TAK­ING THE PLUNGE

Mil­len­ni­als are tossed into a ‘Star­tupU’ to learn how to launch their own com­pany

The Mercury News - - Business + Technology - By Chuck Bar­ney cbar­ney@ba­yare­anews­group.com

BEV­ERLY HILLS — Four years ago, ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist Tim Draper founded Draper Univer­sity in San Ma­teo be­cause he thought “the world needed more he­roes.” Now Hol­ly­wood has taken no­tice.

“Startup U,” a new re­al­ity se­ries pre­mier­ing on ABC Fam­ily at 10 p.m. Tues­day fol­lows 10 young adults as they go through a seven-week pro­gram at the school to learn the fun­da­men­tals of launch­ing a startup com­pany. The peo­ple be­hind the show call it “Shark Tank” for mil­len­ni­als.

It’s not hard to see why pro­duc­ers would think Draper Univer­sity might make for good tele­vi­sion. The school takes a very off­beat ap­proach to its les­son plan. How off­beat? In the open­ing episode, Draper in­forms the busi­ness­minded stu­dents that they need to be ready to take a “big step into the un­known.” Then he plunges — fully clothed — into a swimming pool.

“When I started Draper Univer­sity, I re­al­ized school­ing needs a com­plete trans­for­ma­tion,” Draper said in an in­ter­view con­ducted at the Tele­vi­sion Crit­ics As­so­ci­a­tion press tour. “I changed ev­ery­thing. We teach fu­ture in­stead of history. Ev­ery­thing is team-based. There are no let­ter grades. ... We even have ur­ban and ru­ral sur­vival train­ing.”

Draper, who sees his role as be­ing “some­thing be­tween Pro­fes­sor Xavier and Willy Wonka,” says the whole idea be­hind his ap­proach is to pre­pare stu­dents for a rig­or­ous jour­ney through a highly com­pet­i­tive mar­ket­place.

“Some peo­ple think it’s easy. It’s not easy,” he says. “The thing we try to teach them is that star­tups come from the heart. You have to re­ally love it and want it to hap­pen be­cause the things you’re go­ing to have to go through are go­ing to be very dif­fi­cult. You have to be ready to fail.”

Draper, a San Fran­cisco na­tive who holds de­grees from Stan­ford and Har­vard, says that some 400 stu­dents from around the globe have gone through the pro­gram, launch­ing 220 com­pa­nies and scor­ing $22 mil­lion in sup­port from him­self and other in­vestors.

View­ers of “Startup U” will see the stu­dents as they en­counter “hard truths, tough lessons and plenty of drama” while pre­par­ing to present their ideas to a panel of hun­gry ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists. Most of the stu­dents, Draper says, “are do­ing re­ally great things,” but a cou­ple of them are “a lit­tle lost in the pro­gram.” As for hav­ing a cam­era crew on cam­pus, the dis­trac­tions were min­i­mal.

“Ac­tu­ally, I think peo­ple worked at a higher level be­cause they knew the cam­eras were run­ning,” he says.

This is not Draper’s first run-in with tele­vi­sion. His sis­ter Polly starred on the ABC drama “thir­tysome­thing” and later cre­ated the Nick­elodeon se­ries “The Naked Broth­ers Band” — a show on which Draper had a guest role as a school prin­ci­pal.

“Startup U,” he claims, has the po­ten­tial to in­spire, as well as en­ter­tain.

“This is the real deal. It’s not a game show,” he says. “I think some peo­ple will watch it and say, ‘Wait a minute. I can change the world.’ ”

ABC FAM­ILY/TIM NEELY

Draper Univer­sity founder Tim Draper emerges from a pool in the first episode of “Startup U,” a new re­al­ity se­ries pre­mier­ing Tues­day.

JOHN GREEN/STAFFARCHIVES

Some 400 stu­dents from around the globe, such as Chip Forsythe, left, and Zac Mau­rais have gone through “Startup U.”

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