Galvanize: More Than An Incubator, Not Quite An MBA

Jim Deters headshotGalvanize founder and CEO Jim Deters doesn’t think all that much about business plans. For him, it’s all about execution. “Business plans are a joke,” he says emphatically. “Just to write a plan on a piece of paper is intellectual. Can you make that plan come to life?”

That’s exactly what Galvanize is looking to do: help entrepreneurs turn their ideas into viable companies. “We’re trying to solve as many problems for an entrepreneur as possible,” he says. It’s part of a movement toward what Deters calls “a la carte education,” where people pick up the skills they want at various institutions. By contrast, he believes, business school is a prix fixe meal.

At first, Galvanize sounds a bit like an incubator, an organization that gives fledgling startups low-rent workspaces in exchange for equity. But Deters’ organization goes beyond that, providing startups with access to mentors, events and even coding classes without making judgment calls about the future profitability of their enterprises. The coding classes aren’t cheap—a six-month program in web development costs $20,000—but students can ask for their money back if they don’t find full-time developer positions that pay at least $60,000 a year. It’s hard to imagine business schools offering refunds.


Many people pursue MBAs for the networking opportunities. On the digital front, Galvanize gives MBA programs a run for their money. The space houses about 100 tech companies, including well-known ones like Uber and Forkly. Being surrounded by innovation “is like having the wind at your back,” Deters maintains.

Galvanize also houses about five business school graduates. Deters called them the “unhappily employed.” He gave the example of one Stern grad: though the NYU alum worked at several large computer science firms, he wanted to do something with more personal meaning. He’s now working at CardFlight, a startup that “connects mobile developers with payment processors,” according to its CrunchBase profile. It was founded in February and has three employees. “He absolutely hit his bulls eye,” Deters said.

Deters emphasizes that Galvanize isn’t an MBA replacement. If anything, it’s an alternative to a computer science degree. “I like people that have a great business background that want to learn software engineering,” Deters said.


Still, he makes a case for skipping out on the MBA. “The problem with education is that it’s not practical,” he said. “Experience counts for everything.”

Deters himself carved a path to success almost entirely through experience. His starting point wasn’t exactly lofty. “I basically realized at a pretty young age that I wasn’t employable,” he said. As a 20-year-old, he saw business as a way to change the world, but he didn’t have a good entry point. “If I wanted to do something significant, I would have to build my own stuff,” he said.

Deters wants to make that path easier for others. “One of the things we talk about is empowering people to do their own thing,” he says. There’s certainly a market for that these days. Inspired by the success stories of once-scrappy startups like Facebook and Tumblr, more people than ever are willing to circumnavigate traditional education and build their own credentials. “Will that happen with MBAs too? My assumption is yes,” Deters said.

For tech-oriented entrepreneurs, perhaps Galvanize makes more sense than business school. Plunging into the startup world is risky under any circumstances, but if things don’t work out at Galvanize, there’s at least one way to cope: the front of the building is a bar.


Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.