Give First Wherever You Go: One Founder’s Journey from Mexico to Detroit

René Pons, co-founder of PPAP Manager, has founded a company in Mexico, run Techstars Startup Weekends across Central America, and gotten into Techstars Detroit. Everywhere he goes, René Gives First and strengthens the startup ecosystem. 

The Techstars Detroit 2019 class

In early July, a week before Techstars Detroit kicked off, TechCrunch ran an exclusive article announcing the new class of 10 companies that are, right now, enmeshed in their three month accelerator program. The article noted that the program name and focus have changed, from Techstars Mobility to Techstars Detroit: “Mobility is baked into Detroit, but Detroit is more than mobility.” The Detroit startup ecosystem is strengthening and expanding, and becoming ever more appealing to startup founders from around the world. 

Techstars has believed in Detroit through the hard times—we announced the first Techstars mentorship-driven accelerator program in Detroit the same day the city came out of bankruptcy. Ever since, Techstars has been a part of building better times for the Comeback City, helping to grow the startup ecosystem, making connections that benefit corporations and startups alike, and attracting new companies to the region.

If you’re a startup that does business with automotive or manufacturing, you need to get to Detroit.

We’re beyond excited about every one of the 10 companies in the 2019 Techstars Detroit class, but one in particular has not just a great business, but a founder who lives the Techstars value #GiveFirst, and who has been a force for startup ecosystem building for years in his native Chihuahua, Mexico: René Pons, co-founder of PPAP Manager

Safety First

First, the company: PPAP Manager is a platform to streamline the approval of packets of documents required in the automotive industry, known as PPAP (Production Part Approval Process), to validate production parts. 

There are 30,000 parts in your car, and every one of them journeyed a long distance, often passing through several sets of hands, before your vehicle arrived, shiny and new, in a dealer’s showroom. The global journey of each one of those 30,000 parts is documented by a PPAP. 

PPAPs are crucial to safe car production because they are the quality assurance for its parts. Yet today, most PPAPs are handled using spreadsheets or google docs, solutions cobbled together by individuals at different companies. They’re not fast, they’re not efficient, and worst of all, they’re not trustworthy enough for such important information. 

PPAP Manager aims to solve this problem for the global automotive industry by providing a single tool that documents parts as they go through all the many suppliers in the value chain, making these records both accessible and accurate, so that you know that the brakes on your car won’t fail. They’ve been checked. They’ve got a good PPAP tracing them back through production, assembly, and testing. 

René has started a few companies, and he got the idea for PPAP Manager from his co-founders, Vinnie Delgado and Jeefb Santos, who have worked in the auto industry for more than 24+ years altogether. They were looking for opportunities in manufacturing that would solve a defined and important problem, and had plenty of room to scale. PPAPs provided exactly the right kind of opportunity. 

“The land of opportunity for the automotive industry”

“PPAP Manager fits our investment thesis to a T,” said Ted Serbinski, Managing Director of Techstars Detroit. He saw the same opportunity that René did, loved the founding team, plus he knew what Techstars Detroit could do for the company. “PPAP Manager should be doing business in Detroit, and Techstars is the best way to make that connection,” Ted said. 

Ted’s on a mission to change entrepreneurs’ perception of doing business in Detroit, and one of his favorite techniques is to bring in entrepreneurs from all over the world—and then let the city, and the Techstars experience, speak for themselves. In five years, he’s brought 54 startups to Detroit from eight different countries—the 2019 class alone is 60% international, with founders hailing from five countries outside the U.S. 

“Detroit is the land of opportunity for the automotive industry.” —René Pons, Founder of PPAP Manager

For Ted, the message is clear: If you’re a startup that does business with automotive or manufacturing, you need to get to Detroit.

René agrees. “Detroit is the land of opportunity for the automotive industry,” he said. “There’s no better place for us to be.” René sees that more and more companies globally are trying to get standards working, and that Detroit is a great place to work with many of these global auto companies, to spread these standards quickly. René is hoping that Techstars Detroit will get PPAP Manager to a proof of concept in partnership with one or more of the program’s corporate partners—who he sees as hungry for the kind of quality assurance that his company can provide. 

Rene Pons, Founder of PPAP Manager

Power of the Network

René knows how important connections are—one aspect he values in the Techstars accelerator is its diverse corporate partners, including Lear Innovation Ventures, Ford X, AAA, Avanta Ventures, USAA, Nationwide, Honda Innovations, and PlanetM. 

He knows the importance of great connections—to other entrepreneurs, mentors, and investors, as well as corporations—for helping startups grow because he’s seen this power, over and over again, as a Community Leader helping to run Techstars Startup Weekends across Central America. Since 2012, René has organized over a dozen Techstars Startup Weekends, most of them in Mexico, but also as a facilitator in Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, and one in Seville, Spain, when he was briefly living in Madrid and wanted to get involved in the local startup community. Two years ago, he organized six Techstar Startup Weekends at once, all in different cities, three in one weekend and three the next. He describes himself as “the crazy organizer who tries to do different stuff.” 

René loves Techstars Startup Weekends because they change how people think, and then give them the tools and connections to start putting that change into action. “The first thing we need in Latin America is to change the way we are thinking,” René said. “We don’t have enough people building or starting new companies. People need to realize that they can take control of their lives and start solving the problems that they see.”

He sees the first step as getting people to try new things—like attending a Techstars Startup Weekend—and from this experience, new entrepreneurs and new companies will grow. René is happiest when he sees the locals in a community step up and start working. As a Techstars Community Leader, he knows the formula for a Startup Weekend, and his goal is to get the event rolling in each new community, and then leave the team there to keep it going. This is how the events—and the entrepreneurial spirit they engender—spread. 

“You learn a lot by getting involved and Giving First.”— René Pons, Founder of PPAP Manager

To René, Detroit is a model for where he hopes to see Latin American cities get to, with an evolving startup ecosystem and lots of opportunity for making connections and building businesses. 

Give First Wherever You Go

And, of course, René plans to get involved in the Detroit startup ecosystem, above and beyond participating in the accelerator program. “Wherever we go, we need to get involved. I’m looking forward to knowing people and to start sharing with them and learning from them,” René said.

René lives the Techstars value Give First, and he practices it wherever he goes. “You learn a lot by getting involved and Giving First,” René said. “The connections you get from being there and sharing with the community—you cannot put a price on it.” 

How Startup Ecosystems Grow

At first glance, Chihuahua and Detroit may not seem to have much in common. But now they share René Pons, and that’s a bond that will show results, we suspect. Maybe one day soon, they’ll both be known as startup hubs—growing companies, attracting talent, and transforming their regional economies. Entrepreneurship is powerful.  

Detroit has become a place that startups want to move to. Five years ago, post-bankruptcy, Detroit was a hard sell for startups. Today the supportive startup ecosystem and the affordable cost of living make it a desirable—and smart—place to start a business. 

René and PPAP Manager have moved from Chihuahua to Detroit for the three months of the accelerator program, and René plans to get involved in the local ecosystem. It may even make good business sense to keep PPAP Manager in Detroit long term. 

But that doesn’t mean René has abandoned his home, or the Chihuahua startup ecosystem. Long term, his dream is to invest in small companies in small cities all over Mexico. “There’s lots of talent with great ideas in Mexico,” he said, “But they don’t have the money to build a prototype. At that early stage, these companies need more support.” René wants to give that support, and be an angel or seed investor who helps make this startup ecosystem go. 

Ask Chris Heivly, Techstars VP of Innovation, about how startup ecosystems develop, and he’ll tell you that “ecosystem development is all based on success through a thousand nudges.” Connectors and believers like Ted and René provide these nudges constantly, doing their part to grow their ecosystems. 

They believe that entrepreneurs create a better future, and they’re doing their part to make that better future—one PPAP, one Techstars Startup Weekend, one company, one accelerator, one city at a time.








LaunchPad Lift Spotlight: ROSEN

Highlights of student-led ventures participating in LaunchPad Lift, part of the Blackstone LaunchPad® powered by Techstars® entrepreneurship program.

If you’re between the ages of 12 and 24, you probably suffer from skin breakouts—85% of us do, and many are frustrated by the limited and potentially harmful synthetic options for skincare treatment. ROSEN founder Jamika Martin wants to help. The five or six legacy brands that create benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid washes and alcohol based toners primarily compete on price, but Jamika has a different angle: offering acne-prone customers a cleaner, more natural, and more thoughtful skincare line.

“To me, being an entrepreneur means just going for it,” said Jamika. “It means you create a real solution to an even realer problem, and you don’t let anyone stop you until the problem has been fixed. As I’ve heard tons of times, everyone has an idea, but actually pursuing it is what I think makes someone an entrepreneur.”

Jamika graduated from UCLA in June of 2017 with a degree in business economics, and her commitment to making this business a success is unmistakable. She knows participation in LaunchPad Lift is providing her with opportunities she doesn’t have through her own networks, and may not be able to find anywhere else.

According to Jamika, “I don’t come from a well connected family or area, so one thing LaunchPad has shown me is the power of network. This program has broadened my connections, opportunities, and teachings. I’ve already learned so much from my amazing mentors and received invaluable insights on my business. LaunchPad Lift will only further enrich my business and my network.”

Since the beginning of the program, she has been working with Sathish Naadimuthu, a Techstars mentor with plenty of experience founding businesses and a keen eye for startup marketing, branding, and positioning. Jamika’s program goals are focused on improving the results of her digital marketing efforts, including Facebook and Google Ads. Based in part on suggestions from her mentor, Jamika is also exploring a subscription-based web sales model—something she hadn’t considered before the program.

“The mentors and connections within the LaunchPad network gives entrepreneurs a completely different (and experienced) perspectives to their strategies and businesses,” said Jamika.








John China on whether you can give too much

Can you give too much? John China, President of SVB Capital, reflects on how mentorship helped him grow into an executive, and on whether, at some point, you need to see payback from all your giving. Spoiler alert: the answer is no. Never stop giving. 

In over 23 years at Silicon Valley Bank, John China has made it his mission to make connections between entrepreneurs, investors, corporations, and more. Many, many entrepreneurs at Techstars and beyond have benefitted from his Give First perspective on working with startups: that you “give, give, give” and you have to “be willing to do that for a long time.”

David Cohen asked John, “At what point do you need to see some payback from that giving?” You should really listen to hear his whole, fascinating answer, but the short version is: You keep giving. 

John recently moved into a new role as President of SVB Capital, with $4.5 billion under management, and he’ll be supporting entrepreneurs and startups at their earliest stages. John and David talk about what this new role means for him and for entrepreneurs. And they get into how John’s mentor at SVB helped him grow into an executive, and how John is paying it forward by mentoring women and other POC. He describes himself as “first generation Mexican American from immigrant parents”—and his life experience has contributed strongly to making him the Give First person that he is.

Companies and resources mentioned in this podcast:

Edited highlights from the conversation:

Can you give too much? 

David: One of the things I’ve heard you tell your team is: Guys, it’s give, give, give, expect it to be two or three years of give, give, give before you ever get anything back. It’s not quid pro quo. It’s be willing to do that for a long time. 

How do you know that that’s paying off, or when you decide that maybe you’ve given too much? Adam Grant in his book talks about, there’s some people that’ll just take, take, take on the other side of that. So at what point do you need to see some payback from that giving?

John: You know, it’s a really interesting question. I’m very inspired by Adam Grant. I’ve had a chance to meet him and spend time with him thanks to David Hornik and his Lobby Conference. And I’ve actually asked him that question. I’ve actually pondered this idea of a world of takers, matchers, and givers. Can givers long term win? Certainly Adam Grant’s work proves that givers do win in the long haul. 

I’ve thought a lot about this, and from where I sit, I don’t know how you eventually ask for something. I think if you are in a giving mindset and it’s an authentic voice within you to give, I’m not sure you ever really need to ask.

Certainly the way we measure, if you want to get technical, is we do look for what we call client advocacy. I know this is something you care about deeply, David. We think that the best loudspeaker for our brand are the clients we serve. And so the way we long term measure our effectiveness is around client advocacy. And so again, I’ve often asked the question, is there a point where you’ve given too much? And I actually think the answer’s no, I don’t think that you ever need to ask that question.

Advocating for Women and POC

John: You know, people always ask me, Why do you have such a commitment? As a first generation Mexican American from immigrant parents, for me, it’s simple. 

Women form 50% of our society. And if they’re not getting advantages, or being disadvantaged, then certainly people of color have a lot worse chance. And so for me, it’s just a very rational way to look at the world. We’re not using the talents of half of our society.

Especially in our industry, David, where VCs generate less than 3% of the capital being raised by women. And then when you look at the entrepreneurs statistics, they’re just slightly better at under 10%. And so at my time of the bank and in my new role, I’m really excited to try to bring products that really support giving capital to women in both the GP side and on the entrepreneur side. I’ll be spending a great amount of my energy focused on: How do we go to the LP community and get them to commit funds to women GPs and women entrepreneurs? I think it’s a perfect time, and I really believe that from where Silicon Valley Bank sits, we sit at a unique place in the ecosystem where we get a chance to potentially debt the universe a bit. I’m really looking forward to that opportunity.

David: I see the same opportunity, we’ll talk more offline about that, but I see the coupling of that with these managing director roles that we have here at Techstars where you get 10 investments a year and you can build a portfolio of 50 companies in five years. It’s hard to do anywhere else, and it’s an apprenticeship model, you learn from doing. There might be something fun to collaborate on there as well.

John: Absolutely.

Rapid fire round

David: First question. What give, give, give relationship, that you’ve had with a CEO, are you most proud of today?

John: There are several, of course, but for me it’s when a CEO is in a turnaround situation and you’ve been there in the worst of times, and you’re able to come out the other end, and you had to do some pretty difficult discussions with that CEO. But more importantly, you also had to restructure things and convince people on your side to do the same. When I think about the CEO relationships that are most meaningful, it’s the ones where we went through some really dark times together.

David: How about your favorite city in the world, someplace you think everybody should visit?

John: Well, I’ve had several. Paris, Paris always comes to mind, one, two, three. But I’m really falling in love with the North American cities. I think North America is underrated. And so I keep real track. So I’m gonna cheat and tell you that I look at Toronto, New York City, and Mexico City as three shining examples of cities that are really taking on more prominence in the world ahead of us.

David: John, is there a charity that you might be involved with that you would urge people to take a look at, and why?

John: Yeah. You know, I just joined the board of Meals on Wheels San Francisco. I’ve been part of Meals on Wheels for many, many years. But I love causes where we can solve the problem, where we can see the solution, the light at the end of the tunnel. And ending hunger for elderly people in San Francisco is something that we collectively can all solve. And so I’m very passionate, very committed to helping Meals on Wheels San Francisco achieve its goals.

David: Well as you know, you never know what you’re going to get back from Giving First. So we here at Techstars, we’ll make a donation to that one for you in your name, and also make one to the Techstars Foundation, which is focused on diversity and inclusion in entrepreneurship. Just a little thank you for being on the show.

John: Thank you. David.

David: Last question, rapid fire. The last question and I’ll let you go. Is there somebody, dead or alive, in history, it doesn’t matter who, that you would love to have dinner with and why?

John: The person who has inspired me over the years is Abraham Lincoln. Obviously I’ve read his books and the books about him. And I think about that point in the war, when it comes to civil rights and the choices he had to make to keep a tattered government together to fight, to do the right thing. He has always inspired me. When I’m put at my toughest challenges, will I rise to the occasion and do the right thing? And I am constantly inspired by his leadership and what he did to keep this country together at a time that it frankly wanted to break apart.

David: Great. John, on behalf of everybody at Techstars and everybody listening, thank you so much for all you do for startups and the startup community and all that SVB does. It’s noticed and appreciated, and thanks for being on the show with us today.








LaunchPad Lift Spotlight: Sondr

Highlights of student-led ventures participating in LaunchPad Lift, part of the Blackstone LaunchPad® powered by Techstars® entrepreneurship program.

Who better to share the lesser known—and best—parts of a place then a local? That’s the idea behind Sondr, which aims to leverage economically disconnected youth as “ambassadors” to share their local knowledge. (Sure a guidebook can list restaurants, but someone who grew up in Philly is more likely to know the best chili cheese steak sandwich, right?) This unique lens creates an interesting and immersive opportunity for visitors to see and know a city. Keiarra Ortiz-Cedeño and her five teammates originally founded Sondr to compete for the internationally known Hult Prize, and they remain convinced that this business can bring people together through shared experiences and shift the way participants think, taking visitors and ambassadors from “us and them” to “we.”

Keiarra believes in the power of business to change society for the better: “As entrepreneurs, when we see an issue, we take action and figure out innovative solutions to those problems. We envision a future where individuals can share their passions and unique narrative of the city with anyone who is willing to listen and wants to experience the city at a deeper, more personal level.”

For the Sondr team, the most valuable component of the Lift program has been their interactions with Techstars mentors. Their team mentor, Susie Kim, as well as the presenters in biweekly calls, have all provided them with critical instruction on goal-setting and fundraising, among other topics.

“This knowledge enabled us to set more concrete goals and more realistic timelines that can feasibly be followed,” said Keiarra. “We have also conducted in-depth interviews to understand exactly what our customers want after learning the importance of market validation and the insights that could be derived from that.”

In addition to the benefit of mentor-led instruction and access to the valuable resources and networks of Techstars and Blackstone, Lift student teams receive $10,000 upon completion of the program, to further grow and build their business. Sondr’s goals for the 8-week program are focused primarily on marketing (and have already included a branding and name change!) as well as critical customer exploration. They hope to run pilots and launch their new platform by mid-August.








People Ops Question: How do we compete for talent in such a competitive market?

By Sabrina Kelly, Techstars Vice President of Talent

At Techstars, we define our mission in People Ops as the following: “We are strategic partners in building Techstars business by maximizing the value of our most important asset—our people. We attract, retain, develop, and support Techstars employees globally and aim to uphold our culture and values, in a manner that is inclusive to all.” 

As VP of Talent, and former VP of People Ops, I hear a lot of questions from founders. This series aims to answer the most frequent questions. 

Q: How do we compete for talent in such a competitive market?

This is a big one and there’s no easy solution. My best advice is to be very thoughtful about what differentiates you as a company and when you think about recruiting, think about what gets you out of bed every morning. 

It takes a certain kind of person to join a startup—and they should know what they’re in for. It’s going to be fast-paced, generally super chaotic, likely not highly paid for long hours in comparison to established companies, but the right person will love it because they believe in the mission and the people working on it by their side. Hire those people, set those expectations, and don’t sacrifice on belief in the vision. 

In order to attract those people, you need to get aligned with your leadership team on what makes your company great and why the problem you’re solving is more interesting than the problem the other five startups sitting next to you at your coworking space are solving. Make sure that everyone on your interview panel is sending the very same message about who you are as a business, why it’s awesome, and what it is you care about in the people and the role you’re hiring for. 

Once you have that, get out there. As an early stage company, you can’t expect that candidates know you exist, so you can’t expect that the ‘post it and they shall come’ methodology is going to work. You need to get creative and quite frankly be a little scrappy to compete in your market. Attend events, promote your company through local startup marketing (e.g. Startup Digest), speak on Startup Week panels, ask everyone on your leadership team to dedicate one hour a week to making sure that talent in your market knows about you. Lastly, see my former post on your first recruiting hire. You’ll know it’s time when interviewing becomes your second job, and you know you have the runway for multiple hires over the next 12 months.  

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Techstars Talent enables you to build highly successful teams! Check out what Techstars Talent can do for you. 

This piece was originally published on Techstars Stories.








Techstars Announces $42 Million Investment

Investment round led by SVB Financial Group to speed Techstars global expansion and continued growth

BOULDER, Colo. – July 30, 2019 – Techstars, the worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed, today announced a $42M investment led by SVB Financial Group, the holding company of Silicon Valley Bank, with additional participation from existing investors including Foundry Group. This funding will accelerate Techstars’ growth to help more entrepreneurs succeed through seed-stage accelerators, global startup ecosystem activations, corporate innovation, and entrepreneur-focused events.

Techstars consists of both an investment management business with $500 million in assets under management as well as an operating business that is rapidly approaching $100 million in annual revenue.

Techstars’ investment activity now includes 49 accelerator programs in 35 cities across 16 countries, deploying $80 million into nearly 500 startups on an annual basis. The Techstars portfolio of 1,900 companies currently attracts an annual $2 billion in downstream investment from the venture capital industry. Techstars also invests in global emerging startup communities by operating approximately 1,000 annual Techstars Startup Weekend events in 600 cities across 120 countries to help surface and support future high growth companies.

“Being the largest and most active global seed investor requires a mindset and approach that is completely distinct from traditional venture capital,” said Techstars Co-CEO David Cohen. “Techstars has created and is scaling an entirely new type of early-stage private equity asset.”

Through its operating activities, Techstars’ partners with nearly 100 corporations to provide corporate innovation solutions. Techstars is also an active partner with cities such as Buffalo (NY), Louisville (KY), and Turin (Italy) to further develop their startup communities.

In addition to the financing, John China, President of SVB Capital, has joined Techstars’ Board of Directors. “The Techstars team is well-positioned to keep developing its platform and enable and support founders, investors and startup ecosystems around the globe,” said China. “SVB has a long history working with Techstars and its portfolio companies and we’re enthusiastic about the opportunity to further our relationship and make a bigger positive impact on the innovation economy.”

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About Techstars

Techstars is the worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed. Techstars enables founders to connect with entrepreneurs, experts, mentors, alumni, investors, community leaders, and corporations to grow their companies. Techstars accelerator alumni including Classpass, DataRobot, DigitalOcean, Outreach, Pillpack, Remitly, SalesLoft, SendGrid, and Zipline have a current market cap of more than $22 billion. Founded in 2006 by co-founders and co-CEOs David Cohen and David Brown, tech entrepreneur and venture capitalist Brad Feld, and the current Governor of Colorado, Jared Polis, Techstars is known for developing the principle of #givefirst, a core value of giving to and helping others without a direct expectation of a transactional return. Headquartered in Boulder, Colorado, Techstars employs more than 280 people across 20 countries. Learn more at www.techstars.com.

About SVB Financial Group

For more than 35 years, SVB Financial Group (NASDAQ: SIVB) and its subsidiaries have helped innovative companies and their investors move bold ideas forward, fast. SVB Financial Group’s businesses, including Silicon Valley Bank, offer commercial, private and investment banking, asset management, private wealth management, brokerage, and investment services and funds management services to companies in the technology, life science and healthcare, private equity and venture capital, and premium wine industries. Headquartered in Santa Clara, California, SVB Financial Group operates in centers of innovation around the world. Learn more at www.svb.com.








Interview with Captain Steve Lauver, Director of Technology Accelerators, AFWERX

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

Captain Steve Lauver is the Director of Technology Accelerators for AFWERX, a program that seeks to foster innovation within the US Air Force. Lauver oversees AFWERX’s accelerator, which links up active duty Air Force, Reserve Air Force, contracted personnel, and startups to solve problems.

Five Elements For a Successful Startup Initiative

In order for an innovation cell to exist within any organization, there need to be a couple of stakeholders aligned. We actually look at this. We call it the five-node process or the five-node approach.

  1. The first and most important node is what we think of as the entrepreneur. That’s the person who has the idea. … They’re the ones that are passionate about solving a problem and who understand the problem. …
  2. The second one—and this is really key to any innovation program—is leadership buy-in or top cover. If you’re doing something differently or against the grain, you will hit barriers. Having leadership [have] your back is so important for greasing the skids and removing those barriers when they pop up. …
  3. The next one is, in my opinion, are the unsung heroes in many cases. That’s the contract and legal support. … It’s the lawyers who are saying, “Is this legal, ethical, or not?” We need to have them aligned from the beginning of any new project all the way through to the end because, if we don’t, they’re going to become one of those barriers that we have to figure out a way around or to work with.
  4. A funding partner. Whenever we take on a project, we want to follow an actual real problem. … Having an organization that says, “I have a real problem. I’ve got funding to solve it, if you can find there’s a solution.” It’s super-important.
  5. The last one is the actual solution. … Either a tech solution or…a policy solution.

Define the Problem, Not the Solutions

We had a tendency to—and this is [common] across the world, not just in the government—see a problem and then to say what we think the solution is, instead of just saying the problem.

[H]ere’s an example. … If we want to see over a hill for whatever military purpose, what we have a tendency to do is to say, “Look, I need you guys to create me a satellite that’s going to be in geo orbit. It’s going to have these specifications.” Very specific, and, in reality, we just wanted to see over the hill. We don’t care if they come back with a hot air balloon or a carrier pigeon with a camera on it.

If they can give us the most affordable, most effective solution, whatever that looks like, that’s great. [We are] shifting towards a culture of telling companies our problems, and less so what we think the solutions look like [to] solve that problem. …

Advice for Other Government Innovators

The first one would be, “Come talk to us,” for sure. Talk to anyone that’s done it before, because we make so many mistakes. We make tons of mistakes. We’re fortunate to have a culture from leadership down that says, “It’s okay to make mistakes. Just fix them fast, and move forward…”

The second…is just get good people, and put them in a room, and don’t over-control them. There’s an “it factor” when you’re talking to people in any organization, but especially in the Department of Defense or in any particular service…when you talk to somebody, you say, “Wow, this person is inspired. They get it. They want to make a difference.”

… Get a small group [of those kind of people] together and then just start to talk about it. It’s like primordial soup. You just get the right people together and something good will happen. … Just get good people, and put them in a room, and don’t over-control them.








Techstars Brings Smart Mobility-Focused Accelerator to Turin, Italy

Techstars and Compagnia Di San Paolo, Fondazione CRT and the Intesa Sanpaolo Innovation Center announce Techstars Smart Mobility Accelerator, first Techstars accelerator in Italy

BOULDER, Colo. – July 26, 2019 – Techstars, the worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed, today announced the launch of the Techstars Smart Mobility Accelerator based in Turin, Italy. In partnership with Turinese foundations Compagnia Di San Paolo and Fondazione CRT, and the Intesa Sanpaolo Innovation Center, the new 13-week mentorship-driven accelerator program will accept 10 premier startups on an annual basis focused on transformative smart mobility technologies, with the program concentrated on smart infrastructure and smart cities.

The Techstars Smart Mobility Accelerator is part of a series of innovation and entrepreneurship-focused events and programming through a Techstars, Compagnia Di San Paolo, Fondazione CRT and Intesa Sanpaolo Innovation Center partnership that will build new opportunities for Italian and European entrepreneurs throughout the Turin ecosystem over the next three years.

The Techstars Smart Mobility Accelerator will be hosted at the Officine Grandi Riparazioni (OGR) in Turin, a historic building recently transformed by Fondazione CRT into a center for contemporary culture and innovation. The program will be led by Martin Olczyk, previous managing director of the METRO Accelerator for Hospitality powered by Techstars in Berlin, and most recently, Entrepreneur in Residence (EIR) for the Arcadis City of 2030 Accelerator, Powered by Techstars located in Amsterdam. Olczyk brings over a decade of startup mentorship and early-stage tech investment to the program, having invested, co-founded and advised dozens of companies and entrepreneurs over the years.

“We are in the middle of a mobility revolution, and smart mobility is a new and revolutionary way of thinking about how human beings, data and goods get around in a cleaner, safer, cheaper, more efficient and convenient way,” said Olczyk. “Turin has developed a thriving startup scene in the last few years, and with the support of institutions, successful entrepreneurs and corporations focused on innovation, there is a unique level #GiveFirst culture throughout the community that makes this an ideal locale for this program. We are excited to help founders, entrepreneurs, and startups build successful and impactful businesses right here in Turin.”

Applications for the Techstars Smart Mobility Accelerator are open now through October 13, 2019. The program will run from January 2020 through April 2020. Startups interested in learning more about the program are encouraged to contact Techstars or visit https://www.techstars.com/programs/smart-mobility-program/ to learn more.

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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 1,900 companies with a market cap of $22 Billion. www.techstars.com

About Compagnia Di San Paolo

Compagnia di San Paolo is one of Europe’s most important private foundations. Since 1992 it has granted almost € 3 billion to the territory in the areas of research and higher education, social policies, health, artistic heritage and cultural activities. Founded in 1563 and now a philanthropic agent of development even through its Instrumental Bodies, it is a hub of knowledge and competence, services and policies for projects focused on people and territories of reference. www.compagniadisanpaolo.it

About Fondazione CRT

Fondazione CRT is a private non-profit organization founded in 1991. It is one of the “engines” of development and growth in Piedmont and the Aosta Valley in three main areas: Research & Education, Art and Culture, Welfare and Territory. In 27 years of activity, Fondazione CRT has distributed resources totaling around 1.6 billion euro, which has permitted the realization of over 39,000 interventions. Furthermore, with a budget of 100 million euros, Fondazione CRT has completely restored the OGR. Fondazione CRT is present in international networks of philanthropy, within the EFC (European Foundation Centre) and the EVPA (European Venture Philanthropy Association), and it implements projects in collaboration with international organizations including the United Nations. www.fondazionecrt.it

About Intesa Sanpaolo Innovation Center

The mission Intesa Sanpaolo Innovation Center lies in the research and analysis of innovative solutions in order to identify growth opportunities for our Group and customers. The Center, established in 2014, has the task of monitoring the Group’s innovation development plans and processes. With a central office on the 31st floor of Turin’s skyscraper, the headquarters of the Group, and a national and international network, the Innovation Center aims to be an enabling driver of relationships with other stakeholders in the innovation ecosystem, such as businesses, start-ups, incubators, research centres and universities. In addition, it promotes new forms of entrepreneurship in accessing risk capital. Innovation is at the core of the company’s evolution. For the Intesa Sanpaolo Group, innovation is a lever for competing in markets that are increasingly more complex and globalised.

About OGR

The OGR of Turin is a former railway workshops built in the nineteenth century on an area of 35,000 square meters, the OGR have been entirely redeveloped by Fondazione CRT with over 100 million euro and reborn on 30 September 2017 as workshops of ideas, creativity and innovation: a place open to the world for artistic experimentation, scientific, technological and industrial research, as well as food. In 2019 they will increasingly serve as international innovation hub, with spaces for business accelerators, research laboratories and a Big Data centre. They will also become the Italian “home” to BEST, the bilateral Italy US program designed to promote high-tech entrepreneurial culture in our country, with the aim of building a bridge between Silicon Valley and Turin. www.ogrtorino.it 








LaunchPad Lift Student Business Spotlight: Visos

Highlights of student-led ventures participating in LaunchPad Lift, part of the Blackstone LaunchPad® powered by Techstars® entrepreneurship program.

Many years ago when Matt Shumer, founder and CEO of Visos, first experienced virtual reality (VR) he immediately knew that this fledgling technology would change the world. Today he is leading a startup building the world’s most powerful standalone virtual reality headset, and his company is one of seven in the current Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars Lift program.

Back then, Matt saved up to purchase an Oculus Rift and the parts to build a PC that could run it. He shared it with his friends every chance he got. However, he quickly recognized some significant challenges including software glitches, slow processing, hardware design issues, etc. After considerable research, Matt founded Visos to try to solve some of these issues and create a consumer headset focused on ease-of-use and convenience. He’s since pivoted—as startups often do—to building a next-generation standalone headset, designed for enterprise use. The opportunity Matt has identified enables companies and organizations to train employees faster and more efficiently, improve safety in high-risk situations, design better products, improve healthcare, and much more.

As a serial entrepreneur—Matt has been starting companies since the age of 12—he recognizes both the challenge and the excitement of this lifestyle. “Throughout all of these ventures, one thing has stayed constant: my passion,” Matt said. “Being an entrepreneur is not a job you can do halfway—if you’re in, you’re all in. It’s something you eat, sleep, and breathe.”

Matt is currently a sophomore at Syracuse University, studying entrepreneurship in the Whitman School of Management, and working on his venture through his campus program, the Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars at Syracuse University Libraries. After being selected for the second 2019 Lift cohort, he was assigned a Mentor: Babak Kia. A team-focused mentor is just one of the benefits that students of this 8-week virtual program receive. They also gain access to the wider Blackstone and Techstars networks of experts and advisors, content resources, talent network, and instruction on topics critical to startups including goal setting, product development and roadmapping, and more. In true entrepreneurial fashion, Matt is making as much use as possible of these new networks: he asked for and got the opportunity to discuss fundraising and sales strategies with Techstars Founder and Co-CEO David Cohen.

“Beyond the growth opportunities the program has afforded us, the speakers we’ve had a chance to listen to and learn from have been nothing short of amazing, and the connections the Techstars network offers have helped us immensely,” Matt said. “LaunchPad Lift has truly been a company-changing experience. Without a doubt, we wouldn’t be on the trajectory we’re currently on without it. I can’t wait for the rest of the program, and for the inevitable progress that will come with it!”

Matt’s goals during the Lift program involve learning as much as possible about his target market and gaining a better understanding of what they’re looking for—and what their current solutions lack. Having spoken with dozens of companies, ranging from small businesses to some of the largest companies in the world, Visos has now partnered with future beta-testers who are interested in the headset for training, education, medical uses, and more.








Techstars Announces Accelerator in Abu Dhabi, Second Accelerator in UAE

Techstars partners with Hub71 to launch Techstars Hub71 Accelerator

BOULDER, Colo. – July 23, 2019 – Techstars, the worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed, today announced the launch of the Techstars Hub71 Accelerator. In partnership with Hub71, an Abu Dhabi-based global technology hub led by Mubadala Investment Company, the new 13-week mentorship-driven accelerator will provide hands-on mentorship and guidance as well as access to Techstars’ worldwide network, to help startups gain traction and accelerate their businesses for global success.

The Techstars Hub71 Accelerator will be based at Hub71 in the capital of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi, and will be led by tenured Techstars Managing Director, Vijay Tirathrai. For the past two years, Tirathrai has served as Managing Director of the Techstars Dubai Accelerator in Partnership with GINCO and will now add Managing Director of the Techstars Hub71 Accelerator to his repertoire. Tirathrai brings over 30 years of international serial entrepreneurship, business development, investment, and mentorship experience to the program.The Techstars Hub71 Accelerator will accept 10 startups on an annual basis and is open to startups addressing technology innovations across a variety of business verticals.

“The Techstars Hub71 Accelerator combines the strength of Techstars and Hub71’s networks to deliver an extraordinary experience for the founders who will join us next year in Abu Dhabi,” said Tirathrai. “Merging Techstars expertise in startup mentorship and innovation with Mubadala and Hub71’s experience in the world is the perfect recipe for a successful and incredibly impactful program.”  

“We are excited to partner with Techstars to launch this mentorship-driven accelerator and look forward to starting the first year of the Techstars Hub71 Accelerator here in Abu Dhabi,” said Ahmad Alwan, Head of Strategy and Corporate Development at Hub71. “We are committed to creating an optimal environment for technology startups right here in Abu Dhabi, where through this program, founders with exceptional ideas and talent will come together. Not only will these startups benefit from hands-on mentorship and exposure to global investors, but they will have the opportunity to join a network of successful and respected Techstars alumni.  

Applications for the program open today and will be accepted through October 13, 2019. The program will run from January 2020 to April of 2020 culminating in a demo day in mid April 2020 where the startups will pitch their accelerated business models to investors and industry leaders.

Startups interested in learning more about the program are encouraged to contact Techstars or visit https://techstars.com/programs/techstars-hub71-program/ to learn more.

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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 1,900 companies with a market cap of $22 Billion. www.techstars.com

About Hub71

Hub71 is a global ecosystem located in the heart of Abu Dhabi offering an interconnected network to enable innovation and growth opportunities for transformational tech companies and startups, creating an environment where entrepreneurs can thrive. It is a flagship initiative of the ‘Ghadan 21’ program working to accelerate Abu Dhabi’s economy. Alongside strategic partners Microsoft, SoftBank Vision Fund, Abu Dhabi Global Market and Mubadala, Hub71’s mission is to create an optimal environment for outstanding innovation making economic and social impact. Supported by world-leading technology companies, venture capitalists, and exceptional talent, Abu Dhabi’s Hub71 offers a community of world-class innovators and access to capital required to help start-ups and entrepreneurs develop, scale and build transformational businesses. For more information visit www.hub71.com and follow us on @Hub71AD #Hub71AD.

About Mubadala Investment Company

Mubadala Investment Company actively manages a worldwide portfolio supporting the vision of a globally integrated and diversified economy, through sustainable returns to its shareholder, the Government of Abu Dhabi. Mubadala’s US $225 billion portfolio spans five continents with interests in aerospace, ICT, semiconductors, metals and mining, renewable energy, oil and gas, petrochemicals, utilities, healthcare, real estate, defense services, pharmaceuticals and medical technology, agribusiness and a global portfolio of financial holdings. Mubadala has over a decade of experience of investing in the technology sector, beginning in 2007 when it acquired a significant stake in Advanced Micro Devices (AMD). Mubadala Ventures sits within Mubadala Capital, the company’s financial investment division. With headquarters in San Francisco, California, Mubadala Ventures oversees and manages Mubadala’s $15 billion commitment to the SoftBank Vision Fund. Mubadala is a trusted partner, an engaged shareholder and a responsible global company that is committed to ethics and world-class standards. For more information about Mubadala, please visit: www.mubadala.com