Kauffman Labs Inaugural Incubator Program Brings In Education-Focused Entrepreneurs from Massachusetts, Michigan, and Bay Area

Surprise: we’re writing about an incubator. (OK, it might not come as a surprise. There’s been no shortage of news surrounding programs designed to create and accelerate tech startups across the nation, as my colleague Greg recently noted.)

The Education Ventures Program, which will kick off later this month, is a bit different, though. It’s not necessarily looking for the next billion-dollar Web or software startup, but is entirely focused on developing businesses and technologies out to improve education.

This one comes from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, and naturally it lines up with the organization’s vision of spurring economic growth. “Through our entrepreneurship education program, we hope that we can catalyze more founders of high growth, scalable business,” says Sandy Miller, director of Kauffman Labs for Enterprise Creation, which runs Education Ventures. “The reason for the explicit focus on those types of businesses is that data has come out showing that the majority of net new job creation comes from firms less than five years old.”

The 25 entrepreneurs selected for the inaugural four-month program will work at Kauffman Labs in Kansas City, MO, for the first month, will be closely matched with a business to work alongside for two months, and will finish the last month back at the Kauffman. In addition to fostering the growth of new companies, the foundation has another aim for the program: to learn what helps startups take off.

“It’s really important while we’re delivering this entrepreneur education program to really study this activity, and make inroads into better understanding the science of startups,” Miller says.

Education Ventures is the pilot version of a new crop of entrepreneurial education programs from Kauffman Labs. Two more will be announced this year, each targeting ideas in different sectors. The next one will focus on the food and nutrition market, Miller told me, but she’s keeping the focus of the third one a surprise for now.

The narrow industry focus is one quality that sets the Kauffman programs apart from other early-stage startup incubators like TechStars or YCombinator, which accept a range of Web and IT startups. The program is also taking on ideas on the non-profit and services side, as well as entrepreneurs who are very early on in developing their concept, rather than requiring formally developed business plans. And Miller describes the Kauffman Foundation as “the most benign investor or cofounder you can imagine,” meaning it won’t take an ownership stake in its participating startups in exchange for the support it provides. Instead, it’s providing a payment directly to the entrepreneurs, prorating a $70,000 annual salary across the four-month duration of the program.

Kauffman has picked entrepreneurs from a trio of Xconomy regions for its inaugural class of the Education Ventures Program. We highlighted participants from Massachusetts, Michigan, and the Bay Area. Read below for details and comments from the entrepreneurs I was able to connect with. (Information on the full class of the Education Ventures Program can be found here.)


—Ann Arbor, MI-based Bhargav Sri Prakash and Dmitry Tarasev are developing 3D simulation games for education. Prakash previously … Next Page »

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