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It’s amazing to me that Techstars is now 7 years old. We are involved in over 300 active companies who have now raised over $400 million. 27 of them have been acquired. They’ve created over 2,000 jobs. And we are just getting started.
There’s some awesome classic footage from the last 7 years in the 3:37 video below. Enjoy. And thanks to EVERYONE who has been part of the Techstars community – we wouldn’t exist without you.
Techstars has launched another “powered by” accelerator, this time with Sprint around mobile health. It’s based in Kansas City (Sprint’s headquarters) and is our fourth powered by Techstars accelerator, joining Nike, Kaplan, and R/GA.
I’m an enormous fan of four things about the Sprint Accelerator – what we call “PBTS” (powered by Techstars), mobile health, Kansas City, and Sprint.
The PBTS strategy is one we started working on in 2012. We knew that we would continue to expand Techstars geographically (in 2013 we’ve added London, Austin, and Chicago). At the same time we were talking to a lot of large companies with outstanding brands about building accelerators specifically around their ecosystems. It dawned on us that the dynamics of an accelerator could work as well for building innovation and new company’s around a particular company/product ecosystem as it could for a city. So far the results have been awesome with outstanding companies coming out of the Nike+ Accelerator and the Kaplan EdTech Accelerator.
As an investor in Fitbit, I’m an enormous believer in quantified self. As the son of a doctor who is obsessed with repairing the healthcare system I’m regularly subjected to hearing about the massive flaws in today’s healthcare system. My dad has beaten into my head that my healthcare is my responsibility, and I’ve become an enormous believer in consumer-driven healthcare. I’ve never been interested in investing in medical devices, but I’m very interested in the consumerization of the medical device industry. And the intersection point of many of these ideas for me is mobile health.
Kansas City has a special place in my heart. I’ve spent a lot of time there over the years, going back to the mid-1990s when I was an entrepreneur-in-residence at the Kauffman Foundation. I bought a house there last year to experiment with Google Fiber in the middle of the Kansas City Startup Village. While I don’t like BBQ or the Kansas City Chiefs, I like the people a lot and think it has one of the most exciting growing startup communities in the United States.
Sprint makes me smile. Many of you know that I have a long history and relationship with Softbank, which just acquired Sprint. I’m very loyal to my friends at Softbank and love any opportunity to work with them – directly or indirectly. Sprint was my first long distance carrier – if I think hard enough I can probably remember my Sprint calling card number – and I used it many times to call my parents and my ex-wife when I was at school at MIT. And Sprint is a great US entrepreneurial story that traces its roots to the Brown Telephone Company in Abilene, KS in 1899.
This is going to be a fun one! Applications are open.
I was having a conversion on Friday with Brad Bernthal, an Associate Professor at Colorado Law School who directs the Silicon Flatirons Center’s Entrepreneurship Initiative. Brad and I – in addition to sharing a first name – are close friends. We were talking about the recent amazing Techstars Demo Day that we had just had in Boulder, and Brad – in a professorial tone – started hypothesizing about the importance of Techstars in the Boulder startup community. We went back and forth a little and I encouraged him to put it in writing so I could use it as fodder for a blog post. He did me one better, and wrote a guest post. It follows.
It is time to consider the following question: When we look back, where will Techstars fit into the narrative of Boulder entrepreneurship history?
This question will not keep many of the entrepreneurs in Boulder up late at night. Looking forward – not back – is the Boulder startup community’s natural disposition. But sometimes we need to understand where things fit in and what they mean in the bigger scheme. During Techstars 2013 Boulder Demo Day, led by Managing Director Luke Beatty – who skillfully took the baton from Nicole Glaros – it occurred to me that reflection is now warranted.
Full disclosure: I am a Techstars mentor as well as a CU Associate Professor of Law, which makes me a weirdly situated participant/observer, and I’m admittedly rooting for Boulder. I am also not a historian and, from time to time, my prognostication skills are suspect. (Indeed I five years ago predicted the return of short shorts – 1980s style – in the NBA. No players appear to have received that memo.) With that, here some thoughts on how Techstars will be viewed in Boulder startup history.
Is it time to think about Techstars as historically significant in Colorado? Yes, it is. Techstars was one of the pioneers of the mentor-driven, time limited, entrepreneurial supercollider known as the Accelerator. Techstars now belongs in the company of other Front Range pioneers who helped craft an industry, a list which includes natural foods leaders folks – who built companies such as Celestial Seasonings, Wild Oats, and Alfalfa’s – and early movers in the disk storage industry, most notably StorageTek and its progeny. The first Techstars class matriculated in 2007. Six years later, TechStars is a global operation and, more fundamentally, the accelerator model is among the decade’s most important entrepreneurial innovations. Irrespective of what happens to Techstars ahead, development of the accelerator as a global industry ensures that Techstars will remain historically relevant.
How important is Techstars’ economic impact? TBD, but traditional metrics won’t capture its benefits. It is premature to say where Techstars will rank, in terms of regional economic impact, on a historic scale in Colorado’s Front Range. Techstars is a magnet for creative class talent. But it is not itself a huge employer relative to other area homegrown companies like Level 3 or StorageTek, or even rising companies like Zayo, Rally, LogRhythm, and SendGrid. Techstars’ geographically dispersed structure shares the wealth across multiple startup communities spanning Seattle to London. As a result, as Techstars scales up, its direct local economic benefits– unlike a Microsoft in Seattle, Google in Mountain View, or Dell in Austin – are realized in several locations, not primarily one.
My bet is that the geographically networked aspect of Techstars will emerge as its long term gift to Boulder. Traditional metrics of employees and annual revenues won’t capture Techstars’ most important impacts. In reputational benefits to Colorado, the near term impact is already outsized. Long term, as Anno Saxenian explains, the value of cross-regional connections – whereby one location is closely tied by personal relationships to other geographic startup locations – is a crucial advantage for 21st Century innovation hubs. Boulder is comparatively not well situated to have large scale immigration ties a la Silicon Valley or New York. But Techstars generates tremendous cross-regional connectivity for Boulder to other startups communities. My prediction is that cultivation of cross-regional networks will be Techstars’ biggest economic impact.
What will TechStars mean? Intergenerational connections in entrepreneurship. Techstars as a movie script pitch: company attract wicked smart next generation talent and pairs them with their elders. Mr. Miyage / Daniel with mouse clicks. Sparks ensue. Like many successes, this formula seems obvious in the rear view mirror. But building trusted networks is hard work that takes a deft touch. And the intergenerational network at the heart of Techstars sets a community norm that those who have success should pay it forward to the next generation. This resonates as Techstars’ long term significance.
R/GA is part of Interpublic Group of Companies, one of four global ad holding companies, and is the most award-winning agency in the digital world today. R/GA creates advertising and marketing products based in technology and design and has earned countless accolades over the years, including Advertising Age’s “Digital A-List” and “Agencies of the Decade.” They are the force behind the opening title sequence for 1978′s Superman to 2006′s Nike+ platform to 2010′s HBO Go connected device.
The Internet has rapidly expanded beyond desktop, server, laptop, and mobile computers and connected itself to many of the different devices in our everyday life. We’ve been investing in this area since we started Foundry Group in 2007 through our human computer interaction theme and recently added an investment in Dragon Innovation into the mix. It’s super exciting to me to do an accelerator program specifically around connected devices with Techstars.
Founders accepted into the program will have access to the Techstars mentor network and executives from R/GA’s team as well as $120K in funding, co-location space provided by R/GA in NYC, design and development support from talented designers and devs, and the opportunity to pitch to an invite-only launch presentation in Austin at SxSWi and at a demo day for angels and VCs in NYC.
If you’re a founder or startup focused on an innovative idea for a product and/or service in the connected devices space, please consider applying. Applications are open today and due October 11th. Apply now at rgaaccelerator.com.
Fred Wilson had a post yesterday titled Mentor/Investor Whiplash. His recommendations for dealing with it can be summarized as “collect all the data, think about it, discount what investors have to say, and ultimately listen to what the market is telling you over what advisors / investors tell you.”
I then read through the comments on the post and was bummed out. Many missed the point of what I thought Fred was trying to say. Then I reread the post more carefully and noticed how he framed the issue. The paragraph that caught my attention was:
I call this constant advising/mentoring of early stage startups “mentor/investor whiplash” and I think it is a big problem. Not just with the accelerator programs but across the early stage/seed startup landscape.
I bolded “I think it is a big problem” – that clearly set the tone for the comments.
I disagree with Fred. It’s not a big problem. It’s the essence of one of things an accelerator program is trying to teach the entrepreneurs going through it. Specifically, building muscle around processing data and feedback, and making your own decisions.
At Techstars, we view mentor whiplash as a positive attribute. We talk about it openly – all the time. I believe that if you ask five mentors the same question you’ll get seven different answers. This is especially true early in any relationship, when the mentors are just getting to know you and your company.
That’s good. That’s how business works. As an entrepreneur you get an endless stream of conflicting data on every issue. Your job is to sort the signal from the noise. Tools like Lean Launchpad and the concept of Lean Startup can help early on, but in some cases they’ll just collect more conflicting data, or validate (or invalidate) a particular hypothesis.
As the business grows, there are more points of stimuli, more agendas, more exogenous factors, and more potential whiplash. If you don’t build your own muscle around collecting, synthesizing, dealing with, and decided what to do with all the data that is coming at you, then you are going to have massive problems as your company scales up. So learning how to do this early on your journey is very powerful.
I view the accelerator environment, at least what we are creating at Techstars, to be an example of a safe environment. It’s an artificial construct that includes a massive amplification of stimuli and data over a short period of time (90 days) from people who – as mentors – should have the ultimate goal of being helpful to you. Now, every mentor – and investor – who you interact with – has their own emotional and intellectual construct of what they are doing and how they are interacting with you. That’s another layer of the positive impact – you have guides (your lead mentors, the people running the accelerator) who can help you decode the feedback. Your peers are interacting with the same mentors – often on the same day – and a short conversation with some of them can help you calibrate quickly.
Now apply Fred’s points (per my summary):
Collect all the data, think about it, discount what investors have to say, and ultimately listen to what the market is telling you over what advisors / investors tell you.
At Techstars, we repeat over and over again the following mantra to the entrepreneurs going through the accelerator.
It’s just data. It’s your company.
If you are in an accelerator, don’t be afraid of mentor whiplash. Don’t view it as a negative. Embrace it. Build muscle around it. Learn to process it. Filter out the noise. Run experiments on the stuff that seems valid to confirm or deny it. Make your own decisions!