New World, New Focus. How Application Trends at Techstars NYC Point to a Changing World

Feb 15, 2021
New York legos

By Jenny Fielding, Managing Director of Techstars New York City Accelerator

Having recently selected the Techstars NYC 2021 spring class (watch this space for an announcement in March!), I’ve had a moment to reflect on the hundreds of founders our team has met over the last few months as part of our selection process. 

With over 1000 applications, we’ve been reading and reviewing submissions, and have interviewed more than 500 founding teams. Yes, it's been an action-packed winter! One of the most amazing parts of the selection process is getting to see micro-trends develop in real time across geographies and founder demographics. Here’s a look at some of the themes that emerged:

  • Health continues to dominate as founders strive to improve our healthcare system and the patient experience. From remote diagnostics and clinical trials to women’s health and EMRs in developing countries, founders are looking to improve the lives of everyday people needing care. However, some of the most interesting healthcare companies are not just focused on product, but rather on building resources and safe spaces for the communities they serve. 

  • Mental and emotional well-being took center stage as we received a large number of applications focused on this growing area. From addiction clinics to marketplaces for therapists, it’s been inspiring to see traditionally stigmatized areas come to the forefront.    

  • The plight of the small business owner was a noticeable application theme as the pandemic devastated many independent business owners and their livelihoods. From debt relief to social tools, founders are working to provide solutions and resources to this large but fragmented demographic. 

  • The creator economy is in full swing as tools, tech, and communities emerge to support this new class of innovators. From marketplaces for artists to Saas dashboards for social influencers, it’s an exciting time to be a creative with so much product innovation being developed. 

  • This year, while stuck at home, I discovered my kitchen and started to think deeply about where my groceries (and take-out) come from. We saw a sharp increase in healthy food brands, restaurant delivery options and a rethinking of the farm-to-table supply chain. If nothing else, 2021 should be the year of the at-home foodie. 

  • Innovative HR and hiring solutions continue to show a shift in how employers think about a range of employee needs. Founders have shown that through the use of AI, Saas tools, and mobile apps, employers can not only support happiness and well-being at work but can address the issue of inclusivity and access to jobs for a range of underserved communities.  

  • If last year has taught us anything, it was the importance of valuing diversity and inclusion across sectors. We have seen an influx of applicants who are working towards closing these gaps. For example, using data and storytelling to help with immersion into cultural experiences, delivering financial service products for underbanked communities in emerging markets or even using Saas tools to support the aging population. 

  • It was a refreshing change of pace to see some amazing companies use biotech, research and AI advances to solve challenges around fertility, nutrition and cancer. For many years, it was just too hard for biotech companies to maximize a 3-month accelerator program considering regulations, wet-lab needs, and longer time horizons. But certain aspects of biotech are becoming increasingly agile as we see generalist investors moving into the sector.  

NYC startup trends 2020 v 2021

While 2021 saw more cyber security, sustainability and edtech companies apply, the real winner was data & analytics, nearly doubling from last year. Considering the current economic climate it makes sense that companies are focused on organizational productivity and maximizing existing assets, providing tailwinds to these types of startups.

The most drastic drop-off in applications from 2020 was in hardware and IoT companies, likely fueled by disrupted supply chains during the pandemic. It will be interesting to see if this trend sparks a rise in streamlined and localized manufacturing and logistics. Check back next year to find out!

With everything happening in the world, it’s increasingly clear that entrepreneurs are in a prime position to help solve many of the world's most pressing issues. I’m excited for 2021 and continuing to support incredible founders across NYC and beyond. Learn more about Techstars New York City and get in touch if you’d like to be involved. 

Check out all our Techstars Accelerators and see which ones have applications open now. 

About the Author
Jenny Fielding

Jenny Fielding is the Managing Director of Techstars New York and multi-time tech founder. Follow her on Twitter @jefielding.