5 Questions with Adam Phillips, Managing Director of Techstars Equitech Accelerator

Aug 15, 2022

Adam is the Managing Director of the Techstars Equitech Accelerator. He is also the Founder of AthletesInnovate! - a platform to match the energy and network of professional athletes with the educational needs of young people who need access to STEM education and resources. Adam has been investing in and operating startups, beginning as one of the first five employees at a venture-backed Edtech startup and subsequently co-founding multiple venture-backed businesses. Most recently, Adam was  a Venture Partner at  Republic and 11Tribes Ventures and the Managing Director at Mox.E Venture Partners. He  also spent several years working in policy and regulatory sectors as a Senior Attorney and Director at the United States Department of Justice, the United States Congress and, finally, with the United States Department of Transportation.

01. What are you looking for in startups for the Techstars Equitech Accelerator?

Startup success is driven by two main factors: the founders and the business. This vision/mantra will apply to our work we do in the Techstars Equitech Accelerator. We will be looking for quality founders who have an innovative business idea. Founders are the difference-makers in early-stage venture, precisely because of their ability to be laser-focused on things that are working, enthusiastically optimistic about things that are not working, and flexible enough to pivot when required. We’re looking for founders that spend every day refining their  businesses based on  customer needs and validation. 

Part of the specific mandate of our Equitech Accelerator is to support the city-wide effort of UpSurge Baltimore in their visionary effort to build the country’s first Equitech city. . They’ve aligned resources and leaders throughout the City of Baltimore to build the first ‘tech-for-all’ city. UpSurge made the Techstars Equitech Accelerator one of its signature initiatives, and  we are looking for founders building great companies that align with the Equitech vision. These can be founders from any background who recognize diversity as a force multiplier, historically underinvested founders, or founders building companies where the tech itself is breaking down a barrier or increasing access to innovation or opportunity.

02. What are some of the biggest learnings from your career and entrepreneurial journey that you bring to being a Techstars Managing Director? 

I’m so excited to be joining the Techstars community, and there are so many parts of my background that have brought me to this point with the right tools and perspective to maximize this opportunity. From the very first job I had as a page in the library, when I was a high school sophomore, to my work as a senior attorney for the Federal Government sitting across the counsel table from Fortune 500 companies, I have always thrived on the opportunity to put a  “stamp” on my work. I always want to understand what is required of me first, but then find a way to make that work personal by adding my own skill-sets to help people. This should have been the  first clue  I was going to eventually be a founder! I absolutely love building things myself and being around others who build things.

In addition, I always think back to the best job I’ve ever had, which was as a basketball coach for seventh graders when I was 21. The moments where I watched those young players “catch” what I was trying to explain to them remain some of the most thrilling of my professional life. It wasn’t because I was solving a thorny intellectual issue, but rather because I was helping someone develop and internalize a permanent building block or tool that they would then take with them. There is nothing more exciting than that, and I’m so excited to have the same experiences with my founders in the Techstars Equitech Accelerator.

03. What is your favorite thing about the Baltimore, Maryland startup scene?

I have spent time in a number of startup communities  (Washington, DC, Northern Virginia, Chicago, etc), and Baltimore is special. Baltimore is similar to my hometown of Buffalo, NY – a city that thrived as an industrial hub, and had to pivot once that part of the economy started moving further afield from city-centers. What resulted from those early-years of large groups of people living and working in close proximity,  were strong and diverse communities that understood the importance of both independence and interdependence.

That makes the city of Baltimore unique, and therefore the startup scene, very personal.  Baltimore wants to know you as you grow together, and that is something unique that offers opportunities in business and beyond. Baltimore founders get introduced around to the movers-and-shakers not as a perfunctory exercise, but rather as a way to genuinely connect.  For founders who  understand how their business will affect the people and community of the city where their business lives, there can be no better place to come and grow than Baltimore.

04. What does our partner UpSurge Baltimore bring to the accelerator?

There is no group that is taking the work of nurturing the startup scene in Baltimore more seriously than UpSurge. After meeting with Jamie McDonald and her team, there is  no doubt that not only is their vision for UpSurge really big, but also UpSurge has committed themselves to taking on the work that goes along with such a big vision. Baltimore is on the verge of shifting into a new mode that opens up the innovation economy to a whole city in a way that hasn’t been done before. In order to do that, it will take the dedicated and focused talent of a special group. That group is UpSurge.

As the Techstars Equitech Accelerator Managing Director, my work will be to bring Techstars’ incredible network and resources to bear on behalf of that big vision. It will shape the founders we choose. It will shape the businesses we choose; and it will shape how we grow those founders and businesses. The Techstars Equitech Accelerator will live in the soil created by the big and clear vision UpSurge has cast. I couldn’t be more excited!

05. If you could have coffee with any entrepreneur who would it be and why?

This may strike some as odd but I would choose to spend time with Warren Buffett. Even though he’s a trader/investor, I think he acts as an entrepreneur in his field in a way that I really admire. I read “The Intelligent Investor - Benjamin Graham” a long time ago, and the value-investing model really struck me. Warren Buffett is probably value-investing’s most famous and successful adherent, but what I love most is  he approaches his work with principles while maintaining his opportunistic awareness. Whether he is working on a deal for a little-known insurance conglomerate or a mainstream gaming/streaming company, Buffett’s moves become the signal for others to move. To me that kind of disciplined flexibility is incredibly difficult to maintain over time, and is the difference-maker for founders (and others frankly) when it comes to weathering the ups-and-downs and coming out successful. I would love to talk to him about what it takes to maintain that into his 90’s. That would be a coffee break well spent!

Learn more about the Techstars Equitech Accelerator