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YC虚拟版初创孵化器Zana:实现全民创业梦

Brittany Shoot 2014年06月10日

知名风投家希雅•泰迪•唐纳设立的新虚拟孵化器Zana旨在向大众普及创业知识。它专注于同行教育,只要有网络连接,任何人都可以参与。

    
虚拟孵化器Zana创始人希雅•泰迪•唐纳。图片由唐纳本人提供。

    希雅•泰迪•唐纳对于企业家的需求了如指掌。在硅谷,她作为True Ventures的联合创始人而广为人知。这家公司是一支风投基金,专注于处于发展初期的企业。她也是True University的幕后策划人。True University是一个为期两天的会议,它将True Ventures公司旗下资产组合公司召集在一起,分享理念,开展合作。

    尽管这似乎带点空想主义色彩,但唐纳最新的项目也拥有类似的理想化目标。Zana是一个虚拟孵化器,而且用她的话来说,它可以“将创业民主化。”

    Zana(发音zah-nah)的诞生并不出人意料,因为它源于True的一条核心价值:鼓励首席执行官们相互帮助、相互提供建议。这是其他风投公司很少使用的策略,但却让True如鱼得水。基于这些价值理念,以及十多年与企业创始人的交往经验,唐纳创建了一个专注于同行教育的孵化器。只要有网络连接,任何人都可以参与其中。唐纳告诉《财富》杂志:“Zana是一个平台,不是内容交付载体。只有企业家们在相互交流时才能迸射出真正的火花。”

    一个免费对公众开放的孵化器似乎并不是什么革命性的举措,但在潜在创业者中可能会很受欢迎。最近的技术泡沫和HBO的电视剧《硅谷》(Silicon Valley)推广了这样一个观点:创业只需要动力和决心。那些一流的加速器和孵化器都收到了大量的申请,而且正在满负荷运转当中。例如,Y Combinator据称每分钟就会收到一个申请,而通过率仅在1%左右。

    而且往往会有一个自选团体,他们会申请初创资助和指导。3月份,Y Combinator创始人杰西卡•莱文斯通对《Slate》杂志说,尽管她认为2014年将是技术行业女性创业的转折点,但在过去几年YC所资助的633家初创公司中,只有84家拥有至少一名女性创始成员。她还说:“2005年前后,每一批企业里面哪怕有一名女性创始人就不错了。”

    当然,这一点已经发生了变化,但是非白人、非男性加速器申请人的数量仍远远落后。在风投世界中,性别比例失衡这个问题更严重;女性仅占所有风投人员的4%。唐纳说:“在头5年里,我是唯一的女性。7年来,我是公司投资团队中唯一的一位女性成员。”

    在眼下一系列以企业家为中心的机遇中,她也注意到了这个明显的差距。她说:“现实中并没有备受信赖的金科玉律,也不存在一个既定的场所,能够帮助某项业务渡过生命周期成为一家公司。YC有利于早期发展。有些孵化器和加速器专注于不同的时期或具体的技能发展。但是我们发现,以同行为主导的教育支持存在巨大的机遇。”(此外,在此对名称做一下解释:Zana是罗马尼亚神话中的一位女神,因赋予生命和慷慨地赐予礼物而富于盛名。)

    在Zana的帮助下,一切准入障碍都不复存在,因为这是一种按需分配的免费服务。(营收构架是一个基础的免费增值模式,为企业提供高级选项。最终还会有一个认证项目,让雇主按照不同的模块来测试雇员。)它的另一项任务就是联合全球各个行业的企业家。

    Shea Tate-Di Donna knows what entrepreneurs need. In Silicon Valley, she's best known as one of the founding partners at True Ventures, a venture capital fund focused on early-stage companies. She was also the architect behind True University, a two-day conference that brings together companies in the True portfolio to share ideas and collaborate.

    If that sounds a little kumbaya, Tate-Di Donna's latest project has similar idealistic aims. Zana is a virtual incubator that will, in her words, "democratize entrepreneurship."

    It's easy to see how Zana (pronounced zah-nah) was born out of one of True's core values: Encouraging CEOs to turn to one another for help and advice. It's a rare strategy among venture firms, and one that's served True well. Those values, and more than a decade's worth of conversations with founders, led Tate-Di Donna to create a peer education-focused incubator available to anyone with an Internet connection. "Zana is a platform versus a content delivery vehicle," Tate-Di Donna tells Fortune. "The real magic happens when entrepreneurs talk to each other."

    A free and open-to-the-public incubator shouldn't seem revolutionary, but it will likely be in hot demand among would-be founders. This latest tech bubble and shows like HBO's Silicon Valley have bolstered the idea that starting a company simply requires drive and determination. The best accelerators and incubators are bombarded with applications and at maximum capacity. Y Combinator, for example, reportedly receives one application per minute, with an acceptance rate hovering just above one percent.

    There also tends to be a self-selecting group that applies for early-stage funding and mentorship. In March, YC founding partner Jessica Livingston told Slate that while she thinks 2014 will be a tipping point year for women in tech, only 84 of the 633 startups YC funded over the years had at least one woman founder. "In the mid-2000s, we were lucky to get one female per batch," she said.

    That's changed, of course. But the numbers of non-white, non-male accelerator applicants still lag far behind. In venture capital, the gender imbalance is even worse; women comprise just four percent of all VCs. "When I was at True Ventures," Tate-Di Donna says, "I was the only woman for the first five years. And I was the only woman on the investment team for seven years."

    She also saw an obvious gap in the current swath of entrepreneur-centric opportunities. "There's not a trusted, gold standard, de facto place that will help move a business forward through its life cycle as a company," she says. "YC good for early-stage. There are incubators and accelerators focused on periods of time or specific skill development. But peer-led education support—that's where we see the enormous opportunity." (Also, a note about the name: Zana was a goddess in Romanian mythology known for giving life and generously bestowing gifts.)

    With Zana, there aren't any real barriers to entry, as it's free and available on demand. (The revenue structure is a basic freemium model with a premium option available to companies. There will also eventually be a certification program enabling employers to test employees on various modules.) It also promises to unite entrepreneurs from various industries and from all around the world.

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