New chapter of the Founder Institute helps cultivate startup ecosystem

Founder Institute, one of the three original Silicon Valley accelerator programs, is coming to Cincinnati with its first class this October.

“Founder Institute targets people at the ideation stage when an individual is deciding whether to take the leap from working or being a full-time entrepreneur,” says Michael Hiles, founder of Intellig8.
Founder Institute was established in 2009 by Adeo Ressi and Jonathan Greechan. There are currently chapters in 135 cities in 60 countries. The new Cincinnati chapter is being co-directed by Hiles; Eric Fulkert, CEO of Campus Suite; Dustin Grutza, CEO of CraftForce; and Bhaskar Majji, director of IT services at Capgemini.
“The Founder Institute is a great example of a group of our local entrepreneurs filling a gap for the good of the broader StartupCincy community,” says Christina Misali, community manager at Cintrifuse. “There needs to be as many 'front doors' to the ecosystem as possible so that it is easy to locate resources to help entrepreneurs get started. We all know it’s a difficult road once you make the decision to build your own scalable business, and StartupCincy is here to help make it a little easier.”
The 14-week Founder Institute starts with the rigorous application process, which includes a screening test to determine if applicants are up to the challenges of being an entrepreneur. Unlike many accelerator programs, Founder Institute is designed for people who are not quite ready to quit their day jobs. Participants meet one evening a week for classes and mentoring, with a significant amount of homework to complete outside of class.
“One of the things that’s unique about Founder Institute is that you don’t have to have an idea to participate,” Hiles says. “Everyone has ideas, but if the market doesn’t think it’s a great idea, who cares. It is more about being able to execute a solution to a problem that the market will support. The program is a gauntlet of idea validating and listening to customers, adapting and pivoting in response to the market.”
Founder Institute not only helps entrepreneurs develop their business ideas, but it also helps entrepreneurs build their leadership team by creating a class of potential co-founders and partners.
“Our graduates will be quality candidates for the StartupCincy ecosystem,” Hiles says. “They finish with a vetted idea, an investor-friendly structure, and they can immediately move forward. They may go into another accelerator program or straight into business.”
Another unique aspect of the Founder Institute is the organization's desire to cultivate entrepreneurship within large, established companies.
“We are actively working to launch more innovation development with big corporations as an intrapreneurship strategy,” Hiles says. “We are able to run an entire program for big corporations who want to be more agile and ‘startuppy’ in their efforts.”
Founder Institute is accepting applications through Sept. 22 for the program that begins Oct. 5. Detailed information on the course, the funding structure, and application can be found online.
Individuals interested in the Founder Institute program, or other opportunities in the StartupCincy ecosystem, are invited to attend a free program at 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 7 at Union Hall. Registration is still open for the pre-event.
“We have held a series of lectures and workshops to launch Founder Institute in Cincinnati and help build community around the program,” Hiles says. “We’re starting a startup within this robust ecosystem, so we want to showcase the other accelerators like Mortar, Bad Girl Ventures, Uptech and Ocean that make the Cincinnati startup community so great.”

Read more articles by Julie Carpenter.

Julie Carpenter has a background in cultural heritage tourism, museums, and nonprofit organizations. She's the Executive Director of AIA Cincinnati.  
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