5 Questions with Tim Grace, Managing Director of Techstars Columbus Powered by The Ohio State University

Sep 18, 2023

Tim Grace is the Managing Director of Techstars Columbus powered by The Ohio State University.

Tim is a 2x founder, most recently as co-founder/COO of Draftbit, a low-code platform for mobile app development. He also co-founded and led LongJump, a first-check venture fund launched in 2021 that quickly became one of the most active pre-seed investors in the region. Prior to his founder journey, Tim held early-team roles in product leadership at Trunk Club, Signal, Apartments.com and Cars.com. He was also an alum of Techstars Chicago in 2016 and has been an All-Star Mentor for Techstars’ Boulder and Chicago programs. Sometimes he runs marathons.

01. What are you looking for in startups for Techstars Columbus powered by The Ohio State University?

Nelson Mandela said, “a winner is a dreamer who never gave up.” I love dreamers, because it takes someone totally lost in a vision for the future they want to create to build a big, transformative company. Dreamers inspire us, and when they share their dream with us, it stirs something inside us that moves us to act. The best founders are dreamers first.

But being a dreamer isn’t enough. You have to want to win, and winning requires endurance. It’s the ability to push past the overwhelming desire to stop when, rationally, you should that counts.

These are the types of founders we want in the Columbus program. Founders who connect deeply to some of the most meaningful problems our modern world faces, see solutions the rest of us don’t and will be relentless in their drive to make it real.

02. What are some of the biggest learnings from your career and entrepreneurial journey that you bring to your role as a Techstars MD?

Founders are the world’s most valuable natural resource. It’s critical we recognize them as such and surround them with the necessary ingredients for success. Capital is key, but so is an understanding that founders’ personal lives undergo dramatic upheaval while on this journey. The foundation of sustained company success starts with founder stability outside the office, so I’ve learned to lean in and support there first. It’s definitely what I could have used more of as a founder.

Beyond that, I’ve learned that playbooks are a myth - whatever worked for any successful company you can point to was unique to that business and the context it operated in. Things change too quickly for us to lean on the past. Founders need real-time insights from others in the arena when they are, which is why active founder/operator mentors are so key.

03. What do our partners at Ohio State bring to the accelerator?

This is such a special partnership. Not only do our founders benefit from the immense resources of a top research university with a long track record of driving innovation, but they also get access to partners who are playing the long game with a deep commitment to invest in Columbus, founders and solutions to better our world. For example, Ohio State alum Ratmir Timashev and his team are serial founders who bring relationships and insights that are truly unique. These are partners who are playing the long game with a deep commitment to invest in Columbus, founders and solutions to better our world.

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

I’m fascinated by the Blumhouse model for film production, so I’d love to have a coffee chat with Jason Blum. Their business has so many parallels to pre-seed investing: identify talented auteurs, give them a small budget but full creative freedom and provide distribution so audiences can see it. So basically writing the pre-seed check, supporting great founders and using their unique network to get it in front of investors/customers. Blum backed Jordan Peele and Damien Chazelle before anyone else, plus gave established filmmakers like Spike Lee and M. Night Shyamalan a creative outlet to tell stories mainstream studios would not. As a former film student, talking to Blum would scratch both my cinephile and founder/investor itches at the same time!

05. You’re a Techstars alum (Chicago 2016), mentor and now Managing Director. Why is Techstars special to you?

Techstars changed my life. As a first-time founder, the three months I spent learning from Troy Henikoff and Brian Luerssen in the Chicago program gave me the foundational skills that carried me through two startups and, eventually, as an investor. When people talk about the power of the Techstars network, they are probably underselling its impact. I’ve spent the years since my Techstars experience working intimately with other Techstars alums who have become co-founders, partners and best friends.

Above all, Techstars gives you a space to become your best founder self because we ensure you’re surrounded by the best mentors, founders and investors in the world. These people become your tribe who are deeply invested in your success for the rest of your life.