Immersive Labs

Startup mating rituals 101

April 15, 2011: 1:51 PM ET

An anthropological technography of the strange, ritualized world where startups sell themselves to venture capitalists: Demo Day.

The male at work

The male at work

FORTUNE -- As more people have fled to the startup community for the promise of wealth and freedom, a new tier of gatekeepers have emerged. They're called "incubators," and their imprimatur is tantamount to a college degree. It's like getting a degree from Harvard or MIT, explains David Cohen, the co-founder of TechStars, one of the more successful incubators in the country.

By ceding 6% of their company, startups get an investor, credibility in the startup community, and communion with other founders who are going through the same masochistic slog as they are. The incubators, meanwhile, get a set number of entrepreneurs to mentor and perhaps turn into successful businesses. After a few months of grooming, mentor and founder can then summon hundreds of people to watch their company's official introduction to society.

Techno-types have a name for this strange ritual: Demo Day. It's a highly structured and ritualized tradition with a set form, language, and hierarchy. The routine is universal: After months of isolation, sleepless nights, and marathon coding sessions, the time finally arrives for the young startups to reemerge and show how they've matured. More

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