and there is almost no VC under management here now. 

  • Thanks for the comment Jeff! I have / do feel similarly in regards to a lot a lot of what you wrote here.

  • Nishant

    I am the CEO of a start-up here in Los Angeles and am thinking of applying for the Mucker Labs or one of the other accelerators. However, from a purely numerical standpoint giving up 6% of my company for only 21K max doesn’t seem like a very good deal for me. What is the major incentive then to participate? Thanks

  • I like the mucker folks a lot. If you were accepted I would likely encourage you to do it. The guidance intros and mentorship as well as hands on assistance are most likely well worth it depending on the stage you are in. If you could tell me more about your startup and it’s present situation I could probably assist with more info. Do you have a live product? If so send me a link. My email is on the contact page of this here blog. Have you raised any funding to date? What is your startup focused on? Perhaps a link to your LinkedIn? All of these things will help me form a better opinion on whether or not I think mucker is right for you.

    …sent from my iPad
    (please excuse typos & brevity) ———————————————

  • William

    Hi Nishant,

    A venture accelerator (Mucker or not) is not for everyone.
    we like to think our value add as the following – we (the partners & mentors) help compress your time to market, increase your marketing visibility, and help increase the value of your company via hands on as well as strategic advice. For that we take 6% (which is the same % that Techstars and Y Combinator take) of common (not preferred) stock.

    The best way to find out if its worth it, is to grab me or one of my partners and have a long chat about what you are doing and how we can help. Sometimes we can add a lot of value sometimes we cant –  we dont take it personally if you decide we are not for you.

    Its like any startup – we need to understand our strengths and weaknesses and target the segment of customers/users that derive the most value from the “product” we “sell”.


  • William

    Stealth is an underated go to market strategy.

  • Patrick Lynch

    Nishant, what’s the best way to connect with you? I work with TriNet, and we help startups by managing their HR strategy. We essentially guide the HR ship from those dangerous waters of compliance and employer related risk you face as as a start up

  •  Awesome article.Good to find this. Thanks 🙂

  • Constantin

    I have a idea but i don’t found an incubator (or something like Y Combinator) to start build my website (social network, with some uniqe features). Need to be in LA. I don’t have a company.

  • Constantin

     In area: Palo Alto, San Jose, San Francisco or LA.

  • James

    Great article! We have a product in development and require incubator type of assistance getting it launched. Aside from Incubators, what are some other avenues that have worked for you guys in getting guidance and mentors in the industry? Any inputs? Thanks in advance!

  • John Trefry

    Great article Ryan! Very thoughtful and love the NCAA analogy, so fitting!

    Actually referenced this when we created an infographic of LA incubators and accelerators:

  • Thanks John!

  • Pingback: Pressing Pause… — Ryan Born()