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Draper proposes startup incubator
November 20, 2012, 05:00 AM By Bill Silverfarb Daily Journal staff

Tim Draper

Draper University of Heroes in downtown San Mateo is ready to accept its second class of students — this time in an "advanced entrepreneur incubator” where selected participants will be able to refine and launch their business ideas after the four-week pilot is complete.

The university launched this summer with its first pilot program and the second pilot program, set to start Dec. 14, will provide university officials an opportunity to refine their formal application to the city to create an advanced entrepreneurship experience at the Collective Antiques building site on Third Avenue.

The first pilot was held exclusively in the old Benjamin Franklin Hotel on Third Avenue, across the street from the Collective Antiques building, which Tim Draper, the university’s founder, bought earlier this year. If Draper’s plans pass muster with the city, the university will ultimately operate out of three buildings, including the old Wachovia Bank site on Fourth Avenue and hold multiple 10-week programs throughout the year.

Draper and his project team will host a neighborhood meeting tonight to discuss the temporary pilot program at the hotel, located at 44 E. Third Ave. The incubator program is designed to support the successful development of startups through an array of business support resources and collaborative mentoring with the university’s network of contacts.

Recently, the city just relaxed its downtown retail requirements that mandated storefronts on ground floors be used solely for retail purposes.

Before the city relaxed the rules, however, the former owners of the Collective Antiques building, the Musich family, asked the city for a variance to allow a startup, SnapLogic, to operate on the ground floor.

Some residents, however, urged the City Council not to grant the variance to keep downtown pedestrian and retail oriented.

The city denied the request before Draper bought the building and much speculation has centered around the plans for the Collective Antiques building. The Planning Commission asked Draper to fine-tune the proposal for the Collective Antiques building before facing the commission again sometime in early 2013.

Former planning commissioner Maxine Terner opposed granting the variance for SnapLogic and wants to make sure the Collective Antiques building maintains a retail character in line with city law.

So far, she is unimpressed with the university’s plans for the former antique shop and laments the loss of the "most historic, iconic retail building in downtown.”

Retail, she said, has already suffered downtown with the arrival of the university and other property owners in the area could seek to displace retail with office use based on how the city deals with Draper.

"It’s the domino effect,” said Terner, who plans to follow Draper’s permit process to its finale.

Draper plans to keep SnapLogic as a tenant but may move it out of the basement at the Collective Antiques building onto the ground floor. Retail use is planned for the site but university officials have yet to finalize the details.

Draper’s larger vision is to create a "whole entrepreneurial ecosystem” that will benefit both San Mateo, its residents and businesses, said Carol Lo, the university’s chief operating officer.

Draper has said previously he expects some of his students to establish startups in the area after completing the course.

The second pilot program for advanced students will be limited to 40 participants and will be staffed by two administrators, all of whom will live and work in the Benjamin Franklin hotel. Lessons learned from the pilot will be incorporated into the formal Draper University proposal, which is currently in development and will be submitted separately to the city for review.

Draper is the founder of the venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson and funded Hotmail, Skype and Baidu in their infancies.

The neighborhood meeting is 6 p.m., tonight, 44 E. Third Ave., San Mateo.

Bill Silverfarb can be reached by email: or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 106.

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