Photo: Tim Neely / ABC Family

Should You Enroll In Startup U?

Or is Tim Draper's competitive-reality entrepreneur academy all wet?

What is this thing?

Ten entrepreneurial young adults ages 18-30 attend Draper University, a startup/entrepreneurship school founded by billionaire Tim Draper; Draper and "entrepreneurs in residence" mentor the biztestants for seven weeks. At the end of the course, the Best In Class startup idea gets seed money.

So, Shark Tank Profit Camp.

When is it on?

Tuesdays at 10 PM on ABC Family.

Why now?

Shark Tank does great for ABC (I assume; a given season is, like, 428 episodes, and I can't imagine the network would allow that if ratings sucked), but I suspect it skews old. The focus on millennials lets Startup U capitalize on the network family's biz-dev-TV successes elsewhere but pull in a younger demo.

What's its pedigree?

Production company Ugly Brother is behind Hardcore Pawn, Bar Rescue, and others. Tim Draper and his insane eyebrows claim to have "invented" things like Hotmail, Skype, and viral marketing. One of the biztestants is a former Miss USA.


The first episode is kind of pilot-y -- introducing the biztestants; contrived activities; myriad lengthy talking-head reactions to Tim Draper doing self-help-book "crazy" shit like jumping in a swimming pool with his suit on to illustrate how you have to think different, or whatever the hell.

But it's also about introducing the startup concepts, and walking the viewer through the process of taking "that's a great idea" to "this is the functionality" and "this is the valuation, these are the growth targets." The concepts vary in relative usefulness -- I will download Ana's Nailed It app right now if it means a manicurist will come to my house ten minutes later; Carly's "Pretty Litter" colored cat litter strikes me as, at best, a solution in search of a problem -- and some of the biztestants have good ideas but the names need fine-tuning, or they don't know how to shape them into one-minute pitches, or they can't react to questions on the fly. The EIRs ask good questions, don't try to create Simon Cowell-type meanness drama, and stand in well for the viewer's questions about various projects.

And it's a competition reality show, but nobody's going to get eliminated. It's what I call, for lack of a better term, a longitudinal experience; Startup U understands that it can't Apprentice the aspiring entrepreneurs with immaterial activities and then hope to gauge the fitness of their concepts or their business aptitude.


I didn't say there aren't any immaterial activities, alas. The volleyball "challenge" in the first episode, in which Draper hopes to inspire and assess the biztestants' creativity based on the "game-changing" (haw) rules they make up to improve the sport, might work as an in-person exercise, but as TV comes off cheesy and tedious. The show marks those segments pretty clearly, though, making them easy to fast-forward.


If only to see whether the guy doing the medical-marijuana delivery app receives my "change the name from 'Relieve' to 'RELEAF'" brain waves, I'm in.

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