Techstars Paris: The ins and outs of the application and selection process

Jan 30, 2022

Paris Techstars Accelerator settled in France for the first time in 2017. Back then, the french ecosystem was just starting to bloom, the same year that Station F opened their offices in Paris, the same year of Brexit. Techstars came to France because the french tech entrepreneurs were loading our pipelines in the global accelerators.

The city had the perfect combination of brilliant talents from different universities, easing regulations for small innovative businesses, an exorbitant amount of spaces the startups called home, the right amount of capital, and a permanently embedded entrepreneurial culture.

In 2017 I moved to Paris to launch Techstars Paris as the Program Manager. On my third day in the city, I went to grab a coffee around the “Sentier Valley” area when someone saw my Techstars hoodie and reached out asking: Is Techstars coming to France? How can I apply?

In 2022 we doubled down on our commitment to the french ecosystem with the re-launch of Techstars Paris. From then, we invest in 24 companies per year, meaning we run two programs annually by opening applications twice a year (in February and September).

For those who don’t know Techstars, we operate 46 accelerators in 37 cities in 17 countries, and we work with some of the best startups and corporations in the world. Since 2006, Techstars has invested in 2,770 companies, which today have a combined market capital valuation of $189.4 billion. It counts 18 unicorns among its accelerator graduates, including DigitalOcean, Chainalysis, PillPack, and SendGrid. Techstars invests in approximately 500 startups and deploys roughly $130M per year, making it one of the largest investors in high-growth early-stage companies by volume in the world.

Since the first Techstars Paris program, France has become one of the most relevant hubs for startups in Europe with around 26 unicorns (at least on the count of January 28th, 2022), with many more promising companies on the horizon following those steps and changing the game. 

How can I apply to Techstars Paris?

We believe every startup/team is unique and should be treated as such. This is the reason why we work with only 12 companies per class. Thanks to this, we can build the program and the platform that founders need, where the right person in the community will support and help you personally.

Applicants are also able to select a second choice program to be considered. 

The application typically stays open for ~12 weeks, after which we will commence the selection process. We encourage you to request Office Hours during the application period to contact our team. You can also subscribe to our newsletter to get our fresh news and attend our events.  The application on our page consists of two videos (one product, one team); and a questionnaire that will help us understand your company better, the team, the problem you are solving, and the solution your product is bringing to the table.

What are the selection criteria and Techstars Paris Investment thesis?

The Paris Techstars Accelerator invests in early-stage high-growth startups looking to build a better future thanks to technology, French, or being willing to settle in the French ecosystem to thrive globally. We want to solve some of the most significant challenges our planet faces today, such as climate change, pollution, poverty, disease.

We are keen to work with startups within the energy, food, agriculture & land use, industry & manufacturing, transportation, waste management, water, and buildings sectors - but not only. They can relate to Climate tech, Cleantech, and the Circular economy.

With our geographical and sectoral focus, the Paris Techstars Accelerator is well-positioned to help startups take advantage of the French and EU policy for sustainable economic development addressing climate change and supporting the European Green Deal. This being said, we want to help French, and European startups go global from the early days.

Once applications are submitted, the program team (Managing Director and investment Associate) will review each submission carefully, regardless of the number of interactions Techstars have had with the founders in the past. 

While assessing the applications through interviews and reading the material provided, we will be focusing mainly on the following criteria, among some other things: 

  • TEAM. The team makes 50% of the decision-making. While investing in early-stage companies, we find the most promising entrepreneurs with great backgrounds and an excellent set of skills that are just the perfect storm to solve specific problems. We might be an as long question such as: 

    • Why is your team the ideal combination for building this solution?

    • What’s the team's background that makes sense for you to build this?

    • What are the team dynamics? How did you meet? How are your skills complementary?

  • TRACTION.  Traction is a way to ensure that the team executes or that “you do as you say,” and the company has moved forward since its creation. Founders don’t necessarily need to have revenue, paying customers, or even signups — but you must have some form of validation that you’re building something people want. 

    • Do you have a product/MVP?

    • What about clients and POCs?

    • Tell me, what have you learned from the customer journey?

    • How are you building the company? How are you measuring success?

  • MARKET. The market is to understand better if your company fits the program thesis, the team experiences, and we are building a scalable business.

    • Do we even believe there’s a market for what you’re building? 

    • Is the market big enough? We like to see >$1Bn markets

    • Is the product/solution solving the problem?

    • What’s the feedback you’re getting from your clients?

  • IDEA. Finally, the idea. We put it at last because ideas without execution are nothing, and we’re expecting you to have enough feedback to change and evolve that idea. 

What’s the Techstars deal?

The chosen founders will participate in a 3-month mentorship-driven program and have access to the international mentor and investors network while leveraging the french ecosystem of investors, mentors, partners, and alumni.

Upon acceptance to a Techstars mentorship-driven accelerator, we offer to every company an initial investment of up to $120,000 USD paired with $2M+ in perks and an invaluable global network of alumni, mentors, and investors for 6% common stock on a fully diluted basis, issued as common stock, and up to ~3% equity in an optional convertible note. Let’s fragment the offer:

  1. Techstars contribute $20,000 USD, commonly used as a stipend to support living expenses during the program. 

  2. Techstars offers an optional convertible note of $100,000 USD that will convert until the company raises a priced equity financing of US $250,000 or more (a “Qualified Financing”) and, depending on the valuation, will represent up to 1-3% equity added to the initial 6% equity of the offer.

We collect common stock to align with founders and employees. With common stock, we only win when founders and employees win.  Meaning that we’re seated on the same side of the table as founders do.

What to expect during the selection process? 

The selection process lasts six weeks and includes a “desk review,” meaning reading and reviewing what you have submitted to our platform, and a series of interviews with the program team to get to know the founders better. 

Application Process

The application takes most startups around two to five hours to complete. After founders have filled out the application, we allow founders to update sections with new information for subsequent applications. We encourage founders to run their answers by mentors/advisors / or other founders before hitting the submit button.

Many companies apply to Techstars Paris. We will personally examine every application, watch the videos and write down our questions. The first review will help us select the companies we want to invite for the first round of interviews. 

First and Second Round Interviews

The selected founders will receive an invitation to a first interview 2 to 4 weeks after the application deadline. We do our best to review all applications within four weeks of applications closing, and we will notify all applicants about the state of their application.

In the first round of interviews, we will be able to clarify assumptions from the company, get to know the team, and better understand the founders' approach to solve the problem they have identified—also a bit more about the dream and the vision of the company. 

Half of the companies in the interview 1 phase will be invited for a second interview in which we will have the opportunity to dig deeper into the business; we might ask some experts to help us clarify some doubts about the team and their ability to execute. 

Bonus points if you can answer each question in under two minutes!  We have limited time, and we want to take advantage of it as possible. 

How to Prepare for the interview process:

To start with, do all of the usual preparation you would do for any interview: practice your introduction, anticipate potential questions / rehearse answers, prepare some questions of your own.

Second, have clear reasoning on why you’re applying to begin with, and include thoughts of how Techstars can help your company and you. Make sure to involve the whole team of co-founders to participate in the interview, depending on their domain and expertise. 

Do your research, mention what you’ve learned from your market, and tell us how we can help you grow, both during the program and beyond. Your experience in the program is just the beginning — Techstars and our worldwide network are for life. 

Finally, be as authentic as a company and be intellectually honest by owning what you don’t know.

The Screening Committee

We will invite you to the screening committee if you make it through the interview rounds! At this point, you have a one in two chance of being offered a spot in a Techstars accelerator.

The Screening Committee constitutes individuals invited by the program team, like program mentors, subject matter experts, investors, other Techstars team members, and alumni. The Screening Committee will virtually interview the founders and ask several questions based on the problem/market you’re tackling and the scope of your product/idea.

We know the application and interview processes are lengthy. We appreciate your hard work and patience; if you don’t get it the first time, we strongly encourage founders to apply again. It takes many companies a few tries, so don’t be discouraged. Instead, take the feedback you receive during the process to make your startup better, and then apply again.

Do you have more questions? Feel free to ask in the comments!