The Techstars Story: How an Accelerator Used the Power of Giving to Conquer the World

The Techstars story is a guide of how to use the power of a network, mentorship and giving back to create a unique culture and excite the entire community. After only a few years Techstars documented how its model works and gave it to the world for free. While others warned them of creating competition, they ended up getting two new branches from that: Chicago and London.

Today, Techstars is backed by over 75 different venture capital firms and consistently rated among the best startup accelerators in the world.

It was founded in 2006 in a small town of only 100k people - Boulder, Colorado. After starting several companies in Boulder, David Cohen convinced an high profile investor Brad Feld and teamed up with his buddies David Brown and Jared Polis and started an accelerator, Techstars. They had very humble beginnings and ran the first year on $200k. Yet they decided to pursue a special route: using the power of a network. Today the entire city of Boulder stands behind Techstars.

Already convinced? Apply to TechStars with your startup hereto any of the global programs.

Learning is your Key Differentiator: Mentorship-Driven Growth

The very first thing that they did was to recruit over 70 mentors from all walks of the startup life: digital entrepreneurs, angel investors, venture capitalists and CEOs. Techstars has a unique view of mentorship. In several conversations that we had with 'Davids' (Cohen and Brown) they keep stressing one hugely important point: when mentoring happens, both sides learn. That is very true and many successful entrepreneurs don't realise how much they can learn by mentoring others.

Techstars has also nailed another aspect of mentorship. The world's most successful entrepreneurs mostly have al least 2-3 or more mentors. Steve Jobs had them (even though he probably wouldn't have called them mentors), Richard Branson has them and so do many others. Different mentors give you different advice, sometimes contradictory. It is up to the mentee to decide which advice he or she will take on board an implement. What Techstars does is they provide a large number of mentors that startup founders can choose from and consult with.

david cohen startup grind

Photo: David Cohen talking at Startup Grind 2014 conference

Measure Everything: The Numbers Don't Lie

Techstars helped 417 (and counting) companies to date, out of which over 50 already got acquired. On one hand one of the key reasons is the fact that they only accept 1% of applicants.With so much choice odds are in their favour.   

Overall around 90% of startups who go through the Techstars program, get funded. The average investment is $2 million. These numbers are unprecedented in the startup world. That is why each Techstars demo day is attended by hundreds of angels and VCs.   

How does the TechStars Startup Program work?  

Techstars runs an intensive 90 day, mentorship-driven program for startups and entrepreneurs. They select around ten companies for each program from a large pool of applicants. Techstars offers programs in seven locations: Austin, Boulder, Boston, Chicago, London, New York City, Seattle and a cloud infrastructure specific program in San Antonio.

Accepted companies receive $118k in seed funding, intense mentorship, free office space and access to a strong network of alumnis.

The Techstars program consists of:

  • Month 1 - Engaging mentors in reverse engineering of the business in order to steer it in the right direction.
  • Month 2 - Founders apply learning from month 1 and work with mentors on specific issues.
  • Month 3 - Plan of action for after Techstars and getting ready for fundraising.

At the end of the program Techstars hosts a Demo Day, aimed at investors, journalists and entrepreneurs.

Like a Laser: Stay Focused, Keep Pushing Scale

Techstars is a great example that they are brave enough to eat their own dog food. Scaling a successful model is a challenge in any industry, including and accelerator. They were brave enough to try and found an interesting model to scale. In addition to its generic startup accelerator program, Techstars also offers the same successful model to corporations. While the program is branded with the brand of their partner, it is 'Powered by Techstars'. The point is to keep very strong focus on key industries. Here is a selection of industries they operate in:

  1. Sports tech: Nike Accelerator

  2. Entertainment tech: Disney Accelerator

  3. Education tech: Kaplan Accelerator

  4. Mobile health tech: Sprint Accelerator

  5. Fin tech: Barclays Accelerator

Jon Bradford techcrunch

Photo: Jon Bradford, MD of Techstars London speaking at Techcrunch Disrupt

Techstars in London, UK

London is the only place on the planet outside of the US, where Techstars is present. They have a strong network of London based mentors and their demo day is a attended by most high profile investors.

In 2014 London got lucky again, when Techstars teamed up with Barclays and started a fin tech focused Barclays Accelerator, powered by Techstars. The first cohort has been successfully concluded and now they recruit for the next one.

Startup Grind hosts a talk with Techstars London

Our keynote speaker for Nov is managing director of Techstars London, Jon Bradford. He will share with us his insights from the startup world, tell us how to apply for Techstars and what to pay attention to when applying to maximise the chance of getting accepted.   The business talk with John takes place on 25th Nov at 6pm.

Click here for more info