SeedStart NYC

For several years, we've been talking on this blog about programs like Y Combinator, TechStars, SeedCamp, and many others. I call them startup accelerators. One thing I've consistently heard is that NYC needs its own startup accelerator.

Well it is happening this summer, courtesy of the city's own NYC Seed fund.

The program is called SeedStart. The program mirrors much of what the pioneer in this sector, Y Combinator, does. It is an eight week summer program. They will select up to ten teams who will get $20k in funding, space to work, and mentorship in return for 5% equity in the business and the opportunity to launch at the end of the program to a large audience.

If you are interested, you need to hurry. The application deadline is the end of the month, February 28th. The acceptances will be made on March 15th. If this is for you, apply here.

This is a great thing for NYC and the first time entrepreneurs who really benefit from this kind of accelerator program. I am really thankful for Owen Davis' leadership in making this happen. I am also grateful to our colleagues at Contour Ventures, IA Ventures, Polaris, and RRE for their support of this effort.

#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. Louis Berlan

    It’s interesting that this seems to be a public/private partnership. I wonder what the decision making process looks like in consequence.

    1. fredwilson

      I don’t think the public part of nyc seed will be involved much in this. Its largely a vc sponsored program

      1. Louis Berlan

        What happens when one of the companies gets to VC funding stage?Is that something the firms discuss before sponsoring this kind of thing, or does it get sorted out naturally whenever?

  2. Frank Denbow

    This is great for NYC tech.Is there was a forum/discussion place where we could talk about ideas and find the partners for these kinds of opportunities?

    1. fredwilson

      Good idea. Don’t know of one

    2. Mark Essel

      Make it, they can link to it?

      1. fredwilson

        I second that suggestion

  3. Mark Essel

    I’m drooling over “the opportunity to launch at the end of the program to a large audience”.So it’s like 5% equity for 20k, great information, and built in marketing. The cons:1) I’ll be back from my honeymoon/meetup with Robert Scoble late June (we’re not getting married hehe, but I convinced my fiancΓ© to travel back fom Maui a few days early via San Fran. I have to remind Robert to pencil me in June12-13). 2) lose my dayjob income likely permanently (take home $3600 a month).When’s the kick off date? Nevermind I’ll check it out.*update*I cast my lot and submitted an app. We’ll see if we can work out a deal. I’d rather offer 1% to blogstars and friends I trust to contribute than a seed program but the push may get us closer to the goal.

    1. Tereza

      Mark were you able to find the exact dates of the 8-week span on their website? I couldn’t find it.I’m considering applying too. But if there’s a conflict on dates don’t want to spin my wheels.

      1. Mark Essel

        They said we’ll know for sure May 22 (my bday). If there’s a conflict I’ll either show up late or cancel. Only took 10minutes to fill out the appI did it on my phone though so there were some typos.

        1. Tereza

          Wow — their not knowing the dates until just before Memorial Day makes it hard for founder-mothers to wholly commit to this. I wish they could hone in on that sooner.In the summer the kids are off from school and it’s a 12-wk patchwork of alternative childcare, various camps, nanny vacations, possibly a short family vacation. It’s a steeplechase, even despite the best-laid plans. Lots of babysitter OT to be paid out.If they could work out a way to time-box the weeks of the summer event further in advance it would really make a difference for some of us. There are plenty of gray clouds of uncertainty with starting a start-up, and that’s expected. It would be nice if they weren’t also attached to a quasi-municipal contest.Separately, I’m very pleased that NYC residency is not required, but rather company location. That’s a terrific pivot and much appreciated.

          1. Mark Essel

            I’m considering alternatives to NYCSeed now. I shot an email to Founder Collective, and one to Andrew Weissman of Betaworks.

          2. fredwilson

            Neither of those are startup accelerators. That’s like sending an email to me

          3. Mark Essel

            Got it, my bad. Big delta between 20k accelerator and small first round ($$?). I had pegged not hitting you with a “let’s talk” email until VM was flowing with interested users (you mentioned had 100k users before talking to you).Instinct now is to push, will send an email in a moment.

  4. Vladimir Vukicevic

    We’re a real city now – our own little startup ecosystem if really coming together.

    1. Mark Essel

      The gravity shifts from west to east coast with greater opportunities. Is our culture just ripe for an explosion of east coast startups?

      1. Vladimir Vukicevic

        Signs point to yes. Still a few barriers in the way – like living costs. I also think there needs to be a startup medical insurance plan – where young entrepreneurs can join forces to use scale in order to decrease medical insurance costs – which is another major barrier to taking the startup plunge.

        1. owendavis

          Have you looked Freelancer’s Union, which is based in NYC. Great mission for providing medical insurance to freelancers etc…

          1. Vladimir Vukicevic

            I have. They have some strict rules that don’t jive too well with early startup entrepreneurs – e.g. income, etc.It’s a suboptimal choice.

      2. kidmercury

        IMHO the real oppty is increasingly outside USA for vast majority of businesses.

        1. Mark Essel

          I hope we can come with a few local ones Kid.

          1. kidmercury

            of course! but we will need to redefine the term “local” as we enter the new world order. the new local is places like fredland.

          2. Mark Essel

            Nice:”Fredland is the new local”

          3. Vladimir Vukicevic

            I agree that a lot more is possible now in terms of communication – and that local is taking on a different meaning. But I also know that 80% of the time, a face-to-face meeting is more productive than any sort virtual communication.We can’t fight hundreds-of-thousands of years of evolution with fifty years-worth of new technology.

          4. Dave Pinsen

            You are wise beyond your years, Vlad.

          5. Vladimir Vukicevic


          6. Dave Pinsen

            NP. If face-to-face contact no longer mattered, we wouldn’t have clustering of different industries in places such as Silicon Valley, Houston, Manhattan, etc. And Fred wouldn’t have offered to fly in the Russian teen who developed Chatroulette.

          7. Vladimir Vukicevic

            That’s right. Even Chatroulette in itself is an example of our regression to our face-to-face based needs.

          8. Mark Essel

            Beyond the Cave is a wonderful source of Vlad’s ideas. I pop in whenever I can. Unfortunately Mr. Vukicevic has been too busy to blog lately πŸ˜‰

          9. Vladimir Vukicevic

            Thanks Mark. Big things are in the works – I’m not like Fred with an unlimited amount of creativity πŸ™‚

          10. fredwilson

            Its not creativity. Its addiction

        2. Tereza

          Kid there’s still a huge swath of unaddressed need among the XX persuasion, here in the US as well as ex-US. Women control 80% of hhold income but are expected to wrap around and adjust themselves to needs and solutions defined by men.Believe me I have nothing against men (in fact, love them!!!) but the definition of needs are very different.At the same time, many women-founded businesses don’t know tech, have limited business experience and they think too small. There is a massive gap. Totally underexploited opportunity.Think XX!

          1. Vladimir Vukicevic

            What can we do to get women more involved in startups and the startup community?

          2. Tereza

            Vlad,Huge topic. Too big to type quickly here — have my two kids on vacation and have to run. Very happy to help, though. I’m very passionate about this. Bear in mind there are multiple female segments which have different needs/talents/interests.Some is attitudinal, some is purely logistical. Some is logistical but perceived as attitudinal!Want to talk or email separately? 917 453 5262. tnemessanyi <at> highridgegroup <dot> com.Also please see my post earlier today specific to SeedStart.Greatly appreciate your asking, Vlad. Thank you.

          3. Vladimir Vukicevic

            I’ll definitely check out your post. I think it’s an important topic – it might give NYC a competitive advantage over other cities. Hopefully it will come up again.

          4. Tereza

            There are more insanely qualified women in the NY-metro area than perhaps anywhere on the planet.It

          5. fredwilson

            I agree with that. I have lived with one of them for thirty years

          6. Tereza

            Sorry, premature send. I wanted to add that you’ll get more women who have children (if you want them) if you define NY as the greater NY Metro area…if you can.

  5. Howie

    This is a great thing for NYC. But 20k for a tech start up is very lean. Considering the lag time between now and when this starts by then 20k might not be enough to get a tech business going if it is being worked on right now (more might be needed). Or it might reduce the quality of the business’s that do wind up entering the program because if the idea is hot and progressing I personally would pull out of the incubator program because it would be easier to score much more of an investment for 5% of the business.Imagine the folks at Google having a crude search program they present to this program, then by summer have a very decent working search tool and looking at giving up 5% for 20k. March 15 they would grab the money, but by summer they wouldn’t. My point is I think the idea is great but the timing I don’t agree with. They should begin right after the award.

    1. fredwilson

      That’s a valid criticism but this is exactly the Y Combinator model that has worked well for hundreds of teams in the past four years

      1. Mojo

        New York City also has a much higher cost of living than Boston or Mountain View, CA. $20k would be enough for one person to live off of for the summer while having some extra capital to spend on the business. It’d be extremely tight for two people, and pretty much impossible for 3 or 4.

        1. fredwilson

          I don’t agree. You can get a 2 br in Brooklyn for less than silicon valley

    2. Dave Pinsen

      Mark Essel tweeted a blog post by an NYC entrepreneur a couple of days ago who got his start-up running, if memory serves, on $4k.

      1. Mark Essel

        That was Matt Mireles, digging his blog and here’s the tweet and Matt’s post.Pretty sure he had other income to survive though Dave.

        1. Dave Pinsen

          Thanks for re-posting that. That guy’s got moxie, to dust off an old word. And yes — he mentioned he was an EMT — which is paid position in NYC, I believe (many EMTs are volunteers in the suburbs).

          1. ShanaC

            Yes EMTs are volunteers in the burbs…Matt’s a unique charachter, kind of wish I had time to talk to him more in person, one of the few people I ever met who can actually rock a mohawk….

  6. Roy Rodenstein

    NYC Seed is fantastic news, and hopefully will set a precedent for more involvement and support from other cities… the more options and encouragement for entrepreneurs the better! City-wide WiFi was an exciting trend but this is 10x more so! πŸ™‚

  7. dgulbran

    Chicago needs one, now, too! πŸ™‚

  8. Carl Rahn Griffith

    Pragmatic, effective. Cool.

    1. Mark Essel

      Carl your comment echoes the human version of Victus Media. Distilling the essence out of information.I need to figure out a way to include descriptive meta data to our tags/users.

  9. iptiam

    Fred, this approach is totally wrong, it encourages what amounts to a “fast-food” culture among startups. I mean, in 8 weeks, nobody is going to build a google. worse, you will limit what people think of doing – i am sure most of the Y-Combinator guys could have built greater things.Is this good for the startup ecosystem overall? thats highly debatable. This is from the Khosla ventures site: (under the section ‘what we are looking for’)”Disrupting large existing markets – we love breaking monopolies Or finding a $0 billion market (vs. a $0 million dollar market) with a credible path to grow “??

    1. fredwilson

      Read Clayton Christensen if you haven’t and you may think differently. Lookat Craigslist, Wikipedia, etc

  10. Murat Aktihanoglu

    Congrats Owen and all parties involved! This was a big missing part of the NY startup ecosystem. Looking forward to the results.

  11. Dan

    I don’t very much like the application — it’s as though no one put any thought into it. The most crucial element is character, and very little light is shown on an applicant’s character here. If I were to apply, I’d replace the bullshit resume with a story about how I won’t back down.5% seems too low unless SeedStart is lucky enough to have a better-than-average percentage of homeruns. I’d go for at least 6, or better yet, play it smart like YC does and make offers on a case-by-case basis.

    1. Mark Essel

      I left the resume blank, and mentioned that it would be noise after describing my and my co-founder’s backgrounds.

  12. Kevin

    Where are the offices that they work from? Do firms give them space or is space rented for them?

  13. glennmatthews

    Any idea if a similar startup accelerator exists in California?

  14. JordanCooper_NYC

    This is a headstart for early stage entrepreneurs, but one point of caution: there is a danger in equating this to a Y-Combinator or Techstarts…key difference is that those programs are independent feeders, and there is no expectation that they will “follow on” on their investment…this program is owned/operated by investors with large funds…there will be a negative signal for companies that try to raise post-program that do not get the backing of RRE/Contour/Polaris etc…this is not an argument not to do the program…likelihood of getting backed at all is greater w exposure to those guys than the negative aspect i just described…but folks should go in eyes open to that…

    1. fredwilson

      that would not be a negative for USV. we don’t need anyone to validate aninvestment that we like.

      1. JordanCooper_NYC

        that’s the sign of thought leaders…but as you know, many in your market are “thought followers”…even the crudest filter of “what referrals do they take or not take” will be influenced by this signal…not insurmountable, as I said, but real…

        1. fredwilson

          i agree that is an issue but if enough “thought leaders” are hanging aroundthis program, it won’t be a huge issue

  15. Andres2010

    Is this program very different from First Growth Venture Network ( I thought they were a startup accelerator in NYC.

    1. fredwilson

      i’m not familiar with them. i’ll take a look. thanks for the tip.

    2. fredwilson

      first growth looks great. i know a bunch of people who are involved. i don’tknow why i didn’t know about it. my bad. thanks for fixing that.however, first growth looks to be more of a mentoring program than aYC-style accelerator. there is no capital investment, for example.

  16. ShanaC

    Yay they changed the rules! First round of NYC Seed was only qualified to NYC residents.Owen, you are awesome.

    1. Mark Essel

      Hey Shana, do you know folks on this list? I didn’t recognize anyone from my web wanderings.

      1. ShanaC

        i recognize some of the companies, the people off the top of my head no. If I asked around and did some deep google mining I probably could get more info, the better question is should I? A lot of people like maintaining a lower profile.Doug Scott though, I think his name keeps appear on Ad Age and AdMob.Looking through the bios though, and knowing something about NY, I don’t know if people are going to use this to their advantage. It’s a very new york sort of team (media, law, banking, some consulting, news) I would real think of what you are building before pitching here in specific, that you want to work with this specific team.Like lets pretend I’ve always wanted to build a product for lawyers- this would be an ideal place to build it (there are only four real markets to build it in, NY, CA, TX, and DC metro). That industry needs shaking up, its heavily conservative, experiencing a downturn, and no one knows quite why beyond just work drying up (trust me it is not just work drying up…)NYCSeed versus YCombinator based on the advisory board- that is what people need to think about when looking at this stuff. This is not going to be YCombinator, it has a different set of strengths altogether. I would definitely go here for something a little more enterprise-y. YCombinator seems a little, consumer-cute. Not that that is bad at all, but that there is definitely is space for a little bit lower profile enterprise work (consumer work seems happier like poptarts!)There are a lot of people here who have done whitelabeling work in NYC with top brands though, including Gilt I see, and have access to the markets and other good people. (Peek worked with IDEO i think) So I mean it’s a good group…It’s just not California style at all…

        1. Mark Essel

          Thanks Shana, great points. I think what I’m working on fits better into the Betaworks type of picture but I haven’t spoken to any of those folks. I saw an interview of John Borthwick by Howard Lindzon that was pretty damn cool though.

  17. Charlie Robbins

    I think I speak for a lot of people in the NYC startup community when I say trying to work with NYC Seed last year left a bad taste in my mouth.Read the wording they use very carefully: “up to 20” (i.e. could be no one). Last year they decided to just give 250k to two startups instead of going with their real “incubator” strategy. I’ve heard one of those two startups already went belly-up.

    1. owendavis

      HI,Last year, NYC Seed invested in 6 companies, with some good successes so far in terms of Series A financings.

    2. Mark Essel

      Thanks Charlie, good counter view.

    3. fredwilson

      what is the specific issue that people are upset about?

      1. James Basterington III

        I’ve personally spoken to several people who have dealt with SeedStart and Owen Wilson in general (hackernews meetups / ruby meetups / javascript meetups / founders of some existing NYC startups) and I’ve literally heard nothing but bad things.Lot’s of really good developers / hackers were extremely put off by the NYC Seed process, the attitude of Owen Wilson, and the general lack of technical competence of the people evaluating business plans. Why would I spend two months putting together an extremely comprehensive business plan and then sit down to a meeting with “investors” who had obviously not read one page of the plan.I could understand if these views were coming only from people who didn’t get funding from the program, but a lot of the people I spoke with were not part of NYC Seed program and still advised me to stay far far away.NYC Seed seems great if you are already in the VC scene and are personally connected to someone on the board, i.e. a friend of Owen. If you are a solid development team with a good product idea you should avoid NYC seed, serious waste of time.

        1. fredwilson

          his name is Owen Davis, but this is helpful feedbacki appreciate you sharing it with me

          1. James Basterington III

            Errr, I’m not sure how my brain switched the last names of a VC guy and an actor.A stupid mistake, but the message is still the same.

  18. Nicholas Barone

    Does the newly formed company have to be located in NYC after the 8 weeks, I would guess yes but I can’t tell.I love this concept for funding seed stage companies. I one day would like to be able to create a similar fund to help spur the growth of tech start-ups in my hometown of Buffalo, NY. We have incredibly cheap housing and office space and need to encourage the creation of young tech companies to replace the industry we’ve lost over the past 40 years. Plus we are in a good location close to many eastern metros, NYC, Toronto, etc. and we have a good basic infrastructure for medical and clean energy tech start ups already in place.

  19. Dave

    Do all founders have to be able to work legally in the US to apply to NYC seed? I am thinking of applying and one of the founders is Canadian – hence I know he could stay in the US legally for the duration of the program, but he would not be able to do so legally if he received a salary during that time.

  20. Ilya

    Great info. Hope they are up for another round in 2011. Can’t make it out to NY this year, unfortunately.

  21. Ryan P

    NYC is making some smart moves with this and NYC Big Apps.That said, if I were looking for seed capital, I would prefer one of the programs coming out of the private sector. It’s not clear from the site who actually controls SeedStart, and therefore, who you are taking on as investor. Are you going to get a government employee on your board?

    1. fredwilson

      The vcs control this

  22. jkaljundi

    Made a short list of all the upcoming seed incubator programs by application deadline dates:… – at least 8 of them coming up Feb-Mar-Apr.Please add others in comments.

  23. Mark Essel

    Thanks Charlie. Relevance to who? That’s a good question :). We’re strongly considering moving to the Bay Area (good area for her and I).Search, product, and most importantly social recommendations based on semantic extraction from status streams is an idea area that’s rapidly closing on realizable for the web as it is now. I think waiting is the worst thing I can do.

  24. Mark Essel

    Those tiny amounts add up quick. Founders, seed, early employees, VC and your left with 10% and no control over the destiny of the startup you founded. Not pretty.

  25. Dave Pinsen

    Charlie’s right. Also, the benefits of the contacts and mentoring would extend beyond your current venture.

  26. awaldstein

    I’m with you on this Charlie.Getting seed is tough. This gets you started, a place to work and a world stage to launch on.This is a great thing for entrepreneurs and for the city.

  27. Mark Essel

    Thanks Charlie, my gut was to jump on this and I did. You got Dave and Arnold powering your feedback too. Rockin’!I’m damn lucky already ;)5% of what?I dig that counter question and for the life of me I don’t know precisely why.But what about the decision making ability impairment of owning a very small fraction of the startup as founder? I see that as a quick transition into an equity management position as opposed to a business builder/direction leader.Can I effectively steer a startup with a tiny ownership fraction, and better yet should I?

  28. Mark Essel

    Thanks Charlie, but if we’re not ready by mid June-> we’ll never be ready.10 days in Maui is enough, and neither of us have been to the Bay Area.Plus it’s impossible to get back to Robert by email, I’ll call him again and see if I can walk him through it to get his feedback. That’s more important than temporary exposure. He’s an important member of the market (the future) we’re trying to attract/aid. If are product is something he get’s some mileage out of, it’s in a good position. Counter to uber tech folks, we will have a default setup/easy to use interface.

  29. Mark Essel

    Two tops appears to be the “norm”. But of course there’s plenty of exceptions. Twitter, did you see this video Charlie, David Semeria shared it with me and it blew my mind, but an interesting point was that the early creators of the twitter framework vanished later on.

  30. Mark Essel

    Take 8 weeks and hang out in Manhattan. It’d be fun man. Even if I don’t get in, if any of their meetups are pseudo open I may pop in. Probably a groovy crowd.

  31. Mark Essel

    Thanks Charlie. You got to the heart of it.What I desire is to build a sustainable business with long (and short) term value. I’m not confident I can do that with a very small ownership share.If my primary goal was to build something that would give me great exits rapidly, I’d have a different perspective.Neither is wrong or right, just different driving motivation.

  32. Mark Essel

    May all your wishes come true πŸ˜‰

  33. Mark Essel

    That’s a good point. Does something like this make sense for a live site/service?

  34. Mark Essel

    Love the contrast Charlie. (I’ve got a cofounder at 60/40)The hammer saves you time in exchange for ownership. If it shifts the odds in our favor enough it’s a must.

  35. Frank Denbow

    I hope they have some open meetups as well.