5 Questions with Adam Phillips, Managing Director of Techstars Washington DC Powered by J.P. Morgan

Mar 28, 2023

Adam is the Managing Director of Techstars Washington DC powered by J.P. MorganTechstars Equitech Accelerator and 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 Washington DC powered by J.P. Morgan Accelerator?

I firmly believe that startup success is driven by two main factors: the founders and the business, but it’s the founder that ultimately makes the biggest difference. This vision/mantra will drive our decision-making as we evaluate companies for the Techstars Washington DC powered by J.P. Morgan Accelerator. We will be looking for great founders who have an innovative business idea and we’ll build on 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. The kind of founders that refine their businesses based on customer needs and validation. 

In addition, I’m very excited about the chance to work with J.P. Morgan, that is adding their extensive network and professional reach to the effort.  Great founders only need an opportunity to make exciting things happen, and this will be an exciting 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 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 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 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 moments 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.

03. What is your favorite thing about the Washington DC startup scene?

I have spent time in a number of startup communities  (Washington, DC, Northern Virginia, Baltimore, Chicago, etc), and I really love Washington DC’s unique set of strengths.  Over the years I’ve spent more time in the DMV than my actual hometown (Buffalo, NY), and have stayed here for a reason.  The quality of people that come to Washington is really hard to match.  Whether it's because of our world-class educational and health institutions or our world-leading political and policy institutions, Washington DC draws the best people in the world to come here.  Serendipitously, lots of those are bright young people who either are interested in starting businesses or become interested.  Add the scads of new/talented young people to the loads of mature and growing businesses that dot the landscape here and the possibilities are ENDLESS!

I also love that Washington DC has another city that includes a thriving startup scene (Baltimore, MD) closeby.  That makes it all the more valuable for founders and investors to come into Washington since they essentially get the chance to draw from two different ecosystems as they grow.

04. What does our partner J.P. Morgan bring to the accelerator?

Startups face challenges at every stage. However, financial challenges can abruptly end a startup’s vision for their product, team, or growth. J.P. Morgan has the expertise, financial solutions, and network to support the disruptors of today and leaders of tomorrow. This program represents Techstars and J.P. Morgan’s belief that diversity and inclusion are the catalysts of innovation and growth. In supporting early-stage startups, J.P. Morgan believes it can help build a future with stronger companies led by underrepresented, diverse founders.

For J.P. Morgan, it’s about changing the entire ecosystem because while talent is distributed equally, opportunity is not. Backing diverse founders leads to a reinvestment in their communities and expanding access for others. J.P. Morgan has made longstanding, large-scale investments in cities to support local initiatives, entrepreneurs, and the environment with over $30 billion committed to advancing racial equity in 2020 and $2.5 trillion towards green initiatives by 2030.

J.P. Morgan’s partnership with Techstars shows their commitment to supporting inclusive accelerators that create opportunities for diverse, early-stage founders. As a part of this partnership, J.P. Morgan will offer an integrated suite of services to founders in this accelerator that extend beyond the 13-week program. This includes, but is not limited to, access to banking, wealth management, and advisory solutions accessible through their local and commercial banking specialists.

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, 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!