Ali Partovi has a new accelerator promising to connect founders with star engineers – TechCrunch
Ali Partovi is proud of the many relationships he has established throughout Silicon Valley as a highly successful entrepreneur and investor. For example, two years ago, Partovi launched a program through his nearly five-year-old networking organization and associated venture capital firm, Neo, in which he connects computer engineering students which it helps control with fast-growing companies like design software Figma.
Partovi does this to create goodwill. He knows that students sometimes become founders and that company executives might be more inclined to make room for Neo in future funding rounds if Neo helped them win the talent war.
Today, Partovi is putting some of those corporate relationships to the test. How? ‘Or’ What? Thanks to a three-month acceleration program taking place this summer for just 20 teams that will end not with a demo day for investors, but with a presentation to top engineers who might be ready to embark on an all-new promising outfit.
It’s an accelerator that focuses on hiring, not fundraising, and could, in some cases, put Neo in the category of enemies and not friends.
Partovi acknowledges that this is a “valid problem and that we need to give more thought to solving it”. He also says that “every person is their own person with their own journey” and that “if someone is in a company where they are unhappy, it does no one any favors to try to prevent them from seeing their options” .
Granted, it would take a bold undertaking to cut off access to Partovi to open Neo’s doors wide to engineering talent. He has co-founded numerous companies, including LinkExchange, which was sold to Microsoft for approximately $250 million in stock in the late 1990s. He also has a strong track record of investing in talented founders, including Mark Zuckerberg and Drew Houston.
For his part, Partovi doesn’t see his accelerator as a threat to growth-stage startups as much as it does to other accelerators and apparently Y Combinator in particular — although he does speak in general terms about the competition.
“It’s hard to find someone with a top university or high-tech pedigree, applying for an accelerator,” Partovi says. In part, he says, that’s because “other accelerators have pivoted to focus on the developing world and prioritize quantity over quality.” Neo’s goal, he continues, is “not to beat any of these existing accelerators,” he adds, “but to reinvent the accelerator to make it relevant again.”
Either way, it’s easy to see why promising teams would be drawn to what Neo is up to.
In addition to the hiring assistance Neo promises, he offers teams he accepts access to a four-week residential campus at an “all-inclusive mountain retreat in Oregon,” which doesn’t doesn’t look terrible. It offers up to $625,000 for up to 5% of their business and with a “floor” valuation of $20 million (more on that here). It also gives each founder a small share in all the other startups in the batch as an incentive to help each other out.
Finally, Neo gives teams access to some tech veterans, including Sequoia Capital’s Alfred Lin, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman; Camille Rockets, Head of Marketing at Notion; investor Brianne Kimmel; Lin-Hua Wu, vice president of global communications at Google; and actor-investor Ashton Kutcher.
Partovi notes that the “VIPs” involved in the program are diverse because the program itself sees diversity as a pillar. (He says that, since its inception, 49% of Neo’s capital has funded companies led by women or underrepresented minority CEOs, which far exceeds broader industry statistics.)
It should be noted that, as with YC, Neo is prepared to be flexible in how an idea is “defined” or not. Neo’s accelerator is also ready to accept founders who have no idea, as well as solo founders, Partovi says.
Where that won’t budge, he says, is having at least one strong technical leader involved, whether that’s the founder or a three-person team with a strong CTO on board. “No matter how great your business idea is and however charismatic you may be, recruiting a tech partner is probably the hardest part of starting a business, so it’s a key qualification” , says Partovi. “It’s also the thing that we have the most experience and credibility for when it comes to evaluation.”
As for perhaps the biggest selling point of Neo’s accelerator plans – the promise that it will help startups recruit engineers – Partovi is compelling in explaining why, in today’s fundraising market, it can and should mean much more to founders than accelerators whose promise instead links to help teams raise capital.
“Right now, if you’re leaving Figma or Stripe or even just graduating from MIT, you can raise funds by editing your Twitter bio to say you’re starting something new,” Partovi notes. (We recently wrote about VCs’ willingness to write checks to clueless people, based on their educational and work backgrounds.)
“Literally you do this and within a week you’ll probably have a condition sheet.”
With Neo he says “don’t imagine a demo day but a pitch day that is more like a job fair, where you can pitch to hundreds of star engineers and where, instead of leaving the stage for a dozen meeting requests with potential VCs, you leave the stage with a dozen meeting requests [from] potential candidates to join your team.
“That,” says Partovi, “is the real problem for startups right now. It’s something that even people who are already funded, when they hear it, are like, “Oh, wow, I wish I had that.
For startups interested in applying, you can do so here. Note that the deadline for applications arrives in a little less than three weeks, on March 21.