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I ran the Sprint Accelerator powered by Techstars from 2014-2016 and saw many examples of the Techstars ecosystem in action. But you may have wondered: how does it really benefit those who are in it?

Because the ecosystem is so vast and comprised of different types of people – entrepreneurs, mentors, investors, corporate partners – its benefits are equally diverse. One great example is the Firebrand Ventures investment in Sickweather, a Techstars alumni company.

Starting the Journey

Sickweather scans social media for reports of illness and uses a patent pending process to turn those reports into accurate real-time and forecasted sickness data. In other words, they can tell you what illnesses are in your area and forecast future outbreaks. I was excited to offer them a spot in the first class of the Sprint Accelerator powered by Techstars in 2014. They made fantastic progress during the program, even inking a deal with Sprint’s mobile ad division Pinsight Media.

Staying Engaged with the Network

Like many Techstars companies, Sickweather set out to raise capital after Demo Day, which led to Brad Feld’s FG Angels syndicate investing in them.

Even though CEO Graham Dodge and his team went back to Baltimore and California after the program, they kept in touch by sending regular email updates to mentors and investors. I can’t overstate how important this is! David Cohen wrote about this in his blog post Don’t Go Dark. It’s how I learned Sickweather landed key partners including The Weather Channel and Clorox. They also always gave a heads up when they were visiting Kansas City or a conference I was at. There were valuable touch points to keep the relationship strong.

From MD to VC

In August 2016 I transitioned from my Techstars Managing Director role to a full-time investor and launched Firebrand Ventures, a seed fund that invests in early stage software startups in the Midwest.

Techstars was hugely supportive. My mentors Brad Feld and David Cohen provided invaluable advice and I was fortunate to add David as an advisor.

Investing in the Network

When Graham told me they were raising a round it was a relatively easy decision to invest in them. Graham had kept me up to date so I knew about their great progress; they were a great fit for our investment criteria; and most importantly I had known him and his core team for over three years.

I always thought the health data analytics part of their business had huge potential and after two years their data set had become valuable to consumer health and pharma companies. I joined their board shortly after Firebrand invested.

Growing Startup Communities

Ever since that 2014 Techstars program, Graham and his co-founders loved KC for its super supportive community, great food and music, and low cost of living. As a result of the Firebrand investment, Sickweather decided to open an office in Kansas City and possibly move the headquarters there. The KC startup community is buzzing and it’s perfect timing as the new Techstars Kansas City program kicks off in July.

The Techstars network is also fantastic for funds like Firebrand. It’s no coincidence that three of our first four investments so far were in Techstars alumni. Beyond investments, I’m a big believer in Give First. I plan to continue mentoring at as many Techstars programs as possible.

I look forward to continuing to play an active role and investing in more great Techstars companies!

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John Fein
John is the Managing Director of Firebrand Ventures, and previously the MD of the Techstars Sprint Accelerator. John had key roles at five different startups, including one he co-founded. His startup roles were focused on leading product and operations for mobile, telephony and Internet companies. @johnfein