Last summer (2013) I was honored with an invitation to serve as a mentor for the inaugural group of entrepreneurs welcomed into the TechPeaks accelerator program. It opened my eyes to what's possible when a progressive local government achieves effective cultivation of innovation and startups. Quite an experiment the Italians pulled off last year, and the results have encouraged them to do it again this year, with notable evolutions to their program that I believe make it an even better opportunity for aspiring entrepreneurs.
Here's one of the coolest aspects of it, that really sets this program apart from traditional accelerators such as YC and TechStars: You don't even need to have a startup idea or be part of a team to qualify!
There are two ways to apply to the program: 1) with an idea, team optional or 2) as an individual technologist without an idea. If you get accepted without an idea, the program functions as a matchmaker, with the expectation that you will band together with other people in the program on their ideas, or come up with new ideas to pursue. Out of a total of 50 participant slots available, a maximum of 20 are reserved for these individual explorers.
If I didn't have a family and my own startup at the moment, you better believe I'd be knocking down their door to accept me as an explorer.
All participants are relocated to Trento, a college town with some of the most gorgeous vistas I've ever seen, nestled in between vineyards in the Italian alps. It's a relatively quick train trip from Milan and a fantastic place to live. Your accomodations and living expenses are covered by the program, which has a duration of four months, from March 25, 2014 until July 25, 2014. Teams that make progress are eligible for hundreds of thousands of euros in startup grants and additional follow-on funding if they continue operations in the Trento area.
The TechPeaks 2014 application deadline is January 20th. I encourage you to check it out.