Mozilla Launches An Incubator Program For The Open Web

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Mozilla wants your help in keeping the web innovative and open.

Today, the organization is launching a new program designed to help spur projects that focus on open web technologies. The initiative is called Web FWD (pronounced Web Forward), and invites teams to spend four weeks working in Mozilla offices, where they’ll learn from top experts in web technologies and have access to Mozilla resources.  Applications are now being accepted, and the first group of teams will begin working from Mozilla offices in August.

Pascal Finette, who heads Mozilla Labs, says that the project was inspired by the success of programs like Y Combinator — though there are plenty of differences. Unlike YC, which takes a modest equity stake in participating companies, Mozilla’s not out to make money. In fact, all code written during the four-week program must be open sourced (teams can later fork their code and continue to build their project into a business if they’d like — Mozilla will even make the VC introductions). Mozilla will also consider giving promising products that stick with the open-source model additional funding and resources.

The program is also a little less structured than YC, in that groups are admitted on a rolling basis. Finette expects teams to be around 2-3 people in size, though that’s one of the variables they’re still unsure about — it will really come down to what kind of projects get submitted. The bottom line, though, is that the teams need to be able to build what they’re setting out to build (in other words, if you’re a single engineer setting out to do an ambitious project, then you might have the odds stacked against you on getting admitted).

Finette says that the ideal applicants will be working on projects that are deeply related to open web technologies — things like online identity, social, personalization, and, more broadly, a ‘mobile first’ approach to designing web applications. “We’re not looking for the next big online game”, he says. Applicants don’t have to have a full project built when they apply, but Mozilla will be looking for some basic groundwork — things like mockups, some rough code, and a tangible demo (even if it’s far from a minimum viable product).

Mentors include both key Mozilla employees and other industry veterans (there’s a list here, and Mozilla will also regularly invite other experts for guest talks). Mozilla plans to have between five and ten teams working out of its offices at any given time — it’s starting the program in the SF office initially, but will extend the program to its international offices as well, so the number of accepted teams will increase.

Each participant will receive $2,000 for the month to cover food and living expenses. “We want them to be worry-free”, Finette says, so that the teams can really focus on their projects.

I like this idea. Mozilla’s Firefox and Labs projects has obviously introduced some innovative features and technologies over the years, but there are still aspects of the web — like identity — that simply don’t have any good, widely used open alternatives. This should help kickstart some compelling new projects.