The Area 120 incubator would let curious Googlers work on new ideas full-time.
It’s hard to swing a stick in Silicon Valley without hitting startups created by ex-Google employees determined
to bring their clever (though only sometimes successful) ideas to light. That’s good for innovation, but lousy for Google — and the search giant now appears bent on doing what it can to keep those curious minds in-house. The Information‘s sources understand that Google is creating Area 120, a startup incubator that would let some employees pursue their “20% projects” (those personal projects Google allows in a fifth of your working hours) full-time. Anyone wanting to sign up would submit a business plan and, if accepted, spend several months working solely on that idea. You could scratch that inventor’s itch without worrying that you’ll lose your cushy Google job if it it doesn’t pan out.
The company isn’t confirming anything yet, and it’s not clear exactly when Area 120 would be open for business. Having said that, an incubator wouldn’t be surprising. Google’s existing attempts at fostering a startup-like culture don’t always stop people from jumping ship — just ask the ATAP team, which just lost its leader to Facebook. And in a few cases, defectors go on to found companies that directly undermine Google. Kevin Systrom, for instance, worked two years at Google before the eventual creation of Instagram and its acquisition by (you guessed it) Facebook.
The catch, as The Information notes, is that this idea nursery might not be enough. It’s relatively easy to raise funds in the current Silicon Valley climate, and the freedom of going it alone may prove more tempting than Google’s safety net. However, it could be worthwhile for the internet pioneer if even one big new idea stays within its walls.