Today’s #GivingThanks is to David Cohen, one of the founders and co-CEO of Techstars. If David has done something that has touched your life is a positive way and you want to give thanks to him, make a donation online to the Techstars Foundation.
I met David on one of my random days in 2006. I can’t remember who introduced us, but David reminds me that it took him four months to get a meeting with me. He knew he had 15 minutes so he got right down to it as is his nature. We were in my old Superior office (the one about the liquor store where I met Lucy Sanders and so many other great people for the first time.) We said hello, David introduced himself to me, and we sat down. David then slid something across the table and sat silently while I read it.
It was a folded piece of paper that looked liked it had been printed on a color printer at a Kinkos. I opened it in its three-fold glory and read an overview of a thing called TechStars (yes – I immediately noticed the CamelCase) with a logo at the top that closely resembles today’s logo. I had an immediate positive reaction.
When I looked up, David gave me a little more background. He told me we were co-investors in a few companies as angel investors. He then explained why he wasn’t enjoying being an angel investor the way he was then doing it. Remember, it’s 2006 and angel investing is not trendy. In fact, early stage investing in general is in the dog house for many investors, both angels and VCs, as they are still remembering the pain from the collapse of the Internet bubble. While we had at least two angel groups in the Denver/Boulder area in 2006, they were more of a combination of a cocktail party combined with an entrepreneur torture chamber. Founders came in, pitched a bunch of angel investors, got ask a bunch of questions, went away, but rarely ended up with any investment. David had participated but realized that very few angels were writing checks and, when they did, the entrepreneurs didn’t get engaged investors.
David had a vision to change that. He said he wanted to raise about $200,000 to get it started. He was personally putting in $80,000. At about the ten minute mark, I told him that as long as he wasn’t a flake or a crook, I was in for $50,000. He then told me that David Brown (now co-CEO of Techstars), who had been his partner in their first company (Pinpoint Software), would likely do $50,000. I said that was awesome and I’d make a few phone calls and see if I could round up the rest.
After David left, I called Jared Polis. I had met Jared a decade earlier (via an introduction from my first business partner, Dave Jilk) and we had become good friends and co-investors in a handful of companies. I told Jared I was investing $50,000 in a new thing called Techstars that I’d like to see if he wanted to invest in with me. He responded, “Sure, count me in for $50,000. What is it?” And, like that, we had raised the money for the first Techstars Boulder program which ran in 2007.
A decade later, I’m comfortable asserting that Techstars has had a significant positive impact on entrepreneurship around the world. It’s been one of my greatest life pleasures to be involved in it.
David, thank you for showing up in my office and inviting me to be part of Techstars. Here’s the first promotion video, which reminds me how far we’ve come.
But we have only begun. Techstars, which now runs 25 Techstars accelerator programs around the world each year, also runs over 1,000 Startup Weekends a year and 40 Startup Weeks a year. As part of our experience over the last decade, we became immersed in the issue of diversity in entrepreneurship. My work with the National Center for Women & Information Technology informed and inspired this, along with our creation of programs like Patriot Boot Camp and Rising Stars. And, the Techstars mantra of #GiveFirst, which builds on the philosophy I talked about in Startup Communities of “Give Before You Get”, has become deeply embedded in our value system.
At the end of last year, we took this to another level by creating the Techstars Foundation. The foundation mission is straightforward – to improve diversity in entrepreneurship. Our initial funding was provided by the Techstars founders and a few other people close to Techstars. Since then, we’ve done a major matching campaign that Amy and I funded, a partnership with BetaBrand that generated $85,000 in contributions, and several other fundraisers. We are closing in on the foundation having $1 million in the bank, which is an exciting start for us.
We made our first round of grants earlier this year to five organizations: Astia, Patriot Boot Camp, Defy Ventures, Change Catalyst, and Gaza Sky Geeks. I personally adopted Defy Ventures, went to prison for the day, learned an enormous amount about myself in the process, and subsequently made a significant commitment to Defy.
David is now one of my closest friends and my experience working with him and the team at Techstars is one of the most professionally rewarding things I’ve done. David – thank you.
Thanksgiving is a pensive time for me. The world slows down a little as it gets ready for the mad dash to the end of the year. Four day weekends are rare in the United States and even though the retail world is extremely busy on Friday, my Thanksgiving has a very different tempo as the email slows to a crawl, the calendar becomes empty, and Amy and I generally have a lot of hanging out time.
I’ve always thought Givingthanks should be a neologism but it never seems to stick, so I’ll roll with Thanksgiving. For the next few days as we celebrate Thanksgiving, I’m going to publicly thank a few people in my world who mean a lot to me and have given an enormous amount of themselves to others. I’m also going to give you a way to say thanks by supporting something meaningful in their world.
I’m going to start with my partner Jason Mendelson. We’ve worked together since the late 1990s, which is now pushing up against two decades. He’s become one of my closest friends and confidants. I was honored, with my other partners Seth and Ryan, to be the best men in his wedding. We have our moments, but the long arc of our relationship is one I treasure.
I’ve watched Jason have a remarkable positive influence on many. But I know that one of the activities he’s proudest of is his involvement with CU Boulder, especially around entrepreneurship. Among many other things, he has taught a class on Venture Capital at CU Law with Brad Bernthal. Last month, a group of their students put together the Jason Mendelson Entrepreneurial Award Fund.
Think about that for second – CU students and alumni of his course has put together a scholarship / award fund. That’s a testament to how much the class – and Jason’s involvement in it – impacted them. The initial fund has $50,000 in it and provides cash awards, scholarships, or stipends to students enrolled at CU Boulder who demonstrate excellence in the field of entrepreneurship.
Ok – so here’s how you can give thanks – to me or to Jason. You can contribute any amount to the Jason Mendelson Entrepreneurial Award Fund online. It’s a charitable gift and it will be helping support a student at CU around entrepreneurship.
Jason – on this Thanksgiving 2016, thank you for everything you do to make the world a better place.
For the next 90 days, Amy and I are matching every gift to the Techstars Foundation on a 1:2 basis up to $100,000 from us. Our overall goal is to raise at least $300,000 for the Techstars Foundation by the end of the summer.
If Techstars has touched you in any positive way, I’d request that you consider making a grant to the Techstars Foundation. This request includes anyone who has gone through a Techstars accelerator, done a Startup Weekend, participated in a Startup Week, receives Startup Digest, or has been a mentor or investor in any Techstars company or program. Or anyone else who has been positively motivated or influenced by Techstars in any way.
When we started Techstars in 2006, our goal was to change the way early stage company creation and innovation worked. While we didn’t have the words for it then, we’ve evolved the language and the mission of the organization over the last decade which we now summarize in the tagline “Techstars is the global ecosystem that helps entrepreneurs build great businesses”
As part of building this global ecosystem of entrepreneurs, I’ve observed and experienced a massive issue around diversity in entrepreneurship. This is not a new issue to me as I’ve been working with various organizations, such as National Center for Women & Information Technology, since 2005.
Last year, in a conversation with the Techstars leadership team, we decided to start the Techstars Foundation with the goal of improving diversity in entrepreneurship. While we were already doing lots of things internally around this, by creating the foundation we have taken it up a level, as evidenced by our first five grants that were made last month.
Amy and I decided to launch this challenge grant as part of a larger gift from us to the Techstars Foundation. We hope you join us and support our efforts.
I got a random email from Brett Hagler last Thursday asking me to help his startup New Story.
I looked at his web site and quickly told him it wasn’t something we’d be into exploring as an investment. He wrote back immediately, telling me that he wasn’t looking for investment, but had created a non-profit that used crowdfunding to finance and build life-changing houses around the world.
Our mission is to create life-changing stories that transform communities. We’re focused on funding 100 homes in 100 days in Leveque, Haiti.
I looked at the website with a different angle – one of a donor. Amy and I are huge supporter of sites like GiveForward, DonorsChoose and CrowdRise. When I took a second look from that perspective, I got excited about helping Brett out.
I just contributed $1,000 to Fenise and family.
I get asked often by readers of Feld Thoughts how they can do something for me. Let’s band together and build Fenise and family a house. We are only $5,000 away from changing the life of a family in Haiti.
Chris Moody, the former CEO of Gnip (now VP Data Strategy at Twitter) is doing a fun fundraising drive for the National Center for Women & Information Technology.
Yeah – I know it’s a little silly, but that’s Chris. Delightfully silly and huggable Chris.
I contributed $500 to match the first $500 Chris raises for NCWIT. As the chair of NCWIT, I appreciate his, and your, efforts.
For those of you out there who have asked “hey Brad, what can I do to help you”, get your picture taken with Chris and make a contribution to one of the non-profits I care the most about in this world.
Yesterday Amy and I contributed $10,000 to the MakerBot Academy campaign which is on a mission to put a MakerBot 3D printer in every school in the United States.
We did it via a contribution on Donors Choose, one of our favorite non-profit contribution sites.
We specifically finished out the funding for five MakerBots for the following teachers in their classrooms:
- Mr. Hendry – Yorba Linda High School, Yorba Linda, CA
- Mrs. Bragdon – Brownsboro Elementary School, Brownsboro, TX
- Mr. Eiland – Woodlawn High School, Baton Rouge, LA
- Mr. Condon – Decorah High School, Decorah, IA
- Mr. Colling – Coronado High School, Scottsdale, AZ
Amy and I are planning to give a lot more to this campaign, but we decided to do something tangible right now by finishing off several of the campaigns on Donors Choose.
For those of you who have asked in the past “what can I do for you Brad?”, here’s an easy one. Just go on the MakerBot Academy Donors Choose page and make a contribution of any size to one of the campaigns. You’ll be helping the next generation.
Last week Fred and Joanne Wilson announced that they are helping create a $5m seed fund to invest in computer science education in the NYC public school system.
A few weeks ago Fred sent me a note and asked if Amy and I would make a contribution from our foundation. We’d previously contributed to another project Fred and Joanne spearheaded for the Academy of Software Engineering last year. It was easy to say yes for two reasons.
– The Warren Buffett / Bill Gates Rule: Remember that Warren Buffett gave all of his money to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation because Buffett trusted Gates judgment and ability to allocate his massive philanthropic gift wisely and intelligently? We completely trust Fred and Joanne’s judgment and easily support whatever they do in areas Amy and I are interested in.
– Computer Science Education: This is one of the areas Amy and I support significantly. Two weeks ago Wellesley unveiled their new Human-Computer Interaction Lab which we underwrote. I’m chair of the National Center for Women & Information Technology. And we have a few more fun things coming soon. So the Computer Science Education Venture Fund was something that was right up our alley.
Fred and Joanne are doing this with The NYC Foundation For Computer Science Education (the executive director, Evan Korth, is a total star.) If this is interesting to you, they are hosting an event at USV on Monday, November 18, 2013 for 6pm to 8pm for those who can consider making investments of $5,000 and above due to space constraints. Separately, there will be a crowd-funded campaign to allow donations of between $50 and $4,999 for those who can’t participate at these levels.
This is another great example of private philanthropic support to help transform something really important that public funding just isn’t getting done. If this is an important area to you, I encourage you to support Fred, Joanne, Evan, and this effort. If you are willing to consider contributing at the $5,000 or great level and can attend the event at USV on Monday, November 18th, register here.
Amy and I just underwrote the renovation of Wellesley College’s new Human-Computer Interaction Lab. The picture above is a screen capture of the Wellesley College home page today (called their “Daily Shot” – they change the home page photo every day) with a photo from yesterday when Amy did the ribbon cutting on the HCI Lab.
Amy went to Wellesley (graduated in 1988) and she regularly describes it as a life changing experience. She’s on the Wellesley College Board of Trustees and is in Boston this week for a board meeting (which means I’m on dog walking duty every day.) I’m incredibly proud of her involvement with Wellesley and it’s easy to support the college, as I think it’s an amazing place.
The Wellesley HCI Lab also intersects with my deep commitment to getting more women engaged in computing. As many of you know, I’m chair of National Center for Women & Information Technology. When Amy asked if I was open to underwriting the renovation, the answer was an emphatic yes!
I’m at a Dev Ops conference today being put on by JumpCloud (I’m an investor) and SoftLayer. It’s unambiguous in my mind that the machines are rapidly taking over. As humans, we need to make it easy for anyone who is interested to get involved in human-computer interaction, as our future will be an integrated “human-computer” one. This is just another step in us supporting this, and I’m psyched to help out in the context of Wellesley.
Amy – and Wellesley – y’all are awesome.
My day started out great. After getting up at 5, having a delightful run at 6, walking Brooks, and then hanging with Amy for four minutes, I got in my car and drove over to Rally Software for their Big 1% Give Back event.
The picture to the left is of Ryan Martens, Rally’s founder and CTO, giving Josie Health, the CEO of The Community Foundation Serving Boulder County, a check for $676,000. This check is for The Community Foundation and for the Entrepreneurs Foundation of Colorado (EFCO) and results from a gift of 24,793 shares of common stock from Rally at the time of its first financing that represented approximately 1% of the equity of the company.
I remember numerous conversations with Ryan about this. Ryan started Rally (formerly F4) out of our previous office and could regularly be found scribbling all over a white board. He had a huge vision that started to be turned into practice when Tim Miller joined him as CEO about a year after he started the company. Part of that vision became the agile software development products that Rally makes.
But Ryan’s vision was always bigger than that. He wanted to build a sense of corporate social responsibility into Rally from day one. He was inspired by Salesforce.com and the Salesforce Foundation so he wanted to do something similar in Boulder – contributing 1% of the equity and 1% of the employees’ time to local philanthropic efforts.
With a handful of others, including my partner Seth Levine and Cooley’s Mike Platt, Ryan helped created the Entrepreneurs Foundation of Colorado. Rally was one of five founding members – the others were NewsGator, Collective Intellect, Me.dium, and Tendril. At the time, no one really knew how this would end up, but we all believed that it was important for the local startup community (which included companies anywhere in Colorado, not just Boulder) to give back to the community that helped support it.
We talked about creating millions of dollars of philanthropic contributions through the success of companies in Colorado over the next few decades. Some people rolled their eyes when we talked about this, some thought we were crazy, and some jumped on board. Throughout, Ryan’s leadership of EFCO was unbounded and today over 50 companies are members of EFCO.
Today’s gift represents the largest to date. Oh – that check is only for $676,000. Well the other one – for $643,000 – is the second check Josie got today – this one from an additional gift Rally made when they endowed the Rally for Impact Foundation.
Gang – well done. Thanks for leading by example. And we are only just beginning.
Today, my partners at Foundry Group and I are contributing $100,000 to the Entrepreneurs Foundation of Colorado (EFCO) to help with the Boulder Flood Relief Effort. This is our second gift to the EFCO – we previously contributed a portion of our carry across all of our funds.
The floods in Boulder and the surrounding area the past week have been devastating. I went for a run last night around town just to get a feel for things – the water is still at dangerously high and fast levels in Boulder Creek and the damage near the creek in downtown is visible. I smelled smells that I’ve never smelled in Boulder before and saw water in places it simply didn’t belong.
But downtown Boulder is quickly getting back to normal. That’s not the problem. If you’ve ever been to Boulder, you know we are surrounded by incredible mountains. It’s part of the magic of the place, but also part of the challenge. A friend told me recently, “think of the mountains as giant slanted roofs and Boulder as the basement of the house.”
There are two natural forces here that can be massively destructive. The first, which have made the news the past few years, are wildfires. Amy and I have endured these for the past 17 years – we’ve been evacuated from our house twice, once for three days during my brother’s wedding. The massive Lefthand Canyon Fire destroyed a huge neighborhood. Awful, terrifying stuff.
But that just set us up for what looks like the real disaster. The entire mountain area around Boulder is wrecked. Roads are destroyed. Towns in the “basement” – including Lyons – are literally wiped off the map. Major parts of Longmont are now submerged. The water ran downhill, destroying everything in its path as gravity did it’s magic, and then just sat at the bottom wherever it ended up.
My partners and I are lucky. None of our lost our houses. We all have roofs over our heads. And we have plenty of resources.
But many of our friends and neighbors were not so lucky. The stories are endless – the friend who lost her house and has no place to live. Another friend who made a mad dash off the mountain with his family and has no idea what the status of his home is. The entrepreneur who worked out of his basement, which is now a swimming pool. The business owner who’s office is now cut in half – and destroyed – by a mudslide. The tech leader who recently had a major back injury, just got out of the hospital, and had to evacuate his house. The people stuck up in the mountains who can’t get out. And the people stuck down in the foothills that also can’t get out.
The magnitude of this hit me yesterday afternoon when I heard estimates of $100m – $150m to fix the “infrastructure damage.” I have no idea what that really means, but for a region of a couple of hundred thousand people, knowing the range is low, and it’s only “infrastructure”, this is going to be a long, hard mess to dig out of.
I’ve always felt a strong responsibility to the community I call home. Boulder has been and continues to be very good to me. And it’s my responsibility, especially in times like this, to be good back. This is not the only financial support we’ll be giving to the Boulder Flood Relief Effort. In addition, we’ll give plenty of functional support. But it’s a step – and one we hope can have direct impact.
My partners and I encourage every entrepreneur in the area who has had a meaningful financial success to consider giving something through EFCO to the Boulder Flood Relief Effort. If you are an entrepreneur who hasn’t yet had a financial success, consider joining EFCO and contributing 1% of the equity in your company today, to help build the endowment for the future. And, if you are a venture capitalist or an angel investor in – or with investments in – the Boulder area, please consider joining EFCO and contributing directly to the relief effort today. Just email me and I’ll get you connected.
Finally, if you are a reader and part of the Feld Thoughts community and you want to help out, please contribute directly to the Foothills Flood Relief Fund. We greatly appreciate any support you can give.