This last class of Techstars was my sixth program but my first ever in NYC. This month marks the year anniversary of working with the NYC program and I’ve had a lot of time to learn the ins and outs of the Silicon Alley tech scene and the Techstars’ ecosystem there. Because I’ve run programs in other locations, I’ve had the unique opportunity to learn about the characteristics of different tech communities and see the best practices in each. I can say without a doubt that because of the unique assets of NYC (including access to industry and Fortune 500 companies), access to capital and a quickly growing stable of amazing, experienced entrepreneurs – NYC has the potential someday to be the single best tech market out there.
That said, my feeling is that we still have a ways to go before fully realizing the potential in NYC. There’s still a lot of gelling that needs to happen and having worked with mentors, entrepreneurs, and investors in NYC, I’ve seen that friction firsthand. Even at Techstars, we have really struggled, especially this last year, to really capture the potential of the community. We did a lot of things wrong and we learned a lot. Now, with a year under my belt, I have a deep understanding of where our areas for improvement live, have had countless discussions with influencers in the community and I’ve developed a theory on how to make the tech scene in NYC amazing. I have a heartfelt and deep belief that by putting the entrepreneur first, Techstars can gravitationally change the NYC tech scene for the better. So, in the spirit of an overhaul, I’m going to change some things at Techstars that I hope has broader implications across the entire ecosystem.
1. I’m pleased to announce that we’ve hired veteran entrepreneur Alex Iskold to join Techstars in NYC as Managing Director. We have learned that you need experienced entrepreneurs in leadership roles and Alex is an experienced entrepreneur who has been deeply involved as a mentor to our programs. His background as a great CEO gives him a unique skill set well suited for the job. He believes, as do I, that this is an amazing city with a ton of unrealized potential, and he and I are hell bent on making this the best city for entrepreneurship. I’ll still be heavily involved in the program from a coaching and mentorship capacity and will be there for the duration of the program, but I’m thrilled to hand the day-to-day operations off to Alex. Here is Alex’s blog post about joining Techstars.
2. Mentorship is at the core of what makes Techstars magical and in NYC we have access to some of the world’s best mentors. As I’ve traveled to different communities, I’ve learned that the magic in helping entrepreneurs is deep engagement from mentors. But in New York, we opted to focus on breadth of exposure as opposed to depth of engagement because of the sheer quantity of high-quality individuals. The result was entrepreneurs in too many meetings with mentors that didn’t know enough intimate details about the companies to make insightful recommendations. There is no quick fix and a single thirty minute meeting with a team does not help entrepreneurs become successful. In short, without that depth of engagement, the signal-to-noise ratio was off. We’re working on ways to leverage our mentors’ areas of expertise into focused, results-oriented group meetings with bi-directional feedback (both to the mentors and to the companies). Our hope is that by focusing on outcomes and feedback, not only will our teams improve but mentors will get better too. Everyone wins. Our dream is that this will even trickle outside of Techstars, helping create a tectonic shift in the way the entire community interacts with and helps entrepreneurs and startups.
3. Community is critically important to entrepreneurs and I’m excited about some programs and events we’re working on that will bring the tech community together. In fact, we’re doing a couple of these events in the next month or two. Check them out. They are free and open to everyone, not just Techstars’ teams or applicants.
4. This one really isn’t a change, it’s just a mantra. When the community comes together and “Gives First,” magic happens. I see it a ton in NYC, but we’ve never really labeled it as such and it’s one of the most powerful tools any community has. When mentors genuinely “Give First” to entrepreneurs, investing their time, guidance, address book, and even capital – we can better help ALL entrepreneurs in NYC. A rising tide raises all ships. Don’t be surprised if you hear “Give First” around the Techstars community.
If you didn’t already know it, applications for Techstars NYC are now open and they close by the end of the year. Applying early will get your application the attention it deserves (see my post about this from earlier this year).
We love this city and we have seen what Techstars can do in a community. We’re thrilled by the possibilities here and know 2014 is going to be an amazing year. Let’s do this together.