“It’s a similar approach to Ron Conway and Yuri Milner’s deal with Y Combinator,” Collaborative Fund founder Craig Shapiro told Betabeat this afternoon, on his way to a board meeting. Mr. Shapiro, whose firm has invested in Kickstarter, Simple, TaskRabbit, and Codecademy, was referring to the blanket investment Collaborative Fund just announced–offering $50,000 a piece in all five of the startups to come out of Brooklyn Beta‘s “Summer Camp,” an incubator of sorts.
(Last January, Mr. Milner and Mr. Conway launched the Start Fund to plunk $150,000 into every new Y Combinator startup.)
Brooklyn Beta, which launched in 2010, is a non-profit conference–going on right now!–put on by Fictive Kin, a design-focused product shop in Brooklyn. But the organizers, who target the “work hard and be nice to people” crowd (be still our cold heart), are expanding. For the first time this year, Brooklyn Beta offered a “Summer Camp,” a 12-week incubator program where designer-developer teams focus on “making stuff that matters” and then present at this week’s conference. The organizers offer $25,000 to each startup for a six percent stake and then reinvest the profit back in Brooklyn Beta.
Collaborative Fund’s interest in funding the initiative came about through an investment they made in Creative Morning, a global morning lecture series for creative types. Creative Morning is run out of a coworking space called StudioMates in Dumbo, which is where Mr. Shapiro met FictiveKin partner and Stanford alum Cameron Koczon. The two discussed the importance of design and a shared frustration with “how Silicon Valley has such a heavy emphasis on engineering and placing engineering talent ahead of design talent,” Mr. Shapiro told Betabeat. Part of the thinking behind investing in SkillShare and Kickstarter, he added, was looking for design-led startups.
But there’s another overlap in the venn diagram between the two organizations: working towards something with a broader impact. “Not from a sacrificial or philanthropic angle, like a soup kitchen,” Mr. Shapiro explained, but having people build applications, sites, programs, and services that push the world forward in a way that at a minimum is interesting and new, as opposed to pure entertainment or another photo sharing app.”
“Not that I have anything against that!” he was quick to add, “But that’s something that we talk a lot about.”
In addition to investing, Collaborative Fund has enlisted Ryan Jacoby, the former head of the New York studio of Ideo, the much-lauded design and innovation consultancy that boasts clients like Proctor & Gamble and Pepsi, to mentor the startups.
Mr. Shapiro said he wasn’t sure at first how Collaborative Fund could help and contemplated sponsorship. “[Mr. Koczon] asked me to be a mentor, which is sweet, but I’m not adding any value,” he said. Collaborative Fund is “the anti-Ron Conway, in a sense–not in a mean-spirited way, but we’re sort of slow and deliberate and we don’t make that many investments,” Mr. Shapiro said, admitting some nervousness to investing in five companies pre-product.
Ultimately, however, he said, “It was really as much a bet on Cameron and his team at FictiveKin and their ability to select good people and bring in good talent. But it actually turns out that I’m pretty excited about the companies and the diversity of the teams and the actual problems that they’re trying to solve.”
Sadly, Mr. Shapiro, who said he will consider this kind of blanket offer for next year’s class, had to fly out to San Francisco for that board meeting, and was missing today’s line-up. But you can follow along with the speakers via Twitter under the hashtag #BrooklynBeta.
Here are the five startups from this year’s Brooklyn Beta Summer Camp:
Sticker FM – a collaborative video platform allowing people from around the world to track and report in real time how a situation is developing.
Webe.at - a platform to easily follow, collaborate, and stylize calendars, breaking them out of spreadsheet-like boxes to include media rich content.
Farmstand - an app that uses your location to show you where to buy local produce from farmers, CSAs, co-ops, community gardens, rooftop gardens and local markets.
MakersRow – a curated search platform and learning community that connects manufacturers and makers.
Skillcrush – a community-driven learning platform to help you increase your digital literacy and achieve your goals with technology.