As we reported a couple of weeks ago, serial entrepreneur Peter Relan is sunsetting his gaming and mobile focused incubator YouWeb, which spawned Crowdstar, Agawi, Spaceport, OpenFeint and others. He’s starting a new company-building studio and accelerator, called 9+, that aims to take a more intensive, mentorship-driven approach to the accelerator model.
The most unique aspect of what Relan is doing with 9+ is that it is a nine-month program, which is significantly longer than many of the current accelerators in the tech world. Relan and his team will first help founders build a minimum viable product for three months. In the second semester, founders will focus on finding product-market fit, and in the third phase, startups will aim to grow traction with users, with potential hires and with investors.
Relan, who plans to raise $10 million in total and has raised $2 million already from angel investors for the studio, believes that this long-term, intensive approach will actually build companies instead of features. Relan adds that the ideal 9+ founder has a product or engineering background.
9+ will choose up to 12 companies per class, twice a year, focusing on all direct-to-consumer and viral B2B products and services in mobile computing, tablet computing, big data, infrastructure platforms, and wearable computing. The companies selected will receive $30,000 in cash for 18 percent equity and another $80,000 later in the program as a convertible note with a $5 million valuation cap. The accelerator will offer two campuses in Menlo Park or Burlingame.
Relan’s team of mentors and staff include Jerry Held, former chairman of Vertica, and ex-KPCB CEO in residence; former Yahoo exec and Kosmix VP of Business Development Michelle Sangster; former Openfeint/GREE SVP of Marketing and Developer Relations Eros Resmini; former Partner at Vantage Point and angel investor Jim Mills; and Les Wright, former CFO with Business Signatures, InfoSeek, ASK Computer, and Fractal Design.
Applications to 9+ from individuals or teams are open until August 31, 2013. The first class starts October 1 of this year.
As Relan explains, he’s no longer going to take on any operational roles in the companies he helps to build, and his title at 9+ is now “Chief Mentor.”
Nine months is a long time to ask entrepreneurs to stick around in a program, and 18 percent of equity is significant to hand over. But Relan does have a history building companies, many of which have seen exits. OpenFeint was acquired by GREE a few years ago for over $100 million, and Facebook acqui-hired the team behind Spaceport.
As with all of these new company builders that are emerging, the proof will be in the pudding. Ultimately the success of 9+ will be determined by how valuable the companies who graduate from the program are.