David Cohen and Brad Feld muse on the terrific guests they’ve talked to so far and tease some new guests, announcements, and books coming soon.
Back in June 2019, David Cohen and Brad Feld looked back at their first six episodes of the Give First podcast, and decided that while they were pretty pleased, they’d probably need to do about 20-30 to really hit their stride.
Seven months later, they’ve passed number 20, so they’re taking another moment to check in. Listen for reflections from these persistent podcast hosts, plus reminiscences on highlights from recent episodes with Josh Hix, Rajat Bhargava, Elizabeth Kraus, Jason Mendelson, Jannet Bannister, Heidi Roizen, Marc Nager & Dave Mayer, John China, Sherri Hammons, and Rebecca Lovell — as well as Harry Stebbings, host of the Twenty Minute VC, who enjoyed his first experience on “the other side of the microphone” as David’s guest.
Brad teases a big new move for Techstars — the announcement, just last week, of Techstars Press — and talks about all the books he’s writing. Most of all, David and Brad want to hear what you think. Should the episodes be longer? Shorter? You can email them your feedback on the Give First podcast at email@example.com.
The new publishing imprint will curate and publish breakout ideas from entrepreneurs, innovators and industry disruptors
Boulder, Colo. (January 16, 2020) – Techstars, the worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed, today announces plans with John Wiley & Sons, Inc. (NYSE: JWA and JWB), a global leader in research and education, to launch a new publishing imprint, Techstars Press.
Techstars Press will serve as the premier publishing home for entrepreneurs, innovators, and industry disruptors, and will acquire, curate, and publish with the mission of providing indispensable resources for the startup community. In keeping with the Techstars spirit of stimulating innovation and positive social and economic change globally, Techstars Press will act as a platform to launch breakout ideas and industry expertise within the entrepreneurial and startup landscape.
“With Techstars Press, we will aim to create a better, more innovative, and more author- and audience-appropriate publishing experience for entrepreneurs and innovators,” said Jenny Lawton, Chief Innovation Officer, Techstars. “By bringing these books together under one imprint we will focus, amplify, and accelerate the success of each book, and help authors benefit from the power and support of the Techstars global network.
Through Techstars Press, Techstars and Wiley will be able to offer unique value to authors and readers, bringing to market rich content from talent that traditional publishing houses alone don’t have access to, and providing a flexible range of offerings in both product and promotion.
“Wiley has long been a proud publisher of some of the greatest thought leaders on business and technology,” said Matt Holt, SVP of Professional Development at Wiley. “We are excited to partner on Techstars Press, using our 200+ year-long publishing legacy to elevate the valuable insights from their well-respected entrepreneurial community.”
Techstars Press will publish its inaugural titles in 2020, including Yes, You Can Do This! How Women Start Up, Scale Up and Build The Life They Want by Techstars’ General Manager, Claudia Reuter, due to be published in February. Yes, You Can Do This! encourages women to “lean in” to entrepreneurship in order to create businesses with the rules they want and change the playing field for others all while making a significant impact in the world.
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 1,900 companies with a market cap of more than $25 Billion. www.techstars.com
Wiley drives the world forward with research and education. Through publishing, platforms and services, we help students, researchers, universities, and corporations to achieve their goals in an ever-changing world. For more than 200 years, we have delivered consistent performance to all of our stakeholders. The Company’s website can be accessed at www.wiley.com.
Lauren Andrich (Wiley) + 1 201-748-5838
Michelle Zack (Techstars) +1 678-773-6163
YES, YOU CAN DO THIS! HOW WOMEN START UP,
SCALE UP, AND BUILD THE LIFE THEY WANT
YES, YOU CAN DO THIS! IS SET TO BE PUBLISHED BY TECHSTARS PRESS, A PARTNERSHIP BETWEEN TECHSTARS AND WILEY, ON FEBRUARY 19TH
Hoboken, NJ (January 16, 2020) – In the upcoming new book Yes, You Can Do This! author and General Manager Americas East for worldwide entrepreneurial network, Techstars, Claudia Reuter, has created a new manifesto for women in the workforce. Reuter shares her story of re-entering the workforce after raising her two young children and the unique path she forged to create the career and life she wanted. In Yes, You Can Do This! Reuter invites other women to explore and to consider entrepreneurship by weaving a fictional narrative with practical take-away resources, so they too can create businesses with the rules they want, combat many of the challenges women face along much more nuanced career journeys, and step into leadership positions of their choosing.
“Right now, fewer than 10 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women, less than 25 percent of corporate board directors are women, and only 17 percent of companies offer paid maternity leave,” Reuter notes. “While we’re making progress, at the current rate of change we’re still 100 years away from gender parity in the workforce. I wrote this book because I believe that if we can support more women who pursue entrepreneurship, we can change those stats more quickly, and level the playing field for others in the process.”
More than just a “how-to’ book, Yes, You Can Do This! provides clear examples and practical resources to help women
- Develop and share their vision
- Learn how to deal with stereotypes and unconscious bias
- Leverage perceived weaknesses and turn them into strengths
- Balance life and avoid burnout
- Cultivate the confidence to transform an idea to a company with the culture and rules they want
Yes, You Can Do This! is the first title to be published under the imprint Techstars Press, a new partnership between Wiley and Techstars, that will serve as the premier publishing home for entrepreneurs, innovators, and industry disruptors, and will acquire, curate, and publish with the mission of providing indispensable resources for the startup community.
In keeping with the Techstars spirit of stimulating innovation and positive social and economic change globally, Techstars Press will act as a platform to launch breakout ideas and industry expertise within the entrepreneurial and startup landscape. Through Techstars Press, Techstars and Wiley will be able to offer unique value to authors and readers, bringing to market rich content from talent that traditional publishing houses alone don’t have access to, and providing a flexible range of offerings in both product and promotion.
Yes, You Can Do This! is currently available for pre-order and will be available wherever books and ebooks are sold on February 19th.
About the author: Claudia Reuter (http://www.techstars.com / https://www.claudiareuter.com/) is a GM for Techstars, where she’s invested in several companies, a former Senior Vice President of Labs and Digital Services for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and the former CEO and co-founder of SchoolChapters (acquired by HMH). She currently serves on the Board of Directors at Lessonly and has been featured on leanin.org, quoted in Forbes and Entrepreneur, and recognized for her trailblazing work by the Boston Business Journal as a “Women to Watch in Technology” and as a “Changemaker” by HUBweek, for her focus on bringing technology to places it doesn’t exist. She is a member of the Editorial Advisory Board for Innovation Leader and she is the creator and host of the podcast “The 43 Percent” which debuted in March 2019 as a “New and Noteworthy” on Apple podcasts.
About the book: Yes, You Can Do This! How Women Start Up, Scale Up, and Build The Life They Want by Claudia Reuter (Techstars Press, February 2020, 224 Pages, $25.00, ISBN: 9781119625605). For more information please visit the book’s page on Wiley.com.
Media contact: For advance review copies of the book, interviews with the author, excerpt requests or any additional information, please contact: Amy Laudicano, Wiley – firstname.lastname@example.org.
Techstars Global Network Partner Pilot provides bookkeeping and tax prep services to startups so that they can focus on their business instead of their books. Techstars alumni companies can receive 20% off Pilot Core bookkeeping for six months and a free consultation call for setting up their back office.
By Waseem Daher, Cofounder and CEO of Pilot
My Pilot cofounders and I built and sold two companies before Pilot. In the process, we learned a lot about the pains and pleasures of building companies. At our first two companies, one of the biggest pains was bookkeeping, so our third business—Pilot—is all about solving that problem.
Along the way, we’ve become extremely familiar with the financial mistakes that startups make. Some of them Pilot can help you solve. As for the rest, here’s my best advice on what not to do.
The 4 Biggest — and Most Common — Mistakes Startups Make:
Mixing your company’s money with your personal money
Don’t do this. Seriously, just don’t. The official name for this is “commingling,” and it causes problems.
For one thing, if you commingle your company’s assets with your personal assets, you could lose the liability shield that you got by incorporating. This is what keeps your company debts separate from your personal ones. You don’t want to be on the hook personally for your company’s debts. Another problem with commingling: the possibility of owing lots more in taxes, if the IRS decides that stuff the company buys for you is actually compensation you aren’t paying taxes on. Not good.
My solution: Get and use corporate credit cards to make company purchases. This gives you a clean separation of work and personal expenses, plus you can easily see what the company is spending money on. If employees need to spend money on behalf of the company and then get reimbursed, use expense reporting software (I like Expensify) to do the tracking and reimbursing. Take a day early on in your startup and set this stuff up. You will not regret it — and if you don’t do this, I guarantee that you’ll spend way more than a day sorting out the mess later.
Want to get more expert financial advice for your startup, or hear more from Pilot founder Waseem Daher about how he built three successful companies? Register now for a live AMA (Ask Me Anything) with Waseem on February 20, 2020 at 1 pm ET. Register Now →
Not doing your taxes properly
This is a big one, so I’m going to break it down into the top errors I’ve seen:
Not filing corporate tax returns
You still have to file corporate tax returns, even if you made no money. Yes, there are penalties if you don’t do this.
Ignoring other fees and filings
You probably already know about state and federal tax returns and payroll filings. But there are other fees and filings you need to take care of as well. These vary by state and even city.
Missing tax credits
Your company might qualify for tax credits worth a lot of money. The R&D tax credit, for example, could save you up to $250,000 per year in payroll taxes if you qualify.
Not collecting W-9s as you go
When tax time rolls around, you’re going to need information about the vendors you paid that year. Don’t waste time begging already-paid vendors to go back and fill out paperwork in December. Have them fill out a W-9 at the start of the relationship, and you’re set.
My solution: Most of your tax problems can be solved by hiring a good tax preparer and keeping good records. Even if you feel confident in your ability to file your returns correctly and on time, consult a tax preparer to make sure you’re not missing any of those other fees and filings—or credits. Also, before you decide to do your taxes yourself, take a minute to run the math: estimate the cost, then compare that to your best guess at how much time it’ll take you to DIY your taxes, and factor in your level of certainty that you’ll get it right. Now go ahead and hire the tax preparer.
Most startups get into trouble with payroll because they don’t want to take the time — or spend the money — to set up a proper payroll system. But I guarantee that you’ll make a mess if you pay employees without a payroll system. You don’t want to be calculating tax withholding payments and form filings by hand.
Another hot tip: keep employee addresses up to date in your system. The wrong address can lead to incorrect state tax filings, and fixing these will be a major headache for you and your out-of-state employee.
My solution: Set up the payroll system. Yes, it’s another day that you’re setting up processes instead of building your business. Except that this stuff is building your business, and building it well. Techstars calls this slowing down to speed up, and I love that. If you want my recommendation for a payroll provider for your startup, I really like Gusto.
Messy financial records
Why do you need proper financial records? Three reasons: 1) filing taxes, 2) providing financial statements to a potential investor, landlord, business partner, etc., and 3) saving yourself time and money.
The first two are pretty clear. As for the third: you will spend way more time cleaning up messy records than you would have setting up good systems at the beginning. Plus, good clean records mean that you won’t make mistakes like paying double charges, which can add up fast on large items like rent.
My solution: Hire some help. For our first startup, we did the books ourselves, and in retrospect it was a mistake. I didn’t think it would be a huge burden, and I thought it would keep me closer to the details of the business. I was wrong. It took a surprising amount of time to do well, plus my time was better spent focusing on running my business. Even financial professionals hire bookkeeping firms to take care of their day-to-day stuff.
Ultimately, most of this advice can be summed up as keeping your personal and company money separate, keeping good records, and hiring experts for your taxes, payroll, and bookkeeping. The first two are plain good sense. As for hiring those experts, I have seen over and over how much time and money startups waste trying to do these things for themselves — usually in an effort to save time and money. Learn from their mistakes.
Waseem has lots more financial advice to offer startups — and he’d love to take your questions. Register for a live AMA (Ask Me Anything) with Waseem on February 20, 2020 at 1 pm ET. Register Now →
BOULDER, Colo. – January 6, 2020 – Techstars, the worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed, today announced the launch of the Techstars Future of Longevity Accelerator. Run in partnership with Pivotal Ventures, an investment and incubation company created by Melinda Gates, the new accelerator will work with startups focused on innovative and creative caregiving solutions to address the unmet needs of individuals providing and receiving elder care.
Based in Washington, D.C., the new 13-week program will accept 10 startups on an annual basis, helping them gain traction and accelerate their businesses through investment, hands-on mentorship, and world-class programming. Startups will also benefit from access to Techstars’ worldwide network of mentors, investors, founders, corporates, and government entities, as well as subject matter experts and thought leaders from Pivotal Ventures’ network, who will provide industry and business expertise.
“With generations living longer than ever before, there is an incredible opportunity for innovation within the caregiving space. This market is experiencing unprecedented economic growth as the American 50+ population is already responsible for trillions of dollars of spending and economic activity,” said Keith Camhi, Techstars Senior Vice President of Accelerators. “There could not be a better time to bring an accelerator focused on innovation in this sector to market. We are thrilled to be working with Pivotal Ventures to help startups achieve success in delivering new life-changing and impactful solutions to meet the needs of our aging population.”
Pivotal Ventures, founded in 2015 by Melinda Gates to advance social progress in the U.S., seeks to help spark and nurture innovation in the caregiving marketplace through this accelerator and partnership with Techstars.
Applications for the Techstars Future of Longevity Accelerator are open today, January 6, through April 5, 2020. The accelerator will run July 13, 2020, through October 8, 2020, culminating in a Demo Day where all participating companies will pitch their newly polished business models to investors and industry leaders. Startups interested in the program are encouraged to contact Techstars or visit the Techstars Future of Longevity Accelerator program page for more information.
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 1,900 companies with a market cap of $24.7 Billion. www.techstars.com
About Pivotal Ventures
Pivotal Ventures is an investment and incubation company created by Melinda Gates to advance social progress in the United States. We work with organizations and individuals to accelerate momentum where progress has stalled and use philanthropy and investment capital to substantially improve people’s lives.
With yet another application round for the Air Force Accelerator powered by Techstars having closed at the end of October, it is hard to believe that it’s been less than a year since the 2019 batch was initiated. It’s hard to believe, too, just how prolific this past year has been.
Since February, more than a handful of the selected startups have developed their projects from concepts to market-ready products. A number have secured multi-million dollar contracts, and one founder even found himself ringing the Nasdaq bell as winners of the Rice University Business Plan Competition.
On the heels of a very successful inaugural year, this 2019 edition of the Boston-based accelerator program brought together program Managing Director Warren Katz and team with representatives from the US Air Force innovation program AFWERX, the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) and BAE Systems FAST Labs. Matched with these esteemed mentors, select startups were awarded the opportunity to embark on a three-month program uniquely designed to speed up and streamline engagements between the Department of Defense (DoD) and early-stage startups.
The already reputable Air Force Accelerator powered by Techstars is open to innovators developing dual-purpose solutions (both commercial and military) for autonomous systems, AR/VR for training and education, advanced concepts for the Air Base of the Future, as well as any other application that could offer the US military an edge. But in order to maximize growth potential – and thus meet backers’ soaring expectations – teams have been empowered through AFWERX’s new fast-tracked Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) “Open Topic” contracts. A true game-changer, the highly competitive SBIR government funding option is designed to promote and incentivize R&D for dual-purpose technologies potentially suitable for both the private sector and government applications.
Reflecting on the accelerator program’s noteworthy successes, we sat down with three alumni from previous programs to learn how the program and SBIR contracts have helped scale their growth in such a short time. Shahriar Khushrushahi, Founder and CEO of Notch Technologies, David Kovar, Founder and CEO of URSA Inc, and Caleb Carr, founder and CEO of Vita Inclinata Technologies, joined us to elaborate on the key reasons behind the program’s momentum:
1. SBIRs made acceleration more accessible
Back before being accepted to the 2019 program, Shahriar Khushrushahi was already aware of SBIR contracts as one of the only funding options available for concept-stage products like the metamaterial he was developing to amplify the range of antennas. He knew what it could mean for his idea.
“The SBIR process was perfect for an entirely new concept like Notch, as there would have been no other way that a product like this could have proliferated in any other ecosystem,” he said. “In regular accelerators, investors want measurable results immediately, but new ideas require more time.”
There was just one problem: like many early-stage innovators, Khushrushahi had been hesitant to apply for SBIR given the lengthy and highly competitive application process. The process included submitting a 25-page technical document and waiting months for the application to be reviewed.
But AFWERX was aware of this obstacle, and took measures to streamline the process, developing the SBIR Open Topics program in 2018. The new option includes a redesigned and more succinct application process; it increases the amount of R&D funding available throughout the three-phase program, and also executes a much quicker turnaround time for grant applications.
“With the new program, you don’t have to do 25 pages, only a 5-page technical document and 15 slides which you can do in a day, and you can get an answer in one week.” Khushrushahi recollected. “Whereas the original application process took up to four months, now reaching stage 2 funding of $750K-$1.875M can be completed in just three months.”
And as application time decreased, the rate of funding approvals has jumped. Whereas before only a handful of contracts were approved for each specific round of the SBIR program, an Air Force recruitment sprint earlier this year awarded more than 450 R&D contracts, totaling $140 million, in just 12 days.
David Kovar emphasizes just how streamlined the process has become for applicants: “Now, the output from phase one leads directly into phase two, and the documents needed to pass onto the next stage are pretty much the same documents submitted at the end of the last stage. The process is improving year over year.”
Program partners also play a huge role in helping startups to secure SBIR funding. During the most recent program, experts from BAE Systems FAST Labs team not only helped startups like smileML complete and submit their SBIR applications, they also provided letters of support for startups such as FortifyEdge who was successfully awarded a SBIR Contract with AFWERX USAF.
These types of endorsements from industry leaders like BAE Systems are invaluable, and dramatically improve the chances of a project being awarded government funding. In a handful of cases, partners have even gone a step further and teamed up with startups as subcontractors on their projects too.
2. The partnership created invaluable connections for real business growth
Asked about the principal reason behind the success of the Air Force Accelerator powered by Techstars, each of the three founders we spoke to stressed the shared passion, expertise, and support of Techstars, AFWERX, AFRL and BAE Systems FAST Labs.
David Kovar, who took part in the 2018 program and continues to participate as a mentor, believes that the sense of community, as well as the energy for collaboration and support, are fundamental to the program’s track record of driving real business growth. He praised the program’s philosophy of encouraging startups to ‘pay it forward’ via collaboration, explaining that the approach not only helped foster personal bonds but also facilitated a number of solid business deals. With good reason, he himself has brought on board an alumni member as commercial partner for his innovative UAV data analysis platform.
Caleb Carr had more to add. Carr has previously taken part in other aerospace-focused accelerator programs around the US, working to develop technology that eliminates the swing during helicopter hoisting-and-sling load missions. He argues that the Air Force Accelerator offers an unrivaled advantage by coupling a direct relationship with key players from the DoD and the business growth experience awarded via work with Warren Katz’s team. Carr noted that while there has been a big push for DoD innovation in recent years, these relationships provided his team a much needed conduit and mechanism for engaging this community, and for understanding what innovation really means for DoD.
In the past, securing DoD contracts had the ill fame of taking years due to red tape and complicated administration systems – something that does not jibe well with the fast-paced world of startup innovation. However, Carr, whose company has since procured upwards of $75M in pending contracts, explained that having direct access to AF advisors well versed in DoD processes streamlined the process a tenfold.
“The Air Force is dealing with hundreds of potential contractors at any time. The likelihood of us being able to get quick answers, and quick reactions from our home base in Seattle would be minimal.” Carr stated. “However, being here in the same ecosystem, allowed us to close a contract in nine days, and boosted our ability to exponentially grow within the DoD.”
3. The program offered a structured path for lightning-speed commercialization
On top of SBIR’s singular funding options, and in addition to the propitious contacts afforded through the program, the remaining factor behind the accelerator’s success has been its fast-paced, comprehensive approach to ensuring startups are prepared. And ‘preparedness,’ explained our three interviewees, means not just readiness to close government funding, but also to succeed in the private market.
The SBIR is a three-phase program that rapidly takes founders from the concept validation phase to developing an MVP, all the way to actively commercializing the product with real customers – all the while contributing scaleable funding during the first and second stages. It’s worth noting that, under the guidance of the program’s partners, most of the startups in the 2019 batch were already prepared to enter phase three by the end of the acceleration period.
David Kovar in part attributes the effectiveness of the accelerator’s intensive approach to an SBIR grant stipulation requiring products to be dual-purpose. The stipulation, says Kovar, motivates founders to quickly develop strong, sustainable business models, leaving them in a strong position upon completion of the program. By forcing startups to finish the program with real customers lined up, and with ‘bootstrapped’ non-dilutive funding, the program ensures founders aren’t forced into accepting average VC term sheets just to keep their projects alive.
“The fact we had to be commercially viable increased our chances of overall success.” He added. “Every time we filled out a SBIR document we had to tick this box – the Air Force wants products to be commercially viable to ensure that worthwhile projects survive, even if government funding dries up.”
The Air Force Accelerator obliges companies to swiftly get their ‘houses in order,’ paying careful attention to administration and accounting. Throughout the program, they’re pressed to articulate their technologies and business models, and then to undertake customer acquisition in a challenging environment. Through all this, the program helps produce healthier companies prepared not only to engage with the DoD, but to triumph on the commercial side too.
For Caleb Carr, the fact that his company was pushed to go down the licensing model route to make their product viable for the private market helped them to tap into what might have been otherwise unrealized potentials. This would not have been possible, he says, if the DoD had invested in his product development directly, rather than via SBIR.
Carr emphasizes that it was the SBIR program’s demanding and versatile approach that ‘catapulted’ his company into the next phase. On top of their contracts with the DoD, VITA is now aiming to roll out its product in a range of commercial applications including emergency services, oil and gas, and construction.
The horizon looks bright
With so much achieved in such a short time, the Techstars team is extremely excited about the next chapter of the Air Force Accelerator powered by Techstars, and thrilled about continued cooperation with AFWERX, AFRL and BAE Systems FAST Labs.
By increasing accessibility, streamlining processes, and driving structured growth via the three-phase SBIR option, the program is transforming the way that the DoD is able to interface with early-stage startups. The result, thus far, has been a uniquely empowering accelerator program capable of producing remarkably strong products, ready both for sale to the government and for commercial success.
Expectations are sky-high. But thanks to a rigorous, well-conceived program, and exceptional resources, our startups are going above and beyond. The horizon looks bright.
The 2020 program of the Air Force Accelerator powered by Techstars will begin on February 10 and culminate in a Demo Day on May 7. Learn more about the Air Force Accelerator powered by Techstars.
As we get ready to ring in 2020, we’re thrilled to announce some exciting new additions to our Techstars Startup Weekend programs.
In 2020, we’re focussing on creating truly connected, vertical-focused initiatives. (A vertical event is one with a theme specific to a particular industry—like FinTech or Travel—or social or environmental challenge—like Diversity and Inclusion or Sustainability.)
Quite simply, we want to bring together the incredible passion and energy from across the network to increase our impact on critical challenges. We’ve seen great successes at events like Global Sustainable Revolution and Global Startup Weekend Women, which we’d like to build on in 2020.
The verticals themselves have been chosen based on the most popular Startup Weekend verticals. We also considered current industry and innovation trends and will be focusing our regional initiatives on industries that are popular and meaningful to each region.
We’ll be holding 6 regional initiatives and 4 global initiatives in 2020.
Our first global initiative will be Next Gen – our first-ever global startup weekend youth initiative, focused on connecting & empowering high-school and college youths around the world with the global Techstars network. You can read more about this exciting global initiative here.
Our Community team will work closely with a top Community Leader organizing team to ensure success and who will help execute on a larger scale. These teams will have a proven track record of event-organizing success, industry knowledge and be plugged into their local networks. Each local event will still be 100% community-led.
To find out more, please watch the replay of our AMA (Ask Me Anything) where we will discussed our calendar, event details, how to get involved, and other questions.
Thinking of running a Startup Weekend in 2020? APPLY HERE to be a part of a global or regional initiative.
Plated Co-founder Josh Hix shares his startup wisdom with student entrepreneurs in the first live episode of Give First. Listen for insights about how this self-described introvert learned to become an inspiring leader. Plus: when not to take a big valuation.
Plated Co-founder Josh Hix knows about leading a growing team. He remembers taking the company through Techstars New York City in 2013, coming into the program with about seven people, and leaving with closer to 37. The company was up to 1300 employees by the time it sold to Albertsons for a reported $200 million in 2017.
Leadership was a skill Josh had to learn. “I have always been an introverted engineer,” he says. He was comfortable with the management aspects of leading the company, but he came to realize that this wasn’t enough. “The leadership part is inspiring people and helping them connect to the mission at an emotional level,” Josh says. This was the part he had to learn, and the process wasn’t always easy: “As a geeky engineer, it feels irrational. But sometimes people need that. It was something that I had to learn to value and then learn to do.”
Listen for more about how Josh grew into his role as a leader, plus a fascinating conversation between Josh and David Cohen about valuations and VCs.
This live episode of Give First was recorded at LaunchPad Propel, a conference for student entrepreneurs hosted by Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars.
Listen for Josh’s take on…
Startup near death experiences:
“Everybody has challenges. I think that’s important. If anybody tells you that their startup didn’t have at least a few near death experiences, they’re probably lying — or it just hasn’t happened yet.”
What happens without mentorship:
Josh on what went wrong with an earlier company: “The complete lack of mentorship or of people that could be mentors was a huge reason that my company never got huge.”
You don’t have to take that valuation:
“Just because somebody offers you an insane valuation doesn’t mean you should take it. You probably shouldn’t take it. It comes with consequences down the road.”
Bonus! David Cohen’s advice to a student entrepreneur about how to pitch to VCs:
David Cohen: “I think the most important thing is to be yourself and be who you are as an entrepreneur. Make sure you have a real story and real belief around how you can become a sustainable business and not just be dependent on that capital.”
Defy Colorado is a nonprofit organization that helps individuals with criminal histories — who they call Entrepreneurs in Training — create legal business ventures outside of prison. Within a growing network of three Colorado prisons, Defy runs a rigorous eight-month program focusing on reentry planning, employment readiness, entrepreneurship and character development, culminating in a Shark Tank-style pitch competition. Operating in concert with the Department of Corrections, Defy is demonstrating a model to reduce recidivism that emphasizes rehabilitation over punishment.
Techstars has been a longtime supporter of Defy Colorado (along with its founding organization, Defy Ventures) because we support the mission of creating second chances through entrepreneurship. And we believe that we are uniquely positioned to help, precisely because of who we are. In fact, the first principle in the Techstars Code of Conduct is: “We give first.” That means that, at Techstars, we help others whenever possible by responding quickly to requests for help to intentionally create an ongoing cycle of virtue. We appreciate the help of others, respect “no” as an answer and share talent and business opportunities.
Breaking the Cycle of Recidivism
Defined as “a tendency to relapse into a previous condition or mode of behavior, especially criminal behavior,” recidivism creates a revolving door to prison and a legacy of poverty, dependency, violence and incarceration that is passed down from generation to generation.
Here in Colorado, the prison population is expected to increase by 20% by 2025. And of the approximately 9,000 individuals expected to be released from prison this year, more than half (54%) are estimated to return to prison within the next three years. Difficulty in obtaining employment and housing are two of the largest correlating factors.
When it comes to our work with Defy Colorado, we’re focused on how we can bring Techstars’ unique insights and the power of our network to people with criminal histories, helping to break the cycle of recidivism. By collaborating with Defy to help people with criminal histories create legal business ventures, the Techstars Network is helping break the cycle of recidivism, and there are so many ways to get involved: employment readiness, character development, and entrepreneurship training inside prisons, as well as robust post-release services that include job placement and executive mentorship, startup incubation, and pitch competition judging.
Techstars Foundation advisory board member and Google employee Amanda West and Techstars’ EVP of Operations Scott Ford have each offered their expertise to help Defy’s Entrepreneurs in Training improve their ideas, hone their pitches and ultimately, to equip these incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals with the resources and connections they need to succeed in post-release life. Both Amanda and Scott were incredibly impressed — and inspired by — their experiences with Defy Colorado.
“These humanizing connections offer a very uplifting way for our network to get involved, both contributing to the rehabilitation of currently and formerly incarcerated individuals and impacting the injustices of our legal system,” West said.
That human connection is crucial.
“When discussing individuals with criminal histories, it’s easy to come in with preconceived notions or stereotypes, but actually sitting down and interacting with currently and formerly incarcerated individuals helps you realize that they’re just like you,” Ford said.
Best of all, it’s not a heavy lift to help out. Both Scott and Amanda noted how rewarding it was to make such a significant impact on someone with minimal effort. Sure, volunteering takes time, but everyone has the ability to help in some capacity.
Utilizing our network’s power in order to drive personal and economic growth for people with criminal histories allows us to drive a meaningful impact and provide a ray of hope. By harnessing the talents of the state’s currently and formerly incarcerated individuals as well as community and business leaders like Amanda and Scott, Defy Colorado helps individuals with criminal histories to defy the odds.
Unique Gifts from Across the LaunchPad Network
Looking for a truly special gift this holiday season? We’ve got it. Want to support LaunchPad student entrepreneurs with your holiday spending? You can do that here, too.
Antithesis Foods (Cornell University)
Grabanzos are a crunchy chocolate snack with more protein, more fiber, and fewer calories than anyone else. Think Whoppers, but good for you.
Shop Now: www.grabanzos.com
bumble & butter (Cornell University)
Curiously delicious granolas, baked with grass-fed ghee butter: Vanilla Bean with Sour Cherries, Cheddar with Black Pepper, Rosemary with Currants, Sweet Potato with Cinnamon & Ginger, and Black Truffle.
Shop Now: www.bumbleandbutter.com
Head & Heal (Cornell University)
Full-spectrum hemp extracted CBD oil, organic MCT oil. 100% USDA Organic Certified. Grown and harvested with love and care on our farm in Cortland, NY. 600mg Full Spectrum CBD – 20mg CBD per full dropper.
Shop Now: www.headandheal.com
Kitty Obsession (UCLA)
The only cat carrier that includes everything your cat needs on the go or even at home. The carrier includes a built- litter box compartment, portable litter box, food/water containers, trashbags, and a scooper.
Shop Now: www.kittyobsession.com
ROSEN Skincare (UCLA)
A hydrating cream-based mask inspired by the Earth. The perfect solution for more sensitive or drier, acne-prone skin types.
Shop Now: www.rosenskincare.com
WƆ NƆ Ni Cosmetics (Cornell University)
Body serum containing baobab oil and carrot seed oil. This serum is an anti-aging serum that works wonders for acne, skin discoloration, and stretch marks. The Story Teller contains Vitamin E, Vitamin A, Vitamin K and Vitamin C and promotes rejuvenation of skin cells.
Shea Gold Body Butter is a rich moisturizing butter full of essential oils for the skin. It contains Shea butter, coconut oil, olive oil and almond oil. Shea Gold softens and smoothes the skin and helps to fade scars, dark spots and reduce premature signs of aging.
Shop Now: www.wononi.com
WOAH! Brands (Cornell University)
WOAH! Brands is a flavored, CBD-infused, sparkling water to make people feel calm and balanced. We’re the opposite of an energy drink. Current flavors include Lemonade and Strawberry.
Shop Now: www.normaldrinks.com