Cory Levy publicly announced Z Fellows this week, a program which is accepting 10 first-time founders for its inaugural cohort in January.

Cory Levy’s investing strategy is to find promising, first-time technical founders before anyone else.
His pre-seed fund First Text encourages founders to text Levy’s public cell phone number and make their startup pitch. If he likes the idea, Levy invests one of the first checks into the company before referring them to his larger network of established executives and VCs, like Founders Fund general partner Keith Rabois or AngelList cofounder Naval Ravikant. 
Since launching First Text last year, Levy landed an early investment in Vise, an investment advising startup that just closed a $45 million Series B round of funding led by Sequoia Capital.
Now, Levy is launching Z Fellows, a one-week boot camp aimed at helping entrepreneurs turn their ideas into real companies. The program will accept ten fellows for its inaugural January cohort, and the application window closes on January 15. 
Z Fellows will pay for the incorporation of each fellow’s company and offer a $10,000 investment, too, which would convert into stock at its next priced round. First Text’s limited partners are providing funding for the program, Levy said. 
Other perks include one-on-one office hours and speaker events with established investors and founders like Rabois and Ravikant, as well as Marc Randolph, who cofounded Netflix, and Sean Rad, who created Tinder. The program’s mentors also include rising early-stage entrepreneurs like DoNotPay founder Josh Browder, Scale AI cofounder Lucy Guo, and Figma cofounder Dylan Field.
Levy is an entrepreneur himself, having created the teen social network After School, which Rabois, Ravikant, and Randolph backed and which acqui-hired in 2019 (the process of acquiring a company primarily to recruit its employees). 
The 29-year-old investor says the goal of Z Fellows is to provide an intensive week to help aspiring founders experiment — without needing to quit their job or schooling — to see if they might be willing to go all-in on an idea. Programs like the Thiel Fellowship, which pays students under 23 a hefty $100,000 to drop out of school and pursue entrepreneurial work, are oftentimes too risky for many young founders to seriously consider, Levy says.
There is no age limit for Z Fellows, though the program is geared towards younger people. 
“I realized that a lot of people are in that position where they may be working on some stuff, tinkering on stuff, and they are in school full-time. There’s no dedicated program to serve that community of people,” he told Business Insider.
But that doesn’t mean their ideas can’t turn into billion-dollar companies, he insists. 
“When I speak to my friends that have started really big companies, they were winging it at the very beginning,” he said. “They were working on multiple things. They were confused.”
Levy cited Hebbia founder George Sivulka as an example. The two met through Levy’s First Text, while Sivulka was still an undergraduate at Stanford and before he launched his startup, which runs an artificial intelligence-powered search extension tool for Google’s Chrome browser that makes it easier for people to parse through information. 
Sivulka met Floodgate’s Ann Miura-Ko at an office hours event First Text hosted, and the investor then led Hebbia’s $1.1 million pre-seed round a few months later, with Levy and Peter Thiel participating in the round as well. 
Levy says First Text was an extension of much of the work he was already doing as an angel investor. In 2018, for example, he met Vise cofounders Samir Vasavada and Runik Mehrotra, when the two reached out to him via text message looking for funding opportunities. He connected the two founders to Rabois the next year, who then co-led the company’s $2 million seed round, which Levy participated in as well.
(Rabois actually inspired the idea of First Text, too: When Levy was studying computer science and working on After School part time, Rabois agreed to provide funding over a tweet.)
Levy hopes the batch of Z Fellows in January will be the first of many cohorts, and he ultimately believes that the program will strengthen the early-stage ecosystem’s ability to support first-time founders. 
“I love to help propel that crowd of people that are undiscovered,” he said, “And I hope to continue doing it.”
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