5 Questions with Keith Camhi, Managing Director of Techstars Economic Mobility Powered by Samvid Ventures

Mar 01, 2024

Applications are due May 22, 2024 for the class beginning in September 2024.

Keith is the Managing Director of the Techstars Economic Mobility Accelerator Powered by Samvid Ventures. He has been the MD of various other Techstars programs including Techstars Future of Longevity accelerator, run in partnership with Melinda French Gates’ Pivotal Ventures, and the Techstars Washington DC powered by J.P. Morgan accelerator. Previously, Keith led the global accelerator team, as SVP of Techstars.

Prior to Techstars, Keith was an entrepreneur, investor, and advisor to startups and venture funds.  He founded and led the rapid growth of FitLinxx (reaching #20 on the Deloitte Fast 500) and Great Play (ranking on Entrepreneur 500 list 3x). He has raised over $50 million in venture funding, holds several patents for sensor and machine vision applications, and loves helping and investing in entrepreneurs who are applying breakthrough technology to help people thrive. He received a BS in Computer Science from Cornell, and was an LGO Fellow at MIT, where he received an MBA and an MS in EECS.

01. What are you looking for in startups for the Techstars Economic Mobility Powered by Samvid Ventures accelerator?

This program is for talented entrepreneurs designing innovative solutions that generate greater economic mobility for low- and moderate-income (“LMI”) Americans, i.e., the 60% of Americans who are living paycheck to paycheck. We are looking for solutions that help people increase earnings and savings, reduce costs, and improve quality of life. These may come from a wide variety of sectors, including but not limited to: education, personal finance, future of work, health & wellness, housing, insurance & benefits access, legal support, and beyond.

We are looking for both (1) business potential and (2) impact potential.

For #1, we primarily consider the team (most important), market potential, traction, and idea. The team should include a founder or founders who have a unique insight into solving a big problem that they are passionately motivated to address, and who are strong executors making progress rapidly.

For #2, we look for solutions that increase affordability of necessities, increase earning potential, expand access to resources, and/or otherwise improve quality of life for LMI individuals, families, and communities.

Successful applicants are typically able to demonstrate their progress toward measurable outcomes, for both business viability and LMI impact. The former would ideally include growing revenue traction, but short of that, other evidence of strong customer and partner interest is important. The latter may be demonstrated by market research and gap analysis, feedback gathered from LMI users, expert feedback, credible partnerships, a theory of change and impact framework, etc.

02. What makes this an important and compelling market for a startup?

In the 21st century, human progress has led to remarkable achievements. Increased life expectancy, ubiquitous information access, and technological advancements have transformed the way we live. And the booming American economy has been both a key engine and a major beneficiary.

But amidst this progress, many Americans still face daunting challenges as the benefits of the economic miracle have eluded them. Some representative stats include:

  • More than 3 in 4 Americans struggle to save or invest after paying for their monthly expenses (Payroll.org).

  • 4 in 10 Americans find it difficult to cover their expenses each month (US Census) and struggle to pay for basic needs such as groceries or housing. (Urban Institute)

  • Roughly a quarter of renters say that affording their payments is difficult or very difficult. (Zillow)

  • Black, Latinx, and younger Americans disproportionately experience an increase in financial vulnerability. (Financial Health Network)

  • Tens of millions of American workers have the skills to transition into higher-paying roles but lack the education credentials that currently help employers identify them. 

  • Economic factors have profound and prolonged impacts on health, and in various American cities, average life expectancies can vary by 20-30 years for communities that are just miles apart. (NIH)

These are big problems. And for entrepreneurs, big problems translate to big opportunities. That is, they signal enormous markets for building businesses that have both substantial financial potential and substantial impact opportunity.

03. What do you offer founders who participate and what makes this program different?

For founders building companies focused on supporting LMI populations, we and our partners at Samvid Ventures have created a specially curated accelerator, layered on top of the global platform that Techstars offers founders globally.  

Techstars programs, as a whole, are exceptional at helping entrepreneurs through a global network of top mentors, partners, investors, and alumni; best-in-class workshops; investment of $120K; hundreds of perks worth >$1M; in a small 12-company cohort structure with dedicated program staff.  More about the global benefits here.

For founders who are building solutions aligned with our Economic Mobility program themes above, this particular program is a uniquely good fit.  We offer:

  • Core Program Content: The program kicks off with a week of strategic workshops developed and assembled by Keith based on his firsthand experiences as both a founder and a Techstars insider. Founders build a structured approach to creating traction toward their short-term objectives and long-term visions, aligning their teams, and attracting investors. Further into the program, the core content shifts to a collection of workshops and 1-1 support for Investor Readiness.

  • Impact Track: Samvid Ventures supplements this with resources on social enterprise revenue models, coaching on impact assessment, non-dilutive fundraising, and access to impact investors and grantmakers.

  • Peer Group: You will be immersed with other founders going through a similar journey, and will learn from one another in both working groups, and candid forums about the startup journey itself.

  • Founder Stories & VC Spotlights: The program intertwines founder stories and VC spotlights, leveraging the power of candid firsthand experience shared by successful entrepreneurs and investors, with a focus on social impact companies and investors.

  • Personalized Mentor Matching: We create a curated collection of mentors specific to each company’s needs -- both a broad group for initial feedback, and then a more tailored group for each company throughout the program.  We draw from hundreds of mentors with specific interest and capability to support companies in Economic Mobility, as well as thousands of generalist mentors from Techstars more broadly.  

  • Office Space: We host the program in Samvid Ventures’ purpose-built accelerator offices - a bright and beautiful workspace in central Manhattan. Workspace is also available to alumni after the 13-weeks of program (until the next class starts).

  • Events, network, and more… if your company is focused on economic mobility, this is an accelerator experience that is unrivaled.

04. What does our partner Samvid Ventures bring to the accelerator?

Samvid Ventures was started with the belief that society must accelerate the pace at which we expand opportunity, especially for those facing significant barriers. They aim to fulfill their mission of building stronger, more inclusive economies through initiatives primarily focused on education, entrepreneurship, and healthcare.  This accelerator grew out of their vision that the private sector generally, and innovative entrepreneurs in particular, can make a major contribution to this mission.  

As I’ve gotten to know the team at Samvid Ventures, I can see just how committed they are to the success of entrepreneurs addressing these challenges succeed -- from building a fabulous space for the accelerator in NYC, to their commitment to extending their network and expertise to the founders in the program, and providing additional learning and coaching, including resources on social enterprise revenue models and non-dilutive fundraising. We are collectively excited to see the creativity in business models and strategy that arise from our collaboration.

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

I consistently find that early stage companies with great teams can make extraordinary progress on limited resources if they are scrappy, customer obsessed, and execution-focused. There are many things to accomplish in the journey to building a successful startup -- iterating toward product-market fit, overcoming tech hurdles, selecting a focused go-to-market approach, managing cofounder relationships, building culture, raising capital, etc.

It would seem in many regards that a large established company with far more resources would be better positioned to win a competitive battle. But ultimately, what startups lack in resources they can more than make up for with speed and agility, if they properly recognize and harness these strengths to their advantage.

This ultimately is the work we do together in the accelerator, and I love it. I bring a coach’s mindset, along with decades of startup lessons learned from being on the front lines myself, to my role as Managing Director.