Google backs a copycat accelerator – take that Samwer brothers!

Jan 31, 2012
Vote on Hacker News

Every trend has its backlash, and every backlash has its own backlash. A few months ago we penned our defense of the copycat, and just last week we kneecapped the burgeoning backlash to European accelerator programs. But we perhaps lost the contest of “best contrarian” to Guilhem Bertholet — perhaps best known for running the HEC Incubator for three years — who on Friday wrapped up his three-week program Copycat Accelerator.

OK, OK, it’s not really an accelerator, and in fact it’s pretty original. The Copycat Accelerator is more like an extended Startup Weekend with an academic twist. The January program took 42 HEC students and assigned them to teams, each of which was given a hot startup to recreate. The companies they copied are: Taskrabbit, Kickstarter, Zaarly, Skillshare, Chegg, Lanyrd, Getaround, Hotel Tonight, and BenchPrep.

The curriculum is to create an MVP based on Lean Startup principles and adapted to the French/European market. The teams get guest coaching from experienced entrepreneurs, and they wind up by pitching their company to angel investors.

Startup Weekend for Copycatting

The rapid expansion of Startup Weekend is a great thing, but it’s easy to see how the Copycat Accelerator could be a superior model if your aim is to focus on execution. Sure, the students in Bertholet’s program miss out on a lot of the core entrepreneurial experience, but the point here is that sometimes we need to de-emphasize the idea aspect of entrepreneurship and overemphasize the action aspect. Or, as Bertholet says, “You need to reveal that everybody has entrepreneurial skill.”

Compressing the model to just three days would be challenging, but it would have its advantages over the traditional Startup Weekend model. First, it would eliminate the time-consuming and often torturous first-night pitch session and subsequent team selection. Second, it would block those already-formed companies who come to Startup Weekend to pitch. And it would guarantee a more educational experience for somebody who, maybe, wants to learn about Lean Startup in a hands-on environment.

Bertholet, with a healthy dose of self-awareness, hopes that his Copycat Accelerator will itself be copied. Startup Weekend already puts on specialized weekends like EDU (for education-themed startups) and or the Social Startup Weekend held at ESCP-Europe last November. Wouldn’t it make sense for Startup Weekend, 3 Day Startup, or another similar organization to stage a Friday-Sunday “Copycat Weekend”?

Google jumps on board

Google & HEC: "dare to be an entrepreneur"

The success of this first Copycat Accelerator will be repeated as part of the “Google@HEC” Chair announced yesterday. Google’s first financed Chair at a business school will fund a “Google Track” at the university for students interested in e-business and digital economy, as well as “Creativity Talks” with entrepreneurs, designers, artists, and others, and of course coaching and — in the words of the press release — “Start-up Weekends” — organized on campus and involving students of other schools, including engineering and design schools.

Bertholet will remain involved in the Google@HEC Chair, but he’ll be doing so from Lyon, where he’s relocated to launch his new stealth-mode startup. Word is, though, it’s not a copycat.