Entrepreneurial Debt Waivers

The company I work for came out of the Advanced Technology
Development Center
at Georgia Tech, which is an incubator for small
companies run by the university. Among other resources, ATDC provides
nice facilities with shared conference and break rooms but private
office and lab space. There were a lot of companies in the incubator, at
various levels of maturity. There were regular get-togethers and plenty
of opportunity to exchange ideas with people down the hall. Our company
has since graduated, but the time we spent there meant we didn’t have to
worry about a lot of little details that come up with a business.

Ed Kohler writes about an idea for VC firms over at Technology
. The basic idea is to grab students as they graduate
(probably before) and set them up so they have no loan debt and a
reasonable salary in exchange for a stake in whatever idea they happen
to be working on. Kohler’s idea takes the normal incubator like ATDC one
(or more) step farther by suggesting paying off student loans and and
the housing rent as well as the office space.

It seems natural to extend this even further and combine the 2
systems. Why not buy an office/apartment building? Offer a variety of
apartment sizes to accommodate married and single people, etc. Provide
office space, a food court, the works. Some of the space could even be
rented to companies that are not part of the VC fund. The point is to
pull all of it together into one place to keep the energy level high and
make it an attractive place to be in addition to sharing whatever
resources can be shared between companies.

Maybe the whole thing is done by renting out floors of a multi-use
building that someone else owns under a single lease, then subletting
the space (instead of buying the building out-right). I tend to think in
terms of high-rises because I work in Atlanta. In other areas, you might
want a campus or office park. I’m sure there are a lot of ways to
structure it.

In the end what you get is a startup “factory” that churns out ideas
on a (hopefully) regular basis. You bring a new crop of people in each
semester when they graduate. Start small with each new company. Each
“startup” is owned by a holding company in the beginning. If it starts
to look promising, spin it off to its own company as needed. If an idea
isn’t panning out, kill it and either move the people to another project
or cut them loose and let them try it on their own.

Maybe multiple VC firms would work together to fund the thing – I
don’t know how well the politics of that would work, but I’m not a VC.

Hmm. This all sounds a lot like the old research labs from before
everyone wanted to be out on their own…