Blockchain: Renewing Trust in Charities

By Matej Michalko, Founder and CEO of DECENT

We at DECENT are investing in educating communities about the different ways that blockchain can be leveraged to make the world a better place. For example, in 2018, we worked with Techstars to bring a Techstars Startup Weekend Decentralize to Boulder. At this 54-hour event, participants pitched ideas for how to put blockchain to use, from improving infrastructure to bringing more equity into the insurance industry. However, one area we didn’t see discussed was how blockchain can restore trust in charities. 

We all want to #GiveFirst and know that what we give is going to the right place, and blockchain can make this happen

Charities Misuse Funds, Donors Become Mistrustful

In 2010, people gave half a billion dollars to the Red Cross to support victims after a terrible earthquake in Haiti. The Red Cross claimed to provide homes for more than 130,000 people with these funds, but in 2015, Propublica and NPR reported that most of that money did not go toward helping Haitians after this disaster, and only six permanent homes had been built. Also in 2015, the New York Times reported that four cancer charities—known collectively as the Reynolds Cancer Charities—took donations of nearly $200 million intended to support cancer patients and used these funds primarily for personal expenses.

These shameful examples left the public suspicious of charities. Trust in Charities 2018, a report from the Charity Commission for England and Wales, found an average level of trust in charities at 5.5 out of 10, with 45% of respondents self-reporting that their trust in charities has decreased—a dramatic increase of 12% compared to 2016. 

Security, Transparency, Reliability

Blockchain can add much-needed security, transparency, and reliability into processes where those elements are important, like charitable giving. Here’s how:

1. Eliminate Corruption

All transactions on blockchain are available to public audit. This allows for donations to be tracked transparently, granting the donors direct information on when, how, and who handles their contributions. Users can put their trust in the fact that transactions are executed precisely as the protocol commands, removing the need for a third party. Changes to public blockchains are publicly viewable by all parties, which creates transparency, and transactions are immutable, meaning they cannot be altered or deleted. Donors want to see where the money goes and how it is used, and with blockchain, they can do exactly that.

2. Diminish Unnecessary Costs

Third-party intermediaries often eat into donations in the form of transaction fees or fees for payments. Blockchain can help charities avoid intermediaries and aggregators, and keep more money for the intended use. This can maximize the impact of the funds raised, and incentivize donors to continue supporting good causes with confidence. 

In addition, charities will no longer need to depend on institutions like banks or various government agencies that may apply shady practices while handling the donated funds.

3. Turn One-Time Donors into Repeat Donors

The online fundraising platform Charity Checkout published a 2018 report on The Future of Online Giving, and found that nearly 90% of donors would rather donate through a charity’s website than a third-party fundraising platform. The report also found that “almost half of those donating directly via a charity’s website agreed or strongly agreed that they would be more likely to give again; this is compared to just 19 percent of donors saying they would give again after using third-party fundraising platforms.”

When charities use blockchain technology and accept donations on their own websites, they’re meeting donor preferences—and increasing repeat donations. 

4. No Geographic Limitations and Real-Time Transfers

Blockchain works on an entirely decentralized basis. This means that it poses no geographic limitations for donors or charities, making cross-border payments seamless and much less expensive. Contrast this with traditional systems, like banks, which require any transferred funds to go through a single SWIFT network. A peer-to-peer-enabled system, like blockchain, can make it easy for charities to break down borders, allowing blockchain-created cryptocurrencies to be utilized from any country around the world.

Donations also take place in real time, with some of the more technologically mature blockchains being able to process upwards of thousands of transactions per second, eliminating atrocious waiting periods. This makes giving much more appealing for people who want to see their funds being received and used right away.

Re-establishing Trust Through Transparency

These are all important benefits. But the most important element for re-establishing public trust in charities is the transparency of blockchain. 

For charities, this means that donations can be released quickly and transparently to those in need. Charitable donations can be tracked within the public ledger, making it visible for anyone to see exactly how the funds are distributed. Ultimately, this protects both the donor and the charitable institution accepting the donations from manipulated transaction records and any possible sanctions. 

By utilizing cryptography and nodes which are distributed and decentralized, blockchain can ensure that these transactions are secured and immutable. By following protocols which intrinsically govern blockchain, known as smart contracts, donors are left with a sense of assurance between the trusted parties (i.e., the charity and donors). In their essence, smart contracts are fundamentally blockchain-enabled security protocols that ensure that a contract is fulfilled as per agreement. This can ensure that such contracts don’t get breached.

Matej Michalko, Founder and CEO of DECENT
Matej Michalko, Founder and CEO of DECENT

The New Kid On The Block

Blockchain is still the new kid on the block, often compared to the Internet in 1995, but it offers benefits that are hard to dismiss. The technology has experienced significant growth over just the past few years. Some charities are already taking advantage of these benefits to do good in the world, such as Alice, Humanity Token, AidCoin, and many more.

The number of blockchain charity projects is growing, and this is good for everyone: good for donors, good for people in need, and good for the charities that want to lend a helping hand. We look forward to seeing where else blockchain will solve problems and gain wide public adoption. 

After all, the internet in 1995 may not have been too impressive—but the people and companies that saw its potential went on to change the world. 








Build Highly Successful Teams With Techstars Talent

Techstars, the worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed, today announced the launch of Techstars Talent: a new offering that will enable startup founders to build highly successful teams and gain a competitive advantage when it comes to Talent. 

Founders can take advantage of Techstars Talent by connecting with our referral network of top talent, learning best practices from our content center, and leveraging best-in-class partners and services.

The broader network can benefit by connecting into the Techstars Talent Network. It allows candidates to access job opportunities across one of the largest entrepreneurial networks in the world. 

“Techstars is always adding to our amazing Talent Network. Through our accelerators, our community programs and more, we attract amazing people year after year. Now, Techstars Talent enables you, as a portfolio company, to get access to that great talent network.”  — David Cohen, founder and co-CEO of Techstars 

After spending five years as the VP of People Ops for Techstars, Sabrina Kelly is now spearheading Techstars Talent. She is joined by Bala Girisaballa, President of Techstars India, to build out the offering internationally and give our companies exposure to global teams. Jason Thompson, Techstars VP of Diversity and Inclusion, will focus on building diversity and inclusion into the foundation of the Talent Network.

Want to get connected to the Talent team today? Go to talent.techstars.com to get involved. 








Rebecca Lovell on career ‘nudges,’ karaoke, & how to be an ally

Do you know how to be a great ally in the workplace? Why all startup founders should do karaoke? What the secret sauce of the Seattle startup ecosystem is? Create 33 Director Rebecca Lovell knows the answers to all these—and more. 

Rebecca Lovell plays, as Brad Feld says, “a very important role in the center of gravity for the Seattle startup community.” Currently Director at Create 33, a resource center for tech entrepreneurs, Rebecca teaches entrepreneurship at the University of Washington and has held a number of roles in Seattle city government, from Startup Advocate to Acting Director of the Office of Economic Development. 

Listen for more of her interesting career trajectory, which has gone through unexpected turns because of “nudges” given by mentors and others, resulting in Rebecca’s strong belief in the power of mentorship and giving first. 

Then keep listening for actionable advice on how men can be allies to women in the workplace as well as Rebecca’s hilarious dive into why all startup founders should do karaoke.

Companies, people, and resources mentioned in this podcast:

Edited highlights from the conversation:

The secret sauce of the Seattle startup ecosystem

Rebecca: As I like to say, the secret sauce of the Seattle startup ecosystem is coffee. And it’s not just because we’re so highly caffeinated, but that can’t hurt. I think it’s that we have this undercurrent of collegiality and collaboration where you can get a cup of coffee with anyone that you want or need to meet. You combine that ethos with the lived experience of entrepreneurs and investors who just raised their hands and said Yes to supporting Techstars. That’s the moment that [Techstars Seattle, which started in 2010] stepped into. And now, you know, almost 10 years later there are 40 coworking spaces, there are 80 engineering centers located in greater Seattle. Facebook has the biggest footprint in Seattle, outside of its headquarters. We’re not just a one horse town dominated by Microsoft or even two horses, Microsoft and Amazon. It’s a really rich ecosystem. But you got here at pretty interesting inflection point in our story about ourselves as a community.

How can men be allies?

Brad: I’ve been very involved in an organization called National Center for Women & Information Technology for a number of years. 

Rebecca: Lucy Sanders, absolutely.

Brad: I was board chair for a while and  worked very closely with Lucy, and I learned a lot about this notion of male advocates or male allies. And I’d love to hear, in your words, how men can help around the issue of diversity and inclusion. From your frame of reference as a woman, how can men be allies?

Rebecca: Absolutely. I gave a couple of examples of when men can use their power and their privilege to promote women. The first case in my own personal history was that recruiter who happened to be a man who convinced me that I was management material and my classmate who was a man who convinced me that I just win things. They both had positions that they leveraged to open a door for me knowing that I would succeed. Those are just a couple of small examples. 

I also think it’s in just everyday behavior and creating a discipline around making room for women. I kind of don’t like the phrase ‘lifting up’ women. What you really need to do is quit pushing us down. But here’s one way you can make room for us. I can’t tell you how many meetings I’ve been in, whether it’s in the tech sector or in city hall, where I’ll be one of just a few women in the room, and men categorically have a tendency to talk over us.

For example, if my colleague Jessica would make a point and the man running the meeting would run over her, I would make a point of saying, “to Jessica’s point,” then repeat what she said—it’s very critical to use her name—and then maybe add my piece to it. This is a technique that men can use. You can amplify women’s voices, but I can’t tell you how important it is to use their name when you do it. If you just repeat what she said, you will instantly be given credit for it. So be mindful of sharing credit, you know, shining a light on the incredibly important voices of women. Those are just small daily practices that you can engage in.

And then I think writ large, if you look at the deplorable share—disproportionately low share—of venture capital investment that women get, part of it is about the institutional bias that might be brought into a partner meeting on a Monday afternoon, where your bias is going to be towards investing in men. But the real issue that was uncovered by Illuminate Ventures out of the Bay Area, Cindy Padnos’ group, is you literally have to take more meetings with women. If you think about the venture funnel, if you take 900 meetings over the course of the year and that gets you to nine deals, you want to start at the top of the funnel by taking as many meetings with women entrepreneurs as you can. 

So that’s a daily behavior change: just think about ways to find and say Yes to meetings with women entrepreneurs, and over time, both by changing the behavior of the men who dominate the VC industry and making room for more women to become investors and lead a VC firms—like Arlan Hamilton and Backstage Capital—that’s when we start changing the narrative and changing the results.

Karaoke as a metaphor for pitching your startup

Rebecca: The point of Karaoke is that it is 40% song selection, and in startup language that’s product market fit. You need to know your range, that’s your product, and you need to read the room, know your audience and try to pick a song that’s gonna resonate with them—that you can sing. That step one, that’s 40%. 50% of it is just selling it, getting on stage and acting like you own it. And that comes down to the grind and the execution that startups face. And if you do the math, that only leaves 10% for talent. 

I love Karaoke, as I said, almost as much as I love entrepreneurship. 

Rapid fire round

Brad: All right. First one. Favorite city in the world other than Seattle.

Rebecca: Well, would it be to visit, to live, to retire?

Brad: Oh, you get to define the way you answer the question.

Rebecca: All right. Just because I have such a hard time unplugging and truly chilling out and getting off the grid, I would say Sayulita in Jalisco, Mexico. I’m a scuba diver and there is no better way to get off the grid than sitting around with great food, amazing beach. This little town probably has as many chickens and dogs as it does people. And I’m almost hesitant to say it because it’s been this beautifully kept secret, but I love it there.

Brad: Second one, how about a book that you’ve read recently that you thought was fascinating?

Rebecca: Yeah, I have been this total podcast and audio book junkie of late and the one that I  just finished up is Melinda Gates’ Moment of Lift, and it’s not for the philanthropy—I think that commitment as well known and the impact is well known. 

I love reading books and learning stories when I can get some new insight. And what I loved about this book was hearing directly from the author—Melinda read the audio book—and she had this, what I think is a real startup-y, entrepreneurial approach to their theory of change. Like they went into the market of the developing world, knowing that there was a global crisis around children’s health and easily preventable diseases. 

Their plan was to focus on kids, but when they did their customer discovery phase, in startup parlance, they spoke with so many women, mothers and learned that the most life changing thing they could do would be to provide birth control for these mothers. So they went in with a set of assumptions, but they did such a great job of listening. They pivoted to where they felt like they could make the biggest impact. That was a wonderful discovery that I got through that book.

Brad: I’d strongly recommend that book as well. I read it a couple of weeks ago and I think it’s going to be on my list of top nonfiction or memoir-type books of the year. I don’t know Melinda Gates personally, but you really get to know her from the book, which was another thing. It’s very hard for an author to do when they are going after a specific topic, and not have it just be an autobiography, and this certainly isn’t. You really get a sense of her as you read it, which is awesome.  

A charity that you’d urge people to get involved in and why, especially for the listeners in Seattle?

Rebecca: Absolutely. I am a huge fan of a program called Apprenti that was launched by the Washington Technology Industry Association. This directly addresses the talent shortage that we have in the tech sector and seeks equitably shared prosperity. This is an accelerated training program for career changers who are seeking living wages and meaningful careers in IT. And they primarily focus on barriered and underrepresented populations like women, like people of color, like justice-involved individuals, like veterans. A remarkable story. They’ve now served hundreds of graduates with life-changing training.

Brad: Last question. Guns N’ Roses themed: If you could have dinner with anyone dead or alive.

Rebecca: Hmm. So I was a history major in college and have long been an admirer of Eleanor Roosevelt, just in terms of her commitment to race and social justice and gender equity. But if I were hosting, I would make it a dinner party and I would have Eleanor Roosevelt, Marie Curie, Janelle Monáe, and Chrissy Teigen. I think that would be a delightful party. 

Brad: That’s a great group.

Thanks for the time today. And more importantly, thanks for all the awesome stuff you do for entrepreneurs and for everybody, both in Seattle and everywhere else.








Techstars Includes Diverse LEADers: Carrie Shuler, Creator, Communicator, Fighter, Founder

Techstars Includes Diverse LEADers is our series highlighting diverse members of the Techstars Network. Techstars is committed to having a meta-impact on diversity in the tech space by encouraging a new generation of entrepreneurs to build inclusive companies from the very start, because we know diverse teams perform better and we believe inclusive companies will create a better future. 

Today, meet Carrie Shuler. 

Carrie Shuler in her own words:

I have a Masters Degree in Communication. In 2011 I began my creative journey, working for multiple award winning media companies as a content curator, producer, creative writer, and stylist. You can find my portfolio here. I founded my first company at the age of 24. It became a social media craze reaching 40k organic followers in just a few short months. 

I am currently the Co-Founder at Stark Mobility (8.1k likes on FB). We were seeing $30K+ in monthly sales online of our electric skateboard with only $5 in ad spend. Almost all sales were coming from our social media and email marketing efforts. As the CMO I was in charge of all online customer touch points including the blog, IG, FB, product updates, photos & videos. Stark Mobility is now part of Startup Autobahn powered by Plug and Play and running a pilot program with a large German automotive.

Additionally I am the Berlin lead for the SoGal Foundation, the largest global platform for the education and empowerment of diverse entrepreneurs and investors. Our mission is to close the diversity gap in tech. 

How Carrie LEADs:

Read the book “The 5 am Club,” and don‘t be afraid to be bold and ask for what you want. 

Every woman that I have worked with in my life has had an impact on me. 

One person in particular was my boss at CBS, Michelle Moder. We were working on a show called Hawaii Five-0. She was ruthless if you weren‘t on top of your game and the most generous person on earth when you were. She held herself accountable to her work and stayed true to her values. It takes a very strong person to lead an operation as big as ours was, and she did it with grace and humor. 

She is the strongest, hardest working woman I have ever met, and I truly hope to work with her again one day. 

  1. Have enough money in the bank or a consistent revenue stream to sustain yourself for 6-12 months before fundraising. 
  2. Be open to opportunity. Give new experiences a chance, they will open your eyes to new ideas, implementations, market opportunities, and true passions. 
  3. Bring people onto your team who are better than you. 
  4. Don‘t jump the gun with co-founders. WAIT until you find the right person who compliments your strengths and weaknesses. The wrong person can turn your passion into a nightmare. 

Competition. I want to be the best. 

What makes you YOU? 

I‘m a fighter! I‘ve been a tennis player since I was four and started training professionally when I was 14. My mind is programmed to take every day or challenge like it‘s a tennis match. Point by point. The game is never over until you shake hands! 








Techstars Expands to Korea to Support Booming Korean Startup Sector

Techstars and Hillstone Partners launch accelerator program in Pangyo, Korea

BOULDER, Colo. – July 9, 2019 – Techstars, the worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed, and Hillstone Partners, a boutique capital consultancy firm specializing in startup business, announced today the launch of the Techstars Korea Accelerator in partnership with Hillstone Partners. The new three-month mentorship-driven accelerator program, Techstars first in Korea, will source 10 top performing startups per year. The accelerator will support and nourish the Korean startup ecosystem and is open to startups focused on digital and tech innovation across a variety of business verticals.

The accelerator will be hosted at the Pangyo Techno Valley campus (PTV), a business and innovation hub focused on information technology, biotech, cultural tech, and fusion tech. PTV is located in the major metropolitan area of Pangyo, Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province, South Korea, also known as the Silicon Valley of Korea, approximately 30 minutes from downtown Seoul.

Techstars expansion to Korea marks its commitment to continued global expansion and efforts to help entrepreneurs succeed across the world. Korea is an attractive market for Techstars, considering the country’s recent rise on the scene as a global startup hub, the active and well-designed innovation ecosystem, and the support from public and private sectors of the nation’s tech scene. Techstars will join the ranks of other US-based tech companies such as Google and Facebook that have set up shop in past years.

“Korea’s booming startup sector and Pangyo’s thriving tech ecosystem are the perfect ingredients for this accelerator program,” said Will Robinson, Vice President Asia Pacific Sales at Techstars. “With Hillstone Partners’ 10+ year commitment to the region’s startup community, and our experience propelling startup growth through mentorship and the Techstars network, we are well positioned to deliver an incredible and impactful accelerator in Pangyo. This is a very exciting move for Techstars, considering Korea’s access to other major Asian markets, the country’s massive internal market, and the public and private sector’s interest in mobilizing the tech industry.”

“Working with Techstars, we are excited to help develop growth opportunities and international and global impact for Korean startups,” said Rayol Hwang, CEO at Hillstone Partners. “Given Techstars expertise running accelerator programs across the world, as well as its deep network, we know this partnership will drive a significant degree of long-term impact, growth, and success for our startup community in Pangyo. This partnership will drive the continued development of our startup ecosystem and contribute meaningfully to our country’s focus on and dedication to South Korea’s status as a major startup, tech and innovation leader.”

Applications for Techstars Korea in partnership with Hillstone Partners will open in December of 2019, with the program running from June 2020 through September 2020. Startup companies interested in learning more about the program are encouraged to contact Techstars or visit the Techstars Korea in partnership with Hillstone Partners page .

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About Techstars

Techstars is the worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed. Techstars founders connect with other entrepreneurs, experts, mentors, alumni, investors, community leaders, and corporations to grow their companies. Techstars operates three divisions: Techstars Startup Programs, Techstars Mentorship-Driven Accelerator Programs, and Techstars Corporate Innovation Partnerships. Techstars accelerator portfolio includes more than 1,700 companies with a market cap of $20 Billion. www.techstars.com

About Hillstone Partners

Hillstone Partners was originally established as CGI Korea in December 2010 as a private equity fund manager. Hillstone has since delivered expertise in IT, gaming and clean technology sectors with a strong network of influence in the Asia Pacific. Since founding, Hillstone played key roles in cross-border M&A, helping Korean startups access foreign markets. Recently, it established a blockchain-cryptocurrency fund to connect startups with global VCs, contributing to the development of the technology-based startup ecosystem in Korea.








“Delivering Meaningful Opportunities to do Good Stuff Together:” Community Leader Spotlight with Pascale Hyboud-Peron

Pascale Hyboud-Peron, Co-founder and Director of Venture Centre, has an awesome Twitter bio: “Creating connections and exploring intersections between people and ideas by delivering meaningful opportunities to do good stuff together #entrepreneurship.”

Meaningful Opportunities to do Good Stuff Together

Pascale’s dedication to entrepreneurship goes far beyond digital self-presentation. Shortly after attending her own first Techstars Startup Weekend in 2013 in Tauranga, New Zealand, Pascale met her Venture Centre co-founders, and together they started this entrepreneurship hub and social enterprise designed to support and grow entrepreneurship in Tauranga: “When not coordinating programmes or producing events in our coworking space, I spend time on exploring and strengthening generative relationships and partnerships to ensure our community of entrepreneurs can access the resources they need to take the next leg of their journey,” Pascale says. “We work with founders with ideas to solve social and environmental problems, from the very early stage past ideation through proof of concept to their first drop sheet.”

Supporting People’s Empowerment

Pascale started her career as a teacher, before discovering her inner entrepreneur. “I was definitely not born an entrepreneur, nor did I call myself one until only very recently,” she says, “But the passion for supporting people’s empowerment has always been there.” She sees that as the through-line that connects her first career in education with her second in entrepreneurship. 

Since 2014, Pascale has been organizing and then facilitating Techstars Startup Weekends all over New Zealand, although she likes to point out that she is constantly “playing an ever diminishing role :-)” That’s because she focuses on “enabling fresh energy and commitment, with a view to renew the crew incrementally and maintain the event firmly on our local ecosystem’s calendar.” Pascale knows that the best way to help others is to teach them, and encourage them to help themselves. 

Pascale gets most passionate when talking about ventures that she has seen come out of Techstars Startup Weekend, or that she has been able to help through Venture Centre, such as SeeSpray and CLOser. These are both ventures that solve social problems—the founder of SeeSpray was concerned about the pesticides being sprayed on a neighboring orchard when her kids were playing outside, and CLOser tackles affordable housing and sustainable co-housing communities—and both, as Pascale notes, have “all female founders!” 

Pascale’s big goal is to help “create new ventures that do good for our people and our planet. I want to help this change happen faster.”

What’s Your Twitter Bio?

Go look at your own Twitter bio. Go ahead, do it. And take a moment to ask yourself if you’re being who you want to be, living the life that you show the world on social media. 

Pascale is. If you want to ask her how she does it, you can connect with her on Twitter, or meet her at Tauranga Startup Weekend_Sustainable Development Goals edition, coming up on 30 August 2019.








Interview with John Geyer, CEO of MetLife Digital Ventures

This interview originally appeared in a report from Innovation Leader, sponsored by Techstars, “Startup Engagement: Best Practices for Large Organizations.” Read the complete report here

In January 2018, John Geyer took on an expanded role at MetLife, the Manhattan-based insurer: CEO of MetLife Digital Ventures, overseeing direct investments into startups as well as a new startup accelerator run in North Carolina, where the company has a technology campus. Geyer is also MetLife’s Chief Innovation Officer. We spoke with him about how he works with colleagues to understand new capabilities they need; how the company works with venture capital firms; and a new program modeled after E-ZPass, intended to enable MetLife to launch pilot tests and proof-of-concepts more quickly.

Making the Case

One of the four pillars of our enterprise strategy is operational excellence, and under that is a sub-pillar called external orientation. Leadership takes that seriously. It could be a customer orientation, and really understanding and having empathy for the customer. It could be orientation around competitors and the industry. And it could also be around what the next generation of capabilities will be…

The drumbeat of external orientation has been going on for a number of years, and it is now an embedded expectation in our leadership team that when you think through opportunities and challenges, you’re doing it with an external orientation.

Bringing the Business In

We interview 100-plus leaders across MetLife each year and ask them, “What capabilities would give you strategic advantage?” We do it with claims people, salespeople, underwriting people, and product people. We collect their requirements, and we share them with the VC firms and say, “Here are the things that our businesspeople are looking for. Whaddaya got?” They’ll make intros [to startups they have invested in], and my team will work with an internal group to drive proof-of-concepts to see if those emerging capabilities [can help our business].

We’ve driven more than 100 proof of concepts over the last four years, and about 30 of those have turned into commercial agreements.

In our vernacular, a pilot is when you put [something] in front of customers. A POC is proving it out within the company. Some things might be internal tools for us, like a cyber tool that can strengthen our environment. For that, we’ll do a POC to validate it.

Our Venture Capital Strategy

When it comes to startups, we made a decision as an enterprise over ten years ago that we were going to invest in the venture capital firms themselves as part of our overall investment portfolio. We invest hundreds of billions of our customers’ money so that we can pay them back when we need to. Most is invested very conservatively, but we have taken a small portion and put it into alternative investments like hedge funds, private equity, and venture capital. Today we have north of $1 billion invested in 17 of the leading venture capital firms…so that gives us a unique vantage point [about] where the markets are going, and where innovation is going.

A next evolutionary step [that] we’ve taken is that very often, one or more of these 17 venture capital firms will come to us and say, “We’ve come across this company, and we think it’s particularly strategically relevant to you.” In the past, we’d say, “We really don’t do that type of direct investing.” We didn’t spin up an internal corporate VC group [to source] deals or lead deals. But we have freed up $100 million so that when those opportunities come our way, we can participate alongside of our VC partners. The only circumstance where we’d make a co-investment is if we believe that the capability that the company has is strategically relevant to MetLife, and can create new forms of customer value. An example of that last year was Enigma, [a startup focused on extracting intelligence from data].

Launching a New Accelerator

Last year, we announced that we had entered into an agreement with Techstars to create the MetLife Digital Accelerator, powered by Techstars. They’ve been around for years, and have had a track record of success…

The term accelerator has taken on lots of different definitions and meanings. When we really looked beneath the covers of Y Combinator, and 500 Startups, and the regional ones, many of them are just about, “Hey, startups, join our network and we’ll provide you some informal coaching, plus a little seed capital.” What we liked about Techstars is it is…a defined, 13-week intensive program, where the founders have to co-locate on your campus. That’s unique and powerful, and it explains a lot of the success they’ve had. … We dedicate MetLife people from all over the company to be mentors—people that range from product to channel to operations, claims, strategy, technology…

We ran our first program with them in Cary, N.C. last fall, and graduated 10 companies. We’re recruiting 10 companies for this year’s accelerator. [Techstars] believes that each one gets better. It’s not the kind of thing you do once, declare victory, and go home.

… In the most recent accelerator, we had a range of companies [at various stages of product maturity]. A couple were really concepts that just needed to be fleshed out. Some had a very primitive minimum viable product, but three or four had a product you could put in front of customers. All of that is interesting to us. The earlier we can get in, and help shape it and direct it towards the needs of our customers, the better.

From the accelerator, we are looking to pilot in some way…with six of the ten companies that participated.

Innovation Starts in Labs and Universities

Innovation is a chain, and it starts very early with invention in labs and universities, where you have students creating new capabilities, but not necessarily thinking about commercialization. We have a very strategic partnership with the MIT Media Lab…

Some Startup Engagement Examples

We have worked with a company called Captricity [now known as Vidado], which does optical character recognition on steroids. Their technology ingests documents, even handwritten documents, with an accuracy rate that in many ways exceeds human capabilities. And in our business, there are a fair amount of paper documents still, when you’re dealing with doctors and dental records. We’re implementing it all over the company now very successfully.

Enroll Hero is a startup from our accelerator. Our mission is to help people navigate life, particularly during difficult times. When people are getting ready to retire and choosing a Medicare plan, it can be complicated and overwhelming. Enroll Hero allows you to enter profile information about yourself. It has all of the details of the different plans and options, and it presents the plan best-suited for your needs, [taking into account] your age and health and state. We piloted it with some MetLife customers, and we were very surprised at the take-up rate…

Measuring Value

From the very beginning, we looked at measuring success through two lenses. One is activity, and one is results. Often, people say, “My company only cares about results; activity is bad.” But in the world of innovation, if you don’t drive the right activities, you don’t get the right results.

For us, an activity would be saying, “We’re going to interview 120 people this year, and identify 25 POCs or pilots, and enter into 8 or 10 contracts this year. We also run internal innovation programs, like brainstorming sessions and facilitated sessions. So we keep track of how many associates we engaged, and how many managers we trained. Those are all activities.

[Results include things like] how much growth we generated, or how much efficiency. Did we improve associate engagement or enhance the customer experience. Those four measures are the four categories we measure to judge the success of the program.

Moving Faster

One of the things that has frustrated the startups and the VC world for decades is how slow large companies move when it comes to pilots and POCs. It is really the Achille’s heel…

We wanted to create an effort called Pilot E-ZPass—it became known as Pilot Onboard Process. We met with the people across MetLife in procurement, legal, regulatory, architecture—all of the different constituencies who have a say when a vendor comes in. We said, “We want an E-ZPass system for these small vendors that isn’t weighted down by bureaucracy. Everyone bought in. We rolled it out last year. [It covers both pilots and proof-of-concepts.]

From the beginning, we said we wanted it to be less than a month [to get a pilot or proof-of-concept approved]. If it’s less than a month, it’s good. It took quite a while to bring everyone along, because you want to protect the corporation. We had to really educate them about what were trying to accomplish—that we were not trying to do end-runs around important provisions of contracts. I would say it took probably a year from when we conceived of doing it to when it was fully implemented. But the first half of it was introductory meetings and selling. The last half was creating documents and getting decision rights clear.








Vita Inclinata Rings the Nasdaq Bell!

This morning, July 3, 2019, Vita Inclinata rang the opening Nasdaq bell as winners of the 2019 Rice University Business Plan Competition. Check out CNBC’s coverage:

https://www.cnbc.com/video/2019/07/03/opening-bell-july-3-2019.html

Vita, based in Denver and Seattle, is pioneering new, innovative hardware solutions for daily safety challenges in aerospace, construction and other dangerous industries. Vita’s first product, the Load Stability System, was created to solve the deadly swinging of helicopter hoisting and sling-load systems. They are alumni of the 2019 Air Force Accelerator Powered by Techstars

Vita CEO Caleb Carr was joined by Brad Burke, managing director of the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, which hosts the annual business plan competition, Col. Randall “Laz” Gordon from AFWERX, Capt. Steven Lauver from AFWERX, Ryan Helbach from Air Force Research Lab, and Warren Katz, managing director of the Air Force Accelerator Powered by Techstars. 

 








David & Brad reflect on the first six episodes of the Give First podcast

How has the Give First podcast been going? David and Brad reflect on their initial forays into podcast hosting, and come to the conclusion that, while they’re still learning, their guests are amazing. 

With six full episodes of the Give First podcast under their belts, David Cohen and Brad Feld are of the opinion that they’ll probably need to do about 20-30 to truly hit their stride as podcast hosts. But they have nothing but praise for guests so far: Wendy Lea, Paul Berberian, Troy Henikoff, Mary Grove, T.A. McCann, and Kesha Cash.   

In this episode, David and Brad discuss what they learned from each guest, their favorite anecdotes or lessons, and how each one of these extraordinary people lives Give First in their own way. Plus David tells some more of his beloved dad jokes. 

They also offer useful advice for how to get the most out of working with an idea-a-minute person—like, for example, one of these cohosts.  

How do you think these newbie podcast hosts are doing so far? What do you think of this pause for reflection? Who would you like to hear as a guest on an upcoming episode? 

David and Brad would love to hear about what you love and what you don’t. You can email them your feedback on the Give First podcast at podcasts@techstars.com.

Companies, people, and resources mentioned in this podcast:

Edited highlights from the conversation:

Wendy Lea talks about the risks of saying no

David: The first episode was the wonderful Miss Wendy Lee. What I remember from that show is Wendy talking about the risk of saying No. Right? You have all these opportunities and you think about the risk of saying Yes, but it’s sort of stuck with me that actually not doing something is a pretty big risk sometimes too.

Brad: I’ve known Wendy now for 20 years since I first met her when she had moved to Boulder; I think she had left she left Siebel systems by then. One of the things that’s amazing when you listen to Wendy talk is the level of humility she has with her journey, which is something else that I find really refreshing. She’s always still learning. And even when she was describing the anecdote about saying No, it almost sounded like she was relearning it again, which made me smile. I really liked it.

David: Yeah. It’s been a really fantastic to have her around Techstars, on the board for many years. And  I know I learned a lot from her too. So if you haven’t caught that episode, definitely would recommend you go check it out. 

Wendy’s seen so many different things in her career, right? She’s been in the big companies and little companies and I think her perspective is super interesting.

Brad: I think the geographic perspective is useful too because her range of experiences and where she’s really spent her time. A long tour of duty in Cincinnati with Cintrifuse and then prior to that, a bunch of time in the Bay Area. And so the ability to really get a view of entrepreneurship from multiple different startup communities is powerful. 

The other thing I’d say about the episode, since it was our first, is I’ve been reflecting as I listen to each episode. When we talked to Wendy, it was literally the very first time you and I had done a podcast together. We’ve both been on lots of podcasts, but being in the hosting shoes is a totally different thing. And as I listened to it I cringed some with our own performance and sort of our stiffness around it, and my sense that we probably have to do 20 or 30 episodes before we really hit our stride. And that’s a powerful thing to remember when you’re trying something new, even if you have had a lot of success and done a lot of different things in different contexts. And so approaching this whole podcast thing with beginner’s mind—I was reminded of that when I listened to the one we did with Wendy.

David: Exactly. I say the same thing, like the sixth one was better than the first one, but probably still not good. So we’re figuring it out. 

We do have an email address: podcasts@techstars.com. People have been sending us feedback: do more like that or less like that. Stop telling dad jokes, Cohen, they say things like that. But you know, that’s how you learn. So hopefully we’ll keep improving it. And I agree it’s going to be 30, maybe 50, before we really get our rhythm. And I’m trying to learn from the best. Right? We’re taking some notes from Harry Stebbings and doing more research about the guests ahead of time and really getting more questions to ask them. 

We’d love more feedback at podcasts@techstars.com.

Paul Berberian on the “addictive” nature of mentoring

David: In episode two, we had Paul Berberian, who we’ve both known for a long time, about how mentoring can really feel addictive, and what mentors and mentees really get out of it without even realizing it. And what stuck with me was hearing his stories about his dad—how his dad was an entrepreneur and he just sort of was always around that. And that resonated with me because that was the same way in my family.

Brad: Paul and I worked on the very first investment I made from the prior firm I was part of, which became called Mobius Venture Capital. It was a company called Raindance.  So we both got to work together at the beginning of our journey. We were both working together today on Paul’s company, Sphero, which is Techstars company. One of the things that’s been interesting about Paul and my own experience with them working together is it’s the epitome for me of peer mentorship.

I feel like over the years I’ve learned as much from Paul as I imagined that he’s learned from me. And I can’t actually say what he’s learned from me. He’d have to be the one that says what he’d learned. But he sort of brings that across well in the podcast. He’s still an entrepreneur who is learning a lot from other mentors around him. But at the same time he provides extraordinary mentorship back. And as you get to that place where you’ve worked together for a very long time, the mentor relationship changes and it’s not mentor, mentee, but it’s just pure mentorship where you’re both interacting with each other and learning from each other on this journey through life.

David: That journey, you never know where it’s going to take you. You know, I’m fortunate enough to work with Paul also, and I talked to him for an hour yesterday. He’s an idea-a-minute guy, right? He has lots of new ideas all the time. I know you have that. I have some of that affliction as well. 

T.A. McCann on how sailing in the America’s Cup is like running a startup

David: As we got to T.A. in a later episode, T.A. McCann talked a lot about how he deals with an idea a minute and his ITINDY system. That episode was really cool, talking about sailing and what he learned from sailing, and how that influenced his thinking about being an entrepreneur. It was just really fascinating to me.

Brad: T.A. and I ran the Madison Marathon together, I don’t know, four or five years ago. It was through the University of Wisconsin, Madison campus, and it was maybe a third or a half marathon. That was where T.A. trained—he’s a swimmer and trained for a bunch of time. And I think we spent most of the four and a half hours of the marathon talking. Talking about sailing, swimming, training, discipline—the dynamics around these big goals that you have far in the future, but all the ups and downs that it takes to get you there, including the successes and failures instantiated along the way as an entrepreneur and as an investor. 

My own experience with T.A. is watching him in this very, very long view, steady, deliberate step after step after step frame without being resistant to all of the different things that come at you, which really comes out when he talks about the experience with sailing, because who the hell knows what’s going to happen? Right? It’s just crazy minute to minute. And the parallel to entrepreneurship in a lot of ways is very, very similar.

David: If you didn’t get a chance to check that one out there’s some great stories about some famous people, including severed thumbs. Yeah, I wouldn’t miss it if I were you.  

You know, the thing that T.A. blogged about that he mentioned in the show, the ITINDY—he said, Greg Gottesman, who he works with at Pioneer Square Labs, is the idea-a-minute guy. I said, yeah, I’ve got one of those guys in my world. It might be my cohost. And he has this system: ITINDY. I had never heard of it, but it’s on T.A.’s blog and it’s Important Things I’m Not Doing Yet. Meaning I want to do it someday. Have you seen that system elsewhere, and how do you recommend people deal with so many ideas?

Brad: Well, I do know T.A.’s ITINDY thing. He had to deal with me also as his investor in a company called Gist, and I have the same affliction, which is a large number of ideas all the time about different things. I have my own approach to them. It’s different than “strong opinions, loosely held,” which I think is a terrible phrase. I wrote a blog post about this recently. It’s a very different problem when you have lots of ideas, because what you’re doing when you have lots of ideas that you’re giving other people data. If you’re not being discriminating about the data that you’re giving them, it’s up to them to some degree how to prioritize them. 

People who are really good at dealing with people like Greg or me, sort of on the receiving end of those ideas, know two things. One is that it’s up to them to prioritize, which means that there’s an awful lot of things they can toss by the wayside. The other is that the vast majority of the ideas aren’t good ones. They’re ideas. They’re not assertions, they’re not truths, they’re not facts, they’re just ideas. They need to figure out how to listen to the ideas from your partner, who’s an idea-a-minute partner, or your colleague or your investor or whomever, and process it. Not toss it all away, because then you’re going to miss some absolute total gems, but at the same time not stifle or try to control it. Because the idea-a-minute person—if you say, look, I can only get one idea from you today, so I’ll pick the best idea. That doesn’t work either because then the idea-a-minute person just shuts down, and he goes and find some other place for his ideas. So I think T.A.’s approach is a really good one and it’s a good example of self management.

David: I find a lot of times that with you and our relationship, most of the ideas actually are really good. It’s just impossible to keep up with all of them. And a lot of times what happens by just capturing them and thinking about them is that you end up with a higher level concept: some idea that’s an amalgamation of all the other things.  And that those can be really powerful because you’re kind of getting at the intersection of lots of great ideas.

Brad: I think that’s well said. 

Something T.A. said to me at the very beginning of our relationship. I can’t remember if it was in the first couple of months after I made the investment, but he said something akin to: Hey Brad, I appreciate all this product feedback you’re giving me. He has a wonderful story about how we still hadn’t invested but it was just before Christmas and he had just turned me on to the latest build of Gist. And on Christmas Day I sent him like 15 emails with products, feedback. And I think it still amuses to this day. I explained to him that as an oppressed Jewish kid who never had Christmas, what I prefer to do is play with software on Christmas day when everybody else is opening presents, because that’s a really joyful thing for me to do.

And he asked me, he said: You’re giving me all this product feedback. What do you expect me to do with it? Do you want me to prioritize it? Is it important to you? How do you think about it? And I said, I’m just giving it to you. It’s stuff I see. It’s up to you to do whatever you want with it, and you’re the CEO. I trust you as a CEO to do whatever you want with it. If you don’t want me to send it to you, or you want me to send it to somebody else because it’s distracting you, just tell me where to send it. Do you want me to put in a database? I’ll put in a database. If you want me to not do it anymore, I’ll go play with somebody else’s software.

It’s that kind of approach. I think that reflects more on T.A. than on me. Early in the relationship, he came at me and said, Help me define how you want this to work so that I, T.A., understand what your, Brad’s, goals are, so that I, T.A., CEO, can then be more effective dealing with your goals. It didn’t put him in a one up or one down relationship with me, but it took control of the interaction so that he could get the best use and the best information from it.

David: Love it. Sounds familiar on some level. 

Mary Grove on the origins of Google for Startups & Startup Weekend

David: In episode four, Brad, you spent a bunch of time with Mary Grove. You’ve spent a bunch of time in your career with Mary as well. She’s now at the Rise of the Rest fund.  We talked about the power of entrepreneurship globally, growing that through Google for Entrepreneurs. I know you’ve had a really long experience with her. I’ve worked with her more recently on the Techstars Foundation and found her to be hugely additive. What were your biggest takeaways from talking to Mary?

Brad: Well, for those people out there that are fans of Startup Communities and follow the work that I’ve done with the book and subsequently the work that Techstars has done, both with startup communities and around ecosystem development, there are probably 30 or 40 people that have really influenced my thinking over the last decade on this. And Mary is near the top of the list. It’s not from huge amounts of time spent together going deep intellectually on things, but rather from observing what she has done and how she has done it, specifically in Google and around Google for Entrepreneurs. I’ve talked for a long time over the last six or seven years to people about how large corporations, tech and otherwise, can be helpful in the context of startup communities. And in 2012 when I wrote Startup Communities, I had some ideas about it that I’d say were early.

I think Techstars—through all the work that David, you’ve done, that David Brown’s done, that the leadership team of Techstars has done in all the various accelerators that we’ve done with different corporate partners—has really advanced that thinking for me. But I often go back to thinking about Mary and the context of what she did with Google for Entrepreneurs. And when I’m trying to explain to someone in a large corporation how to think about their company—overlapping with entrepreneurs and how they can be helpful and supportive and entrepreneurs-centric, but entrepreneurs-centric against the backdrop of their large organization’s goals—I often use examples that come out of things that I either observed, saw, or experienced that Mary had done and Mary and her team had done at Google for Entrepreneurs.

David: In listening to that show, one thing I remember being struck by is the gratefulness that she was trying to express. And I always think, Wow, I’m just so happy that we’ve been able to work with you and learn from you. That’s the power of this whole Give First thing, right? Maybe everybody feels like they’re doing that, but they’re getting so much more in that virtuous cycle. So I really felt that from that particular episode.

Brad: My partners at Foundry a have a specific line that we like to use when we’re talking about people, which is that we always want to work with good people. For us, “good people” is the price of admission. We like to think we’re good people, and when we don’t behave as good people, we are open to the feedback around it. But we’re really trying to work with other good people, and really we’re trying to work with awesome people.

One of the attributes of awesome people in our frame of reference is that they’re appreciative of the experiences that they get. Use me as an example. Right? I’m super appreciative of all the people I get to spend time with and work with on all the things I get to do. And yeah, sure, sometimes I have a bad day or I’m in a bad mood or I’m grumpy or I don’t behave well or I fail at something and I’m frustrated with myself or other people. But this idea of always trying to be an awesome person and surround yourself with awesome people. It comes back to the thing I said at the very beginning.  I think about Wendy: just this notion of humility, this appreciation of our time on this planet, and that we get to work with each other on these super interesting things.

David: Techstars calls it awesome people collection mode. I don’t know where we got it. If you run into an awesome person, you can collect them and get them on the team, get them in your portfolio, then you just have more awesome people that you’re around. And I agree that that feeling of thankfulness, gratefulness that you get back from them is one of the attributes that they seem to have.

When I look at the first six guests, we’ve done pretty well. We have three women that we’ve had on the show and we’ve had three men. I think that’s somewhat intentional but good balance. 

Kesha Cash on impact investing—and how mentorship got her there

David: One of those guests in episode six was Kesha Cash.  We talked with her about mentorship and the opportunity to learn from her mentors that allowed her to get into investing. She talked about the particular mentor that, much like Paul Berberian talked about Jack Tankersley, she said this person really opened the door for her to become an investor. And of course that’s had downstream impact on diversity and inclusion in the world because Kesha is now investing in so many people and creating so many opportunities herself. So that was a fun one that I enjoyed. And of course I know you’ve done a lot Brad, as well, to promote diversity and inclusion, and I think this is something that is worth a lot. 

Brad: I think in addition to the notion of promoting diversity and inclusion, I think it links directly into the idea of mentorship, and this notion that anybody who is experienced should try as part of their energy to be as inclusive as they can of other people who are trying to get into the industry that they’ve got experience in. That applies to venture capital, applies to entrepreneurship, applies to a bunch of different things. And I think that one of the central tenants of Startup Communities is this idea of being inclusive of anyone who wants to engage in any level. But more importantly, as a mentor, it’s been very powerful and very satisfying to me, both emotionally but also intellectually, in terms of my own learning feedback loop, to mentor some younger women who are trying to get into the venture community or are early as venture capitalists.

We’ve been very supportive of All Raise since they started, both functionally and financially. And one of the things that I’ve gotten to do as part of that is every, I think it’s every quarter, I get assigned by All Raise a female VC. All different experiences. They do a good job of matching them up with domains where I can be helpful from a domain perspective. And in that mentoring activity, it’s not that I’m talking to the person or trying to teach them anything or just being a network connector for them.  But it’s a committed, engaged relationship where we spend time talking about specific things that they’re struggling with, that that particular VC is struggling with, in a confidential environment. I just had one of these calls the other day, so it’s fresh in my mind. 

It reminds me of the importance of two things as a mentor. One is to listen well to the person to understand their context and their reality, because it may be very different than my own context and reality. And then the flip side is that as I engaged in this particular conversation, as I engaged in the feedback, I actually learned a bunch from the person who I was mentoring, based on some dynamics that she was encountering that didn’t ever occur to me as a middle aged white guy. So again, this idea of this feedback loop where as a mentor you can learn a lot from the mentee, especially when you open your aperture to be more inclusive of other types of people versus just people that you know, or that find you, or that you find randomly.

David: So what point, Brad, do you think we go from middle aged white guy to kind of old white guy? I mean is there a moment when that becomes very real for us?

Brad: I’m starting to feel like I’m in that shift.

David: It’s like all the injuries you get every day. Yeah.

Brad: Please don’t tell my parents, because I don’t think my mom wants to think of me as old yet.

David: Yeah. Well, but there is a moment. For me, I have this Achilles pull. Like every time I go to play tennis I’m limping around, you know, injuring myself somehow. So I’m getting there, I think.

Brad: I think that has less to do with the age spectrum and more to do with just being whiny.

David: Is that what it is? So I could work on that then. I can’t work on the age, but I can work on the whiny.

Brad: Stretch more. The age will advance a day at a time. Just stretch more.

David: Even the day is a completely artificial construct, as you know.  

Troy Henikoff on how #GiveFirst grew the Chicago startup ecosystem

David: You talk about learning from the interactions with female VCs or people dealing with different problems. I learned from Troy Henikoff, with whom we did episode three. Troy tells this amazing story—much better than I will here—in episode three about how he got so much back from an entrepreneur who viewed him as being helpful, but who he saw as being way, way more helpful to him in his career. And that articulation of it was really amazing for me, because it was about Alex White and Next Big Sound, which was a company we funded, and how Troy’s perception was that Alex had completely changed the trajectory of his life, and Alex sort of felt the same way. 

So bringing this whole thing full circle, this is the Give First podcast, right? And I think that key message that we’re really trying to get through and bring out in these stories is that by giving first there’s this cycle, it just escalates and comes back in totally unexpected ways. And I thought Troy did a great job of capturing that story with Next Big Sound.

Brad: I think Troy, he also has a couple of other good stories, one in the podcast about other people where he didn’t have an economic relationship but he’s still got back massive value that he didn’t expect. And I think this is something that comes up all the time. I think we struggle or people struggle sometimes with, well, how much energy should I put into something if I don’t know what the economically defined outcome is going to be on the front end? And there is often magic that happens when you’re willing to—across multiple people, across multiple different contexts, and over time—put your own energy into things, but without having to find that transactional construct upfront. Right? That’s the essence of Give First. 

Troy’s a great example of it, and very articulate about how that has played out in his own life.  And then he translates it into lots of 1:1 behavior, which I’ve seen and experienced and been involved in plenty of. But in some ways, even more interesting, 1:many behavior. Troy has worked very, very hard at doing content that’s unique in very bite sized chunks. If you’re an entrepreneur and you’re looking for various quick hit things—fundraising or pitching or positioning your company—Troy’s done a really amazing job, for the only reason that he experienced a ton of this and learned a ton of it from all of his experiences as Techstars MD in Chicago, and then just wanted to translate it more broadly to a bunch of people.

David: He’s still so plugged in to Techstars. He’s running MATH, but he’s still showing up, and being a top mentor, and you end up seeing him everywhere you go and he very connected to the system. So it’s a great relationship that just continues to develop over time, as the best ones do.

Brad: So, David, from the way we’ve been talking, it would seem like we actually like these people a lot.

David: You would think. I mean, we’re probably good actors.

Brad: I mean, are you just being effusive about your adulation for these people?

David: I mean, that’s why we have them on the show. We’re not going to have people on the show that we think suck, right? We’re going to have people on the show who we think you can learn from, who do amazing things but, but who represent a cross section of different points of view. 

So that is the show for today. Let us know if you like this format or not. We would love to hear: do you like this sort of banter about the past episodes or would you rather hear Brad and I tell dad jokes? Let us know your preferences.  Let us know if you have thoughts a guest who should be on the show. And you know, we’ll keep doing it until we find out nobody’s listening. That’s the plan.








Leading Student Entrepreneurial Teams Begin LaunchPad Lift Program

Recent research confirms that successful startup founders need a combination of passion and vision (soft skills) and experience (hard skills). But how do enthusiastic and driven—but young—entrepreneurs quickly gain the critical knowledge and benefits that come with experience? One proven strategy is participation in a program like LaunchPad Lift.

For the second time this year, seven of the top collegiate entrepreneurial teams from campuses across the country are participating in LaunchPad Lift, an exclusive offering of Blackstone Launchpad powered by Techstars. This eight week virtual program offers valuable outside-the-classroom instruction and mentorship on a variety of topics critical to the success of startups including goal setting, fundraising, product development and roadmapping, and more. It also provides students access to the Blackstone and Techstars networks of advisors and mentors who can provide the crucial insight and advice that young founders need.

“After seeing the tremendous impact from the inaugural Lift cohort earlier this year, we’re excited to be offering this unique and powerful startup program once again,” said Erica Lock, Vice President at the Blackstone Charitable Foundation. “As the LaunchPad network grows to reaching nearly a million students, we need smaller, more focused programs like this to offer unparalleled network-building opportunities to the nation’s top operating collegiate entrepreneurs.”

Young founders face a number of unique challenges, including student debt and increased global competition, but one of the most significant obstacles to a startup is forging connections with advocates outside the academic environment. With Lift subject matter experts and mentors from organizations like Rally and Quark Software, Highway 12 Ventures, and Shutterfly, these 20 student founders will have an incredible opportunity for dialogue and relationship-building with these extraordinarily innovative and experienced entrepreneurial advisors.

According to Alyssa Petersel, Founder of My WellBeing and Spring 2019 LaunchPad Lift participant, “LaunchPad Lift is a fantastic opportunity to gain an overview of the topics and themes most relevant to leading a successful startup. Connecting weekly with a mentor who is committed to your growth, who has experience starting and growing a startup, is a truly irreplaceable experience in gaining perspective, support and feedback, and broadening your network.”

The seven student-led teams in this fall’s Lift program include diverse participants with a wide range of backgrounds from schools in the northeast, western, and southern regions of the United States. These students’ businesses represent industries including hardware, applications, health and beauty, food and beverage, and more.

Ventures selected for inclusion in this program were chosen by a team of experts from Blackstone and Techstars. These experts looked for passionate entrepreneurs who were willing and able to learn from mentor and advisor feedback, and whose companies show great startup potential. 

Meet the ventures:

OptechVR (Syracuse) – Using a combination of technologies, OptechVR is developing a standalone virtual reality headset for use in enterprise, medicine, education, and visualization. Twitter: @optechvr

Via (University of Texas at Austin) – Via is developing an online platform to facilitate local experiences with the help of youth ambassadors. Twitter: @hiddenwanders

ROSEN (UCLA) – Rosen is a natural skincare business helping individuals feel confident and in control of their skin health. Twitter: @rosenskincare

Antithesis Foods (Cornell) – Making food better through science, Antithesis makes a high fiber, high protein, low calorie chickpea-based snack. Twitter: @grabanzos

Ridesurf (University of Central Florida) – A ride sharing app, Ridesurf helps coordinate long distance rides between two or more people. Twitter: @goridesurf

Aviate Audio (University of Buffalo) – Aviate produces Airpatch, a wireless effects dock and controller that can interface with any guitar pedal or signal chain. Twitter: @aviateaudio

May West (Montana State University) – Using milkweed seedpod, May West produces an animal product- and synthetic-free, plant-based winter coat. Instagram: @may__west

The fall 2019 LaunchPad Lift program will run for eight weeks from June 26 until August 21 and will culminate with a final event on November 7 at the Blackstone offices in New York. This premier closing event will take place in conjunction with the LaunchPad Fall Training Camp.

Stay tuned to this blog or follow @Techstars on Twitter for more information about these businesses, their student founders, and the impact of the Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars.

The Blackstone Charitable Foundation and Techstars partnership increases the chances for collegiate ventures to succeed by ensuring they have the resources they need to thrive. The Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars entrepreneurship program is accessible by over 500,000 college students globally and designed to support and mentor students, staff, and alumni entrepreneurs regardless of major, experience, or discipline.