Capital can help one make the leap into entrepreneurship, but what about the activation energy to make them think big in the first place? Unpleasant Cory Levythe latter has always been more important.
The entrepreneur behind First Text, a low-friction service that connects founders with investors, launched Z Fellows last year to test his method. The accelerator is offering a week-long sabbatical with a check for $10,000 in optional equity, capped at $1 billion, for aspiring founders.
“The best programs out there, whether that’s Y Combinator or the Thiel Fellowship, require these big commitment, big life decisions,” whether it’s dropping out of school or working full-time on an idea, he explained. “Hey, don’t do that, but kind of simulate what life would be like for a few days or a week: if you like it, fine, if you don’t, no harm, no mistake,” he said.
Four cohorts in, Z Fellow announced that it is scaling its vision of bringing calculated risk and activation energy to, you guessed it, the crypto world.
The new crypto-focused accelerator, now accepting applications, will still come with a traditional venture capital control, but will have tailor-made programming for the industry’s many rabbit holes, from regulation to how best to use technology in a decentralized world. Founders and investors involved in multi-billion dollar crypto businesses will be available for mentorship, speaker talks and daily stand-ups, the founder said.
It’s the first of potentially many vertically-focused accelerators, and Levy thinks it comes at an impromptu time for crypto as billions go into space (and billions more are raised from plans to). He is looking for startups working on crypto infrastructure, NFTs, DAOs, DeFi protocols and gaming.
Since Z Fellows do not require the same amount of buy-in as a Y Combinator, quality assurance can be an issue. After all, who wouldn’t take a week of PTO, a $10,000 check and a small chance to flirt with their entrepreneurial dream? Currently, about a third of Z Fellows have underrepresented backgrounds, which define the accelerator as women, people of color and/or immigrants.
For now, the founder is focusing more on urging people to try out an idea rather than extreme vetting. Levy still interviews all the guys himself. He thinks the time-bound nature of the fellowship and mentorship is what sets Z Fellows apart in today’s capital-rich environment.
“While they may not need capital, I think one thing that is constant is the mentorship and network of smart individuals,” he said. “And that applies whether you’re working in Web 2.0 or Web 3.0.”