Interview with Ken Rutkowski, The Founder Institute

Story by Stan Holt


The Founder Institute (, an entrepreneurial training program that originally launched by Adeo Ressi in Silicon Valley, recently announced that it is setting up shop in Southern California, with branches both in San Diego and Los Angeles. Ken Rutkowski is the man making happen here. As President of the L.A. chapter of the Media, Entertainment and Technology Alliance (METal) and the voice of KenRadio's World Technology Roundup on CBS Radio, Rutkowski has recruited a roster of mentors to coach entrepreneurs who enroll in the institute's programs in LA. We caught up with Ken to learn more about what he's hoping to do with the Founders Institute in Los Angeles, and to find out what the Institute is all about and what it can do for local entrepreneurs. The institute is in the midst of accepting applications for the program, due at the end of the month, for programs running from March through June.

What do participants get out of the Founder Institute?

Ken Rutkowski: It's like a small MBA tailored to entrepreneurs and delivered in three and a half months. You learn everything important about getting your business started, including topics like how to raise capital, manage your resources and use your intellectual property. The structure is weekly classes, but with office hours and additional access to your mentors. There are also some very practical perks, like help incorporating your business from [well known Silicon Valley VC law firm) Wilson Sonsini. That's a process that usually costs $10,000-$15,000 by the time you're done, and Wilson Sonsini is providing it to Founder Institute entrepreneurs for $1,000.

What does the Founder Institute cost?

Ken Rutkowski: $600. And then another $4,500 if you get at least $50,000 in funding. You also provide the Institute, the mentors and your classmates with warrants on 3.5% of your stock, which means everyone in your class has a vested interest in your success.

What role do the mentors play?

Ken Rutkowski: They are the key to the entire program. When you think back on a successful career, college and grad school are important, but it's really your mentors who made the difference. The mentors at the L.A. version of the Founder Institute are an amazing bunch, with people like Peter Gruber (CEO, Mandalay Entertainment), Michael Robertson (CEO/Founder, MP3tunes) and Kelly Perdew (CEO, and winner of season two of The Apprentice). They share their experiences and feedback in a class setting and then offer additional help to particular entrepreneurs through follow-on exchanges online and off. You cannot get that breadth and depth of perspective anywhere else.

Does Founder Institute focus on any particular business categories?

Ken Rutkowski: The main emphasis is on media, entertainment and technology companies, like with METal, but that's still a pretty broad range. For example, there's an idea for an events company we're considering.

Do entrepreneurs need to have a particular idea in mind to participate?

Ken Rutkowski: No. You can bring one in if you want, but our feeling is that smart people with have good ideas, and it can come out of the learning process in the classes. I should also mention that there is a test that you need to pass to be admitted and it's not easy. We're looking for the best.

What is your official role at the Founder Institute?

Ken Rutkowski: I am the local partner for the Institute, which means that I am the facilitator, pulling in mentors, choosing entrepreneurs and producing the classes. It's an amazing program; I'm really excited to be in the middle of it.



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