Capital may help someone take the jump into entrepreneurship, but what about the activation energy to let them think that big in the first place? To Cory Levy, the latter has always been more important.
The entrepreneur behind First Text, a low-friction service that connects founders to investors, launched Z Fellows last year to test out his take. The accelerator features a one-week sabbatical program that comes with a $10,000 check in optional equity, at a $1 billion cap, to aspiring founders.
“The best programs out there, whether that’s Y Combinator or the Thiel Fellowship, require this high commitment, big life decisions,” whether it’s dropping out of school or going full-time on an idea, he explained. “Hey, don’t do that, just kind of simulate what life would be like for a couple of days or a week: if you like it, great, if you don’t, no harm no foul,” 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, which is now accepting applications, will still come with a traditional venture capital check, but will have tailored programming on the sector’s many rabbit holes, from regulation to the best way to utilize technology in a decentralized world. Founders and investors involved with billion-dollar crypto companies 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 that it comes in a makeshift moment for crypto, as billions go into space (and billions more get raised off of plans to). He’s looking for startups working on crypto infrastructure, NFTs, DAOs, DeFi protocols and gaming.
Given that Z Fellows doesn’t require the same amount of buy-in as a Y Combinator, quality assurance could be an issue. After all, who wouldn’t take a week of PTO, a $10,000 check and a low-stakes chance to flirt with their entrepreneurial dream? Right now, about one-third of Z Fellows come from underrepresented backgrounds, which the accelerator defines as women, people of color and/or immigrants.
For now, the founder is focused more on nudging people to try out an idea versus extreme vetting. Levy still interviews all fellows himself. He thinks the time-bound nature of the fellowship and mentorship is what makes Z Fellows stand out in today’s capital rich environment.
“While they may not need capital, I think one thing that is constant is the mentorship and the network of smart individuals,” he said. “And that applies whether you're working in Web 2.0 or Web 3.0.”