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Founder Institute for startups, entrepreneurs likely coming to Pittsburgh

Aaron Aupperlee
| Monday, Jan. 22, 2018, 1:06 p.m.
People attend an event hosted by Randy Eager and Greg Coticchia at TrueFit in Downtown to gauge interest in opening a Founder Institute chapter in Pittsburgh. (Photo from Greg Coticchia)
People attend an event hosted by Randy Eager and Greg Coticchia at TrueFit in Downtown to gauge interest in opening a Founder Institute chapter in Pittsburgh. (Photo from Greg Coticchia)

Pittsburgh is on the cusp of opening the latest chapter of an international institute aimed at launching early-stage startups and the entrepreneurs behind them.

Interest has been high in a Pittsburgh-based Founder Institute, said Randy Eager and Greg Coticchia, who have spent the past few weeks holding events and talking to people to see if the city could support the organization.

“Before we even had our first meeting, we had 11 applications,” Eager said, adding that they wanted at least 30 applications to start the first session. “This is completely unheard of.”

Eager said the ramp-up process typically takes months, but Pittsburgh appears to be ready to go in only a matter of weeks.

“I'm sure there are a few more i's to dot,” Eager said. “But we're effectively a real chapter.”

The institute will start in April. It costs $799 if you sign up before March and $999 if you sign up after.

The Founder Institute is a startup accelerator program for very early companies, said Jonathan Greechan, one of the institute's founders. It's aimed at people with an idea or who just started a company but don't have funding or even a product yet. There are chapters in 170 cities across 60 countries including one in Kabul, Afghanistan, Greechan said. Graduates have founded companies like Udemy, which offers online educational courses; Kangarootime, which focuses on child care; and Visabot, an immigration robot powered by artificial intelligence.

“We've even had space companies,” Greechan said.

The institute's website boasts 2,300 graduate companies, a conservative estimate of more than $600 million in funding for those companies and more than 30 liquidity events such as acquisitions, mergers or sales.

The 14-week program strives to make the participants better at their businesses with courses on branding and design, hiring, legal issues and growth. Participants will hear from and interact with mentors — people who have successfully launched their own startups — throughout the online course. Pittsburgh mentors already on-board include Ilana Diamond from Alpha Lab Gear, Henry Thorne from 4Moms and Kevin Dowling from Kaarta.

Eager, the entrepreneur-in-residence at University of Pittsburgh, and Coticchia, former head of Blast Furnace, a startup accelerator at Pitt's Innovation Institute, said the city has great resources for people who want to start a business, but the two noticed a gap in the market. Unless you get into a program like AlphaLab or developed your idea through a university, you're out of luck, Eager said.

“You're completely left out of the educational portion of learning how to be an entrepreneur,” Eager said.

The pair said they have spoken to people fresh out of college who want to start their first companies, people who want to explore turning their side hustle or second job into a company and people in their 40s and 50s with a steady day job who want to take an idea and develop it.

Eager said more than 50 people attended the first event Jan. 10 and applications immediately jumped. The next event, focused on raising money in Pittsburgh, is scheduled for 6 p.m. Jan. 23 at TrueFit in Downtown. It is free, and people can register here .

More information about Founder Institute is available at its website .

Aaron Aupperlee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at aaupperlee@tribweb.com, 412-336-8448 or via Twitter @tinynotebook.

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