Food Incubators, Weed Accelerators, and Other Strange Growth Hack Programs

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Growing Muses

Tech incubators and accelerators don’t have to be one-size fits all. In recent years, startup programs have grown to accommodate everything from marijuana to media and entertainment.

Where There’s Smoke
Gone are the days when a search for “marijuana incubator” could result in your landing on some DEA watch list. As increasing legalization fuels a Green Rush, cannabis companies have grown like weeds.

The curiously-named Oakland incubator Gateway provides cannabis innovators with $60,000 in seed funding (for 6% equity) as well as a four-month mentorship program. Canopy San Diego and Philadelphia’s Greenhouse Ventures offer support to cannabis ancillary startups.

marijuana incubator

And let’s not forget about Colorado, the first state to legalize marijuana. Green Labs Denver is both a coworking space for pot startups and business accelerator. Just 30 minutes north, CanopyBoulder (no relation to the San Diego org) offers a 16-week program.

Wish Upon a Star
Promising access to some of the biggest names in the entertainment industry as well as the coolest media properties imaginable, the Disney Accelerator launched in 2014. The media and entertainment oriented program has graduated companies like Sphero (famed for their BB-8 droid toy).

The accelerator is moving toward working with later-stage companies. The successful electronics building blocks startup littleBits (with more than $40 million in funding already in the bank) was accepted to the program in July.

Disney Accelerator

Fast Food
Many community kitchens have also adopted a food incubator model to help clients create successful businesses. Food-X and Hot Bread Kitchen, both in New York, have successfully graduated dozens of startups like Marker Coffee and Training Meals. And the spirits and cocktails accelerator Distill Ventures has partnered with alcohol giant Diageo to give entrepreneurs a hand up.

San Francisco’s La Cocina is a nonprofit venture that works with low-income entrepreneurs to help them develop their foodie businesses. The Begin New Venture Center in St. Louis helps incubate food businesses founded by the homeless or those who are committed to hiring from the organization’s employment or mental health programs.

Gone But Not Forgotten
Alongside short-lived corporate ventures such as the Nike+ Accelerator and Red Bull Amplifier, the pages of TechCrunch are littered with strange, smaller accelerators that have gone the way of the dodo.

Startup Castle is perhaps the most infamous. Housed in a 17,000-square foot mansion, the program gained notoriety in 2015 with requirements like “exercise at least 15 hours in a normal week” and not having more than one tattoo. Only a month later it was revealed the Startup Castle was getting evicted.

startup castle

And Unreasonable at Sea, which combined the accelerator model with a semester at sea, launched in 2012 for an around-the-world voyage that combined mentorship and international mentoring. While the Unreasonable’s portfolio of companies is still going strong, it appears the biz cruise anchored sometime after January 2015.


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