The next PIE experiment: A virtual startup accelerator

If you’re familiar with the PIE program, at all, you know that physical proximity — founders getting to sit next to one another in a shared office space — has been the cornerstone of our program for more than a decade. But with the world the way it is, that opportunity to share a physical workspace with one another, this time around, is clearly not going to be possible for us. 

So first and foremost, we wanted to be transparent with you and let you know that the PIE experience will be a bit different for our next class. Because it will be completely virtual. But we’re working to ensure it continues to remain as valuable of an experience as it has ever been for the founders that we support. 

How? By doing what we always do: experiment. 

To start, we’re confident in our ability to deliver consistent value for participating founders, because the majority of PIE programming can be translated to a virtual environment without much difficulty. Founder talks, office hours, educational sessions, one-on-one mentor meetings — even Family Dinner — are easy enough to do online. And in between meetings, email and chat have always been part of our ongoing communications with our founders.

So that’s all good. Very much PIE, through and through. 

Now for the not so good news. Where we’re less confident? Our ability to recreate or manufacture the serendipity that occurs when a bunch of people — or a bunch of founders all crazily pursuing their own startup dreams — share a common space. No accidental overhearing a conversation. No random pop ins. No visitors from out of town. No “I was meeting with someone else here and happened to run into you” sort of things. 

And that’s going to look different. For a community hub like PIE, that sort of magic is going to be difficult to recreate virtually. But rest assured, we’re going to experiment with some ways to facilitate some semblance of serendipity with the tools at our disposal.

And if something’s not working? We have proven time and time again that we’re not afraid to change it up. Even if it’s midstream. 

Speaking of, another component of PIE in which we’ve had significant pride was our lack of structure. We’ve always strived to have as little structured time as conceivably possible. And the minimal amount of complexity or rigor. Because we know that — like our startups — we need to be able to adapt to the founder’s needs on the fly. And being overly regimented — like enforcing a structured curriculum, for example — ran counter to our ability to be as nimble as we wanted to be.

But this situation is going to call for a smidge more structure. It just has to. Because PIE staff is not going to be working alongside you. And that prevents us from being as attuned to your needs and stressors as we would like to be. With that in mind, we’ll likely be implementing a daily standup as part of our programming. As well as formalizing regular timing for mentor talks, office hours, and Family Dinner. 

But again, a minimal amount of structure. And we’ll still do stuff on the fly. Because that’s just how we roll.

So, to recap, most of PIE will be exactly the same — and you’ll derive exactly the same value from the program as startup founders have for more than 10 years. But we’re going to have to add a little more structure. And we’re going to have to experiment with ways to artificially manufacture that classic PIE serendipity, as best we can. 

If that sounds like something that could be helpful to you — and you’re willing to collaborate with us on this next phase of the experiment — we look forward to seeing your application. Submissions open on July 13, 2020.

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