Not so long ago, it was engineers that ruled the Valley—the brilliant minds that solved practical problems like, how do you make a payment on the web? But increasingly, as powerful software technology becomes more accessible, we’re seeing the industry turn to designers to found the next wave of innovative companies.
Today, mega VC firm New Enterprise Associates (NEA)—which wields about $13 billion in investments across hundreds of companies, from TiVo to 23andMe—has announced a design mentorship of their own, called NEA Studio.
"When a consumer gets a product, it’s usually because of the design of it. They have that resonation with a product in the first 10 seconds," NEA Partner Dayna Grayson tells Co.Design. "I feel like, if you’re really going to design a product and make it inherent at a company, it has to start at a founder level. So if the designer wants to be the founder, why not?"
The program will bring roughly five designers into a stipended work space in Union Square, and over 12 weeks, these designers will have a chance to actualize their ideas under the guidance of designer mentors and NEA’s own investors. It’s basically a crash course in building a product and becoming an entrepreneur, all in one.
The entire arrangement is fairly informal. NEA retains no ownership over created companies, there’s no structured curriculum, and there are no classes. Instead, NEA wants to connect inductees with advisers from Behance, Ideo, New York’s School of Visual Arts, TripAdvisor, and Barbarian Group. Through weekly lunches and other meetings, they hope to facilitate "a-ha" moments between mentors and startups.
"For any entrepreneur starting a company, they’ve had an eye opening experience along a way—a conversation with an adviser that moves their business forward in leaps and bounds in 10 minutes," Grayson says. "Our goal is to create those 10-minute experiences weekly."
So what’s in it for NEA? They hope to find, and even co-develop, the next generation of design-focused companies worthy of their investments. And while only a small handful of individuals will be chosen, if you’re a designer with an idea in the consumer, mobile, or enterprise space, you can apply now through March 31, 2013.
[ILLUSTRATION: Abstract via Shutterstock]