Applications for the Summer 2021 Founder Fellowship cohort are closed. Follow us on Medium and on Twitter @southpkcommons for details on future cohort applications!
South Park Commons is a self-organizing community of tinkerers and technologists united around a shared ethos of intentional exploration since 2015. At the beginning of 2021, we began an experiment that grew out of what we’ve learned together: what if we invested in startup founders before they’d settled on an idea? We’d find a cohort of promising soon-to-be founders, give them $400k in funding and the mentorship they need to validate a market and iterate on ideas, and help them get a company off the ground. We called it the Founder Fellowship, because it’s a bet on founders before they’ve settled on an idea. The results so far leave us confident that we’re on to something. Now we’re excited to open applications for our second cohort of fellows.
Our rationale for the Fellowship remains the same. Too often, founders don’t have the time to properly vet their ideas. They are forced to set off without developing a high level of conviction that their idea will actually take flight. The Founder Fellowship is a thorough pre-flight program. We provide the funding and expert guidance to vet the flight-readiness of an idea, the curriculum to make sure founders know how to pilot their project, and the runway to get started.
We’re particularly proud that the Fellowship helps open up the too-often insular world of startups and venture capital. We don’t assume that fellows already know how to sequence hiring or acquire first customers; there’s no expectation that you’ve raised a seed round before or know any VCs. And if this isn’t your first startup, we give you the space and resources to fully explore your new one before launching. The purpose of the Fellowship is to help with the pain points and locked gates that keep would-be founders from starting a company.
Over the last several months we’ve come to better understand the full value of the format we created. At the Fellowship’s core is the Startup Forum, a curriculum built from the collective knowledge of the SPC community and assembled by the SPC Fund, Avichal Garg, and Curtis Spencer. The curriculum features everything founders need to know to get from -1 to 0. In addition to the Forum and bespoke mentorship from fund and visiting partners, fellows participate in peer workshops that provide both professional and personal support. Nearly every fellow in the first cohort cited support from other fellows as a highlight of the program. It reflects the core philosophy of SPC: intentional exploration with a mutually-supportive peer group of builders and technologists.
We can’t wait to help our next cohort develop into a close-knit group of ambitious founders. If you aspire to start a venture-scale company, we encourage you to apply.
What is the SPC Founder Fellowship?
SPC’s Founder Fellowship is a different way for entrepreneurs to start a high growth, venture-backable startup. We give founders their first outside investment, help them ideate and iterate to a viable product, and assist them in raising from the best VCs in the world.
We take a boutique and customized approach to helping founders, recognizing that a one-size-fits-all approach to starting companies rarely works. Our cohort sizes are small, with one partner for every two companies. We do not have a demo day, and when the time is right for you to raise, we’ll make introductions to the best investors. We do not force strict timelines.
We offer $400,000 to founders to pursue an idea, in exchange for 7% equity via a SAFE. We can help identify the right market, support you as you build your first product, find first customers, help raise a seed round, and even help find co-founders.
How does SPC Founder Fellowship work?
- $400,000 for 7% equity via a Simple Agreement for Future Equity (SAFE)
SPC Startup Forum
- 12-week Curriculum — program put on by the SPC Community with other founders and domain experts, centered around a proprietary curriculum. We have collected time-tested articles, videos, and books on thinking about markets, ideas, and products the way the world’s best founders and investors do. This helps founders avoid common pitfalls and increase their chances of creating a successful high growth startup. The Startup Forum is led by SPC and visiting partners.
- Speaker Series — we invite speakers to attend our weekly Forum, to join us for dinners, and for one-off events. Prior speakers have included Mike Krieger (Instagram), Mathilde Collin (Front), Tope Awotona (Calendly), Nathan Blecharczyk (Airbnb), Reid Hoffman (LinkedIn), Elad Gil (Color), Connie Chan (Andreessen Horowitz), and more.
- Milestone-based workshops — work with fund partners and peer fellows to hit milestones in the ideation, validation, and prototyping phases. These sessions help share goals, build momentum, and drive accountability.
- Labs focused on “doing.” — partner-led building groups focused on technical instrumentation, prototyping, product metrics, PMF, best practices for continuous deployment, etc.
- Alumni Forum — an online forum to continue the conversation with other founders in your cohort and SPC alumni to ask for advice and help others in the community, even after the fellowship is over.
- Access to domain experts across a variety of fields in artificial intelligence, machine learning, self driving vehicles, blockchain, fintech, social networks, energy, developer tools, and more.
- Access to a network of founders and executives from the seed stage to IPO at companies ranging from OpenAI, Google, and SpaceX to breakout companies such as Figma, Notion, Airtable, Pilot, Compound and more.
- Hands-on fundraising support to raise your seed round, including guidance crafting a pitch deck and introductions to top angel investors, seed firms, and VCs.
- $200K in credits from AWS, Google Cloud, Brex, Pulley, and other companies.
How is the SPC Founder Fellowship different from other accelerators or incubators?
We help at the -1 to 0 phase, even before a founder has an idea.
- More money and a higher valuation for your company. Most accelerators offer smaller checks for more equity. We offer $400K for less equity, in many cases more than doubling your valuation. We believe great ideas may take more than a few months to materialize and founders should avoid moving too quickly because they are cash-constrained.
- No idea necessary. We can help you find a great market and idea for which you are well suited.
- No demo day pressure. We will help you raise your round on the timeline that makes sense for your product and company.
- No fixed timelines. Fintech, biotech, blockchain, and consumer startups need different amounts of time to get off the ground. We’ll work on validating ideas and fundraising on a timeline that makes the most sense for your idea.
- Small cohorts with direct partner mentorship and a focus on mutual support.
Do I need an idea to apply?
You do not need an idea to apply.
That being said, a great idea is a critical component of long term success. If you do not have an idea, we will need to assess your ability to generate great ideas. Be prepared to discuss markets you find interesting, previous ideas you have considered and discarded, and the sorts of startup ideas and insights you find compelling and why.
Can I apply as a solo founder or do I need a cofounder?
We do accept solo founders, though we generally have a preference for teams. It can be challenging to start a company solo, and we hear from our fellows that having a collaborator is extremely valuable on this journey. If you’re a solo founder, we have a strong bias towards applicants who have the skills to build and prototype. If you are accepted as a solo founder but still want a co-founder, we can help in the search process — several of our first cohort fellows found co-founders in the SPC community.
What are the upcoming cohort application deadlines, program dates, & location logistics?
- Application deadline: 11:59PM PT on June 23rd, 2021
- Interviews: July 2021
- Program Start Date: Soft launch August 2nd, 2021, full-time launch August 9th, 2021
- Location: The program will be hybrid with both remote and in-person options. All events will include remote access, but we’ll also have in-person access for people in the Bay Area for some events. All programming will be based on Pacific Time Zone hours. You do not need to be in the Bay Area or United States to apply or participate.
Who is behind the SPC Founder Fellowship?
The Founder Fellowship is organized and run by Ruchi Sanghvi, Aditya Agarwal, Avichal Garg, Curtis Spencer, Finn Meeks, and Mitra Lohrasbpour. We are builders, entrepreneurs, and technologists who love helping other entrepreneurs succeed. We have successfully started and exited five companies, served in leadership roles at Facebook, Dropbox, and Google, have been board members for breakout unicorns, and have been angel investors in companies with a combined market cap of over $50 billion.
70+ companies have used the South Park Commons approach since 2017 and have raised $500M+ in funding for a combined market cap of over $3B.