Hands-on experience is an excellent -- if sometimes disappointing -- way to learn about starting a business. Learning from the mistakes and successes of those who have already done what you are working to do, though, offers a shortcut around some of the more hard-learned lessons. If that shortcut sounds like what your startup needs, then The Founder Institute may be just the program you're looking for.

The Founder Institute offers training targeted at startup founders through weekly sessions spanning four months. The program, which is limited to between thirty and fifty founders per semester, trains participants in a variety of important areas, including intellectual property, naming/branding, legal issues, hiring/firing, marketing and publicity, and, of course, financing a startup. Founders also have the opportunity to network with like-minded individuals, form relationships with mentors and potential partners, and connect with angel investors and venture capitalists.

The program is a far cry from the common conference seminar -- weekly sessions last three and a half hours, and carry some five to ten hours of outside coursework. Attendance is mandatory, though the lineup of instructors is reason enough to attend diligently. The Institute's Mentor list includes the CEOs of Evernote, Mint.com, Socialtext, FairSoftware, and Scribd, founders from Moonshoot, Hit Forge, and YouNoodle, and executives from Facebook and A9.com.

The Institute encourages founders to apply for the program as early as possible -- entries for the current semester, Winter 2009, have closed, however. A $600 course fee applies to all founders accepted into the program, along with a $50 application fee. The feed subsidize the costs incurred by the Institute, both operating expenses and the cost of presenting sessions.

Funding for the Institute is also provided by its "shared warrant pool." At the conclusion of the program, founders who wish to be certified as a graduate are invited to participate in this pool by granting The Founder Institute warrants representing a 3.5% stake in their company. "The Institute distributes the majority of the value generated from the warrants back to program, Founders and Mentors," reads the program's website, "The remaining portion of the warrants can be used by the Institute to participate in financings at fair market market value."

Though applications are not yet being accepted for the next semester, interested parties can contact the Institute through the program's website.