4 Steps to Hire Candidates that Fit Your Core Values: An Interview With Allison Kopf & Brett Brohl

January through March is the busiest time of year for hiring so we want to help ensure that you have access to as many high-quality candidates as possible. To make that happen, we are asking you—members of the Techstars network—to #GiveFirst into the Techstars Talent Network and help other founders connect with top talent. Plus, more referrals going into the Network means a bigger pool of candidates who might be a good fit for your company! Learn more about the Season of Vouching. 

When hiring talent, founders often focus on a candidate’s skillset, experience, and overall ability to do a specific job. But finding the right talent takes a lot more than that. In fact, according to Allison Kopf, founder and CEO of Artemis, and Brett Brohl, Managing Director of Techstars Farm to Fork Accelerator, another factor plays a major role in the success or failure of a new hire. 

“In hiring, it’s important to know whether a candidate is qualified to do the job,” Allison said. “Obviously, you need to be able to walk away and trust this person to do the job without micromanaging them. But, at the same time, you also need to be asking if this person would do well in your team environment.” You don’t want your employees to just survive your company culture, you want them to thrive in it. 

“One of the quickest ways to kill a company is to start adding hires that don’t fit culturally,” Brett added. “You can’t just put butts in seats to fill a need. If they don’t align with your core values, they’re going to fail.”

Hiring people who’ll happily embrace your core values and fit well into your company culture demands a lot of forethought and careful work. More specifically, it requires you to define a clear set of core values with your team, and then meticulously evaluate candidates against those core values. 

Step 1: Define Core Values as a Team

The first and most important thing founders can do is create a set of core values. These can include things like “embracing creativity”, “responding with humility”, “acting with integrity”—or be something else entirely. 

The idea is to decide how you want your employees to work, interact with one another, and communicate with customers, and boil that down to a few core concepts. Done correctly, each of your values will also have a “why:” an underlying set of reasons that explain its worth and act as a call to action for the company. 

“Core values are more than just a set of high level ideas,” Allison said. “They’re highly nuanced. For example, one of our core values is: ‘default to curiosity.’ But it’s about a lot more than just defaulting to curiosity. That value is based on ideas like: ‘all questions are good questions’ and ‘curiosity is the key to empathy with each other and our customers’. It also encompasses concepts like: ‘ideas, tools and workflows can always improve’; and ‘the process is not as important as the destination.’”

Creating such a deeply nuanced set of core values takes more than one person or a small subset of people, though. It requires everyone to be involved in the process to one degree or another.   

“Our core values didn’t come from the top-down. They came from the company as a whole,” Allison said. “I felt it was most important to give people a voice in the company, because I wanted them to feel like they could make decisions, voice opinions, and have a directional say in where we were moving as a company. So while our mission has been set by me, the way we’re getting there is partly steered by the team itself.” 

How do you get from those many voices to a clear set of values? “For us, the path we took to create our core values was very straightforward,” Allison said. “It involved discussing the objective, brainstorming ideas, and narrowing down our options as a group. One of our designers actually led the process, so our core values came directly from the team, rather than being chosen by me or our CTO.” 

And this process has worked in an onward and upward way for Artemis. “Initially, we created a set of nine core values,” Allison said, “but we reevaluate them on an annual or biannual basis to make sure they still reflect what we’re trying to do. And we’re still doing this as a team, rather than from the top-down.”

Step 2: Setting Expectations During the Interview Process

While it’s vital to have a set of core values in place before you start hiring, it’s equally important to make sure candidates understand your value expectations from the get-go. Not only can it save you a lot of time in the interview process by enabling you to weed out candidates that don’t fit, but it can also spare you the sunk costs—financial and otherwise—of a bad hire.  

“One mistake founders often make is not setting expectations early,” Brett said. “They’ll evaluate skill sets during the interview process, but they won’t set expectations around their work culture and core values until after they’ve hired someone. That needs to happen a lot sooner. Your candidates should know exactly what they’re walking into during those interviews.” 

This can be difficult for founders to do, especially when they go through a period of rapid hiring. However, neglecting to discuss core values and culture fit can ultimately be devastating to your company. 

“When you need to hire fast, because you just raised a round of capital and you need to execute the plan you rolled out, it’s easy to ignore company culture or sacrifice value fit,” Brett said. “But that never ends well. Either you end up firing that person quickly, or they just become a drain on the entire organization.” 

Luckily, there are lots of ways founders can be transparent about their expectations. It may be as simple as discussing your core values in the first few minutes of an interview or asking candidates to read about your core values on your website. 

For Artemis, the simplest way to set expectations is emailing candidates the information prior to their first interview. “The first step in our hiring process is to send candidates our core value deck,” Allison said. “This gives them time to read over our core values and spend some time thinking about them, so that everyone is on the same page when they come in to interview.”

Step 3: Evaluate Culture & Core Value Fit

With expectations in place, the next step for founders is to take some time to directly evaluate candidates against the company’s core values. This is often done as an independent step in the interview process known as a core value screen. 

“We kick off the interview process with a core value screen, which is a formal interview where we ask a series of questions to see how candidates line up with our culture and values,” Allison said. “Ultimately, the goal is to have a conversation and get to know the candidate. So instead of just going through their resume, we ask things like: ‘What motivates you?’ What was the most successful moment of your last job and why? What makes you really excited to go to work?’ These questions are designed to help candidates open up, show off their personality and talk about things that excite them.”

While the answers to these questions can speak volumes about a candidate, this is one of those situations where actions truly speak louder than words. Anyone can say they value what you value, but few will truly embody it.  

For instance, say you’re evaluating candidates against a core value of curiosity. They may share examples of times when they showcased it at their last job, but how well are they really exhibiting it? Are they asking questions? Do they want to dig deeper into the topic? Does their body language show a genuine interest in the conversation? If not, they may not really value curiosity—at least not to the degree that your team does. 

This doesn’t mean you need to disqualify said candidate outright. It simply means you should look more closely at how they will mesh with your culture and core values. 

As Allison explains: “This is where founders sometimes mess up a little bit. They assume that they need to find somebody who matches every single one of their core values perfectly. But, in reality, it’s not so much about finding someone who has one-to-one identical qualities, but someone who fits culturally and is able to live up to your values.” 

Step 4: Know When to Walk Away

Ultimately, even the best plans can go awry. You will still interview candidates who are not a good fit. But this doesn’t mean your culture is bad or the candidate is bad. “There isn’t a right culture out there,” Brett said. “It’s what’s right for you and what’s right for the people that you’re hiring. It’s okay to walk away from the candidate because they’re not a good culture fit. It doesn’t make them a bad person. It just means they’re not a good fit for your company.” 

“The bottom line is, you need to be self aware as a company,” Brett added, “You need to know who you are, what you do, and what your values are, and then stick to it when you start hiring.”

5 Questions with Todd Deacon

Meet Todd:

Todd Deacon is the Managing Director of the Techstars SportsTech Melbourne Accelerator. Todd has a passion for the business of sport and in particular SportsTech, startups and venture capital. Prior to Techstars, Todd co-founded Unscriptd, a SportsTech business and has over a decade of experience consulting to the sports industry.

What are you looking for in startups for the Techstars SportsTech Melbourne Accelerator?

We are on a search for the most exciting early stage SportsTech companies with the greatest potential anywhere around the globe right now. 

This is narrow in terms of industry but broad in terms of the tech that exists within. And I should say, ideally that tech will have some application to the business of Tennis Australia now or in the future – be that to do with major events, mass participation, or for the elite athlete.

You were born in Melbourne and have lived there your whole life. What’s great about starting an accelerator in Melbourne? 

Over the last 10 years I’ve spent a lot of time away in the U.S., Europe, and parts of Asia. I’ve just returned from living in London for the last two years, but you are right, Melbourne is my home town. 

Beyond being a great city to live (the Economist keeps ranking it first or second in the world for most livable cities, so it must be true!), Melbourne has a thriving startup scene, especially in sport. I think that’s because sport really does define our culture in Melbourne (we can’t get enough of it), we are a wealthy country so that tends to make money readily available for investment, our sporting system is progressive when it comes to technology adoption, and our government is totally focused on making the State of Victoria overall and Melbourne in particular world leaders for SportsTech startups. 

Want to know more? Here is a link to a report our government partner LaunchVic recently released to prove it: https://launchvic.org/files/The-SportsTech-Report.pdf

What are some of the biggest learnings from your career and entrepreneurial journey that you bring to being a Techstars MD? 

You know what, there are so many that there’s really not the space on this page to do them all justice, and I think that’s because we experienced such a rollercoaster ride over our journey up until our exit. 

But to name a few that immediately spring to mind: the importance of alignment on strategy and vision among founders, great lawyers cost but they will save you money down the road, ensure you are ready for POCs and delay if you’re not, sweat the detail on product, be confident you can back up valuation and don’t get too hung up on it, be comfortable in not having all the answers, seek the right advice from the right people, make quick decisions and move with pace, more often than not things will take longer than you want, big companies move slowly, great recruitment will make a company, move on poor performers quickly, find your way to relax and prioritize downtime, don’t forget you have friends and family.

What do Techstars partners Tennis Australia, Victoria University, and LaunchVic bring to the accelerator?

I genuinely believe our partners present an enormous opportunity to accelerate these businesses and will provide a fantastic launchpad for global growth. That can manifest in many ways, such as scientific validation, nailing product market fit, market testing, commercial partnerships, access to talent, or warm introductions to global sports organizations, teams, and athletes.

If you could meet one professional athlete, who would it be and why? 

As a kid, one moment that had a lifelong impact on me was Ben Johnson at the Seoul Olympics. Ever since, I have had this fascination with drugs in sport. I think it’s to do with trying to understand the psyche of why some athletes make that choice.

But the athlete I would most want to meet is Lance Armstrong—one on one—with a large glass of truth serum. I don’t think we really understand what was going on in his mind back then and even more interestingly today, but I would love to know.

Learn more about the Techstars SportsTech Melbourne Accelerator at an AMA with Todd on November 20, 2019. Register here, or watch the replay: http://tsta.rs/iHBY50xbYZD

2019 LaunchPad Propel Pitch Competition Winners Help Build Student Credit Scores, Connect Young Creative Talent to Opportunities, and Provide Healthy Snacks

Out of nearly 100 student entrepreneurial teams from schools across the U.S. and Ireland, Credit Starter, Cllctve, and Eat Makhana rose above the rest and won in the 2019 Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars Propel pitch competition. Judges from organizations including Blackstone, Techstars, and Shutterstock evaluated ventures on business model/viability, team strength, and presentation quality.

“Of course innovation, resilience, and drive are important characteristics of the student founders we want to support and cultivate,” said Blackstone Charitable Foundation executive director Amy Stursberg, “But what really impressed us this year, was the ingenious solutions these young entrepreneurs are developing to address problems their own fellow students struggle with!”

2019 LaunchPad Propel winning businesses included:

1st Place: Credit Starter, founded by Michael Broughton at USC is working to overcome the obstacle of developing a positive credit history as a young person. While predatory practices of credit card companies can present real risk to students long term, Michael has recognized that safer and commonly repeated payments (including student tuition, gym memberships, and streaming entertainment bills) can be utilized to help students build credit.

2nd Place: Cllctve. After struggling to balance her own successful creative content development work with the demands of school, Cllctve cofounder and Syracuse University student Kelsy Davis is developing an online marketplace to efficiently connect other young creators with companies needing talent. Cllctve re-positions brands for success, while simultaneously nurturing the freelance community on college campuses across the country.

3rd Place: Eat Makhana. Mallika Chawla, Amruta Gadgil, and Vineet Sinha, alumni of the University of California, Berkeley are on their own mission to help fellow students stay healthy by offering delicious, nutritious, allergy-friendly foods from popped water lily seeds. Based on a snack common in her childhood home in India, these young entrepreneurs have also taken an innovative approach to the widely recognized challenge of breaking into the grocery store aisle – successfully targeting corporate cafeteria and snack rooms.

“The GiveFirst philosophy is ingrained in everything we do at Techstars – from our mentorship driven Accelerators to our university-focused LaunchPad partnership with Blackstone,” said Techstars founder David Cohen. “It is incredibly exciting to see the college students involved in this network so naturally developing businesses that help their fellow students out.”

In addition to the annual Propel event in New York each fall, LaunchPad also offers Lift and Startup Weekend. Lift, offered in the spring and summer, is a 10-week, virtual, mentorship-driven cohort program that take student teams from any of the 20+ LaunchPad campuses to the next level. LaunchPad Startup Weekends are where ideas are sparked and new companies are formed and take place at many of the LaunchPad college campuses throughout the year.

For more information about the LaunchPad network and to get your campus involved, please visit www.blackstonelaunchpad.org.

Techstars Announces Virtual Accelerator Focused on Next Generation Space and Frontier Technologies with International Partners

BOULDER, Colo. – November 13, 2019 – Techstars, the worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed, today announced the launch of the Techstars Allied Space Accelerator. The accelerator, a virtual program, will run in partnership with the United States Air Force, the Netherlands Ministry of Defense, the Norwegian Space Agency and the Norwegian Ministry of Defense.

The new mentorship-driven accelerator will focus on the next generation of space technologies with a concentration on companies in the commercial space industry. The accelerator will run similar to other Techstars accelerator programs, but will operate in a predominantly virtual manner that will not require participating companies to relocate to a physical hub for the duration of the 13-week program, a necessity for most of Techstars’ accelerators. Alternatively, participating companies will partake in the program through a heavily digital experience complemented by three 1-week on-site visits with the accelerator’s governmental partners. During these in-person week-long sessions, founders will convene to work together, build camaraderie, connect with mentors and foster relationships with the partners.

“This is an exciting opportunity for Techstars to engage with founders who are addressing innovations in space technologies including but not limited to space situational awareness, space data analytics, space communication, AI in space and satellite servicing, and more,” said Claudia Reuter, Techstars General Manager Americas East. “Our international partners will provide program participants valuable expertise in rapid innovation in these areas and invaluable opportunities for future business growth and relationships.”

“Building on the successes of the programs we run with Techstars in Boston and L.A., the Techstars Air Force Accelerator and the Starburst Space Accelerator, the U.S. Air Force is excited to work with our international partners on new ways of doing business,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Chris Benson.

The Techstars Allied Space Accelerator will run for 13 weeks from June-September, 2020. The program is accepting applications starting today through March 1, 2020. Startups interested in participating in the Techstars Allied Space Accelerator are encouraged to learn more by visiting the program page or expressing interest here.

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 $24 Billion. www.techstars.com

Rajat Bhargava on Giving First for a B2B company

Why does Rajat Bhargava, co-founder and CEO of JumpCloud, keep starting businesses? How does JumpCloud, a B2B company, Give First? What does their 30 years of friendship mean to Rajat and Give First co-host Brad Feld? Listen for answers to these questions—and more. 

Rajat Bhargava, CEO of JumpCloud, has started a lot of companies—the first, NetGenesis, while he was still a student at MIT. And his friendship with Give First co-host Brad Feld goes right back to that initial foray into entrepreneurship. 

Rajat just keeps starting companies, and Giving First—including through his current B2B company, JumpCloud. How does a B2B company Give First? Rajat believe that every B2B can ask itself this question, and come up with practical ways to help anyone, especially entrepreneurs. 

How B2C companies can Give First is another question. And both Rajat and Brad agree that those that offer “free” services in exchange for user data is definitely not Giving First—especially when many users don’t fully understand the transactional nature of the exchange. 

Listen for more of Rajat and Brad’s thoughts on the complexities of Giving First as a company, as well as Brad’s earliest memory of the world wide web, and a thoughtful exchange where the two men ponder how their friendship has lasted so long, even through difficult times. 

Listen for Rajat’s take on…

Why Rajat just keeps starting companies:

“It’s like a puzzle for me. There are these hazy pictures or puzzle pieces spread out and I love putting them together in a way that makes sense. JumpCloud is a great example of that.”

What Give First does and doesn’t mean for B2C:

“In a B2B situation there’s not this monetization of data in the same way as there is on the consumer side. … The hitch is really to give first without the expectation of receiving anything in return. I’d say if it’s a consumer model where you’re going to monetize the data, then you haven’t really Given First. You’re making a trade and you should be honest about what you’re doing there.”

The experience of building a business on the early world wide web:

“The business was basically trying to sort through how do we take advantage of this thing called the world wide web, which was super brand new at the time. I mean, it came out, if I remember right, October of 93 is when the first browser hit. I could be off by a month or two, but it was in that zone. And we started our business in December ‘93 or January ‘94. We had no idea what we were going to do, but we said, this thing that’s the web is going to change stuff. Why don’t we just try and figure out how do we build sites or how do we do commerce?”

Companies, people, and resources mentioned in this podcast:

PowerSpike: From LaunchPad to Accelerator

In 2014 AJ Damiano was a freshman at Syracuse University and an avid gamer. He started PowerSpike with cofounder and fellow students Michael Paris and Eric Rice based on an opportunity he’d observed working for another startup focused on Twitch-hosted, esports competitions. The issue he identified was fluctuating (and insufficient) revenue generation for gaming users and content creators based on inconsistent donations, advertising, and sponsorships. Looking at more traditional brands and advertising models, AJ believed he could develop a technology solution to this problem.

Early Competition Winnings

With a team of developers experienced in gaming and esports, AJ and his team created PowerSpike, a media buying and analytics solution for esports communities and gaming influencers. While making some early progress, the business was initially totally funded off of winnings from business plan competitions. (Over four years, PowerSpike won nearly $50,000 in these competitions!)

“I couldn’t speak more highly of the LaunchPad network,” said AJ. “For us, it played a pivotal role in the early stages of PowerSpike, giving us mentorship and coaching advice, business plan competition funding – but also validation, which was desperately needed to motivate us when there were lots of reasons to give up.”

While many students come to their campus LaunchPad independently, the early successes in school and local competitions, and obvious extraordinary potential of AJ and his team meant Syracuse LaunchPad Director, Linda Harstock proactively sought them out. Her approach from the beginning was to identify ways to help the students and add value. At different times that meant making introductions to advisors on and off campus, connecting the team to potential clients and customers, and mentoring them around specific obstacles and opportunities.

According to AJ, “The great thing about the Syracuse LaunchPad being based in Bird Library, which is in the heart of the university, is that you can access resources across campus – so with Linda’s help, we met critically important people from the business school, media school, I-school, and more all of whom have helped us succeed in one way or other.”

Techstars Atlanta Accelerator

By his graduation in May of 2019, AJ and his cofounders had closed his initial round of funding, raising around $500,000 from the Dorm Room Fund, The Sixers Innovation Lab Crafted by Kimball, and Techstars Atlanta in partnership with Cox Enterprises. AJ’s team completed the Atlanta Techstars Accelerator program in the summer of 2019.

“The funny thing is that I initially met Michael Cohn, the Managing Director of Techstars Atlanta, at a Blackstone-organized event in 2018!” AJ continued, “We kept in touch and built a relationship with each other over the next eight months, so when it came time to apply for that Accelerator, it was a very easy application process.”

Some of the most important elements of that Accelerator experience, according to AJ, were the sense of community that developed with other founders (who become lifelong friends), the network of mentors he gained, and the clearer understanding of the core problem PowerSpike was solving. Initially the team thought brands wanted tools to manage influencer marketing internally. What they realized, however, was that actually brands don’t want a tool! Instead they want to simply outsource that process and get the results, just like any other media channel.

Future for PowerSpike

With a team of eight full time employees today, and a pending injection of significant capital, PowerSpike is preparing for a major hiring push during the remainder of 2019 through 2020. AJ expects by the end of next year to have a team of 30 with key hires in product development, design, talent, and even operations. Together, their goal for the next 12-18 months will be to bring more sponsorship opportunities to more creators across different platforms, ultimately helping streamers make content creation their full time career. To stay up to date on the latest PowerSpike developments, AJ recommends people follow the company on Twitter and LinkedIn and watch for exciting job opportunities on their careers page.

AJ’s Advice for Student Entrepreneurs:

  1. Take care of yourself. Founder moods and outlook is often tied to the highs and lows of entrepreneurship. Find time to do whatever keeps you well – exercise, meditation, therapy, personal coaching, etc.
  2. Keeping pushing. When things aren’t going well, it is easy to give up, and that’s what most people do. But eventually, if you push hard enough, something is going to give and that is where you’ll get an opportunity most people will have missed out on.
  3. If your back is against the wall, play offense. (Based on AJ’s experience playing World of Warcraft, he’s found this lesson extends to business!) Making overly cautious decisions in the game’s “arena matches” when his team was in hard-pressed situations, extended the competition, but nearly always still ultimately led to a loss. Alternatively, when the team went unexpectedly offensive in these situations instead of just trying to draw out the match, he’d win about 40% of the time, “and that’s a hell of a lot better than 0 percent!”

Mentors, Presenters, and Judges from Shutterstock, Upsie, and M.M.LaFleur Join the Lineup at LaunchPad Propel

On the heels of announcing headline speakers from Plated, The Muse, and Warby Parker, industry leading entrepreneurs from Shutterstock, Upsie, M.M.LaFleur and more have also committed to participating as mentors, presenters, and judges at the Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars Propel this November.

In addition to a keynote session co-hosted by Blackstone President and COO Jon Gray and Techstars co-founder and Managing Partner David Cohen, students entrepreneurs will also participate in an accelerator-style ‘mentor madness’ session. Propel attendees will learn from enlightening breakout presentations and participate in a business plan pitch competition in which the winners will receive more than $20,000 in cash and prizes.

Student business competition winners will also receive an invitation to join LaunchPad Lift. Running its third cohort in the spring of 2019, Lift is a virtual, mentorship-driven program aimed at taking student-led ventures to the next level and preparing them for their next major milestone—be that launching products or services, landing sales contracts, or raising funding.

Newly announced LaunchPad Propel mentors, presenters, and judges include:

    • Clarence Bethea, Founder and CEO of Upsie and Techstars Accelerator Alum (Presenter and Pitch Competition Judge)
    • Narie Foster, Co-Founder of M.M.LaFleur, and Entrepreneur in Residence at the MIT NYC Startup Studio (Presenter)
    • Dan Fradin, Founder of Impact Wrap and Operating Partner of Whitecap Enterprises (Presenter)
    • Kelly Fryer, Program Director of the Barclays Accelerator, powered by Techstars in New York (Pitch Competition Judge)
    • Ali Goldstein Norup, Founder and CEO at kpiReady, Co-Founder of GDPRsimple, and Techstars Accelerator Alum (Presenter)
    • Jon Oringer, Founder and CEO, Shutterstock (Pitch Competition Judge)
    • Laura Weidman Powers, Head of Impact, Echoing Green (Pitch Competition Judge)

In addition to entrepreneurs and executives, a number of Techstars Accelerator managing directors and program managers—the people who give intensive support to dozens of startups in accelerator programs each year—will be leading breakouts and mentoring students. These individuals include: 

    • Jenny Fielding, Managing Director of Techstars NYC
    • Amos Schwartzfarb, Managing Director of Techstars Austin

Propel will take place November 7th and 8th in New York city. Students and schools interested in bringing the LaunchPad network to their campus can visit www.blackstonelaunchpad.org.

Founders from Warby Parker, Plated, and The Muse to Speak at LaunchPad Propel

Leading Student Entrepreneurs to Pitch and Meet Founder Mentors at 3rd Annual Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars Convening

The Blackstone Charitable Foundation and Techstars have announced headline speakers for its annual convening called Propel, an innovative program that brings together more than 200 exceptional student entrepreneurs from across the LaunchPad network. Student participants at the event will hear from world-class speakers including Jon Gray, Blackstone president and chief operating officer, Josh Hix, Plated co-founder, Kathryn Minshew, co-founder of The Muse, and Neil Blumenthal, who co-founded Warby Parker while in school. 

During the two-day event, student teams will have a chance to pitch their business before a panel of judges in order to win $20,000 in cash and prizes to accelerate their ventures’ growth. Attendees will also learn critical lessons, build technical skills and grow their networks as they hear from notable speakers, including a live Give First podcast recording with Techstars co-founder and Managing Partner David Cohen.

“Universities provide students with the foundational knowledge and skills necessary to start a business,” said Amy Stursberg, executive director of the Blackstone Charitable Foundation. “LaunchPad accelerates student entrepreneurs’ growth by expanding their networks and providing access to  founders and other business leaders to help students think more creatively, take more calculated risks, and thrive.”

“These speakers were hand selected for their experience, insight, and expertise in early-stage startup strategy, as well as their commitment to helping the next generation of young entrepreneurs,” said David Cohen, founder and managing partner of Techstars. “We couldn’t be more proud of the determination and creativity of the students in our LaunchPad network, and we are deeply committed to providing them the resources and relationships necessary for them to succeed.”

Neil Blumenthal is a co-founder and co-CEO of Warby Parker, a lifestyle brand that offers designer eyewear at a revolutionary price, while leading the way for socially conscious businesses. Since day one, over five million pairs of glasses have been distributed through its Buy a Pair, Give a Pair program. Warby Parker was previously named the most innovative company in the world by Fast Company. Neil was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum and one of the 100 Most Creative People in Business by Fast Company.

Josh Hix co-founded meal delivery service Plated in 2012 at the age of 30. He and Nick Taranto took their company through the Techstars NYC Accelerator, appeared on ABC’s Shark Tank, and eventually became the hit show’s largest exit following a sale to Albertson’s in 2017.

Kathryn Minshew co-founded The Muse, an online career platform that matches people with jobs/companies based on the strength of their company culture and employee experience, in 2011. Today the Muse is used by 75 million people per year, it has been named to Fast Company’s “World’s Most Innovative Companies” list, and Kathryn has been included in Inc magazine’s “Female Founder 100”.

Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars is an entrepreneurial network that helps students succeed in entrepreneurship and in their careers. Available to more than 700,000 students at over 20 campuses globally, LaunchPad is open to all students and recent alumni, regardless of major or discipline. Since the program’s inception, the companies founded at LaunchPad schools have collectively raised $193 million in capital and generated more than $90 million in revenue.

Propel will take place November 7–8, 2019 in NYC. Students and schools interested in bringing the LaunchPad network to their campus can visit www.blackstonelaunchpad.org.

Elizabeth Kraus on funding women-led companies

As co-founder and Chief Investment Officer of MergeLane, Elizabeth Kraus invests in women-led startups and venture funds. And she hopes to one day make MergeLane obsolete—by achieving gender parity in entrepreneurship and VC.

podcast elizabeth kraus

MergeLane, a VC fund that invests in startups and venture funds with at least one female leader, has an unusual aspiration, written in bold on its website: “We want to make MergeLane obsolete.”

As co-founder and Chief Investment Officer of MergeLane, Elizabeth Kraus looks forward to a future when MergeLane will no longer be needed, because we will have achieved gender parity. She’s seen progress in the right direction over her career. 

When Elizabeth first started out as an angel investor, David Cohen—Techstars co-founder and Give First co-host—invited her to the Seed Angel Forum, which brings together local startup investors to see deals from all over the country. Elizabeth recalls: “I was 29 at the time. I was the only woman in the room, and I remember feeling so intimidated.” 

Fortunately, Elizabeth didn’t stay intimidated for long. And while the percentages are still scandalously low, the number of women entrepreneurs and VCs continues to grow. Elizabeth and MergeLane are one reason for this change. 

Listen for Elizabeth’s take on…

Her first meeting of the Angel Seed Forum:

“I was 29 at the time. I was the only woman in the room, and I remember feeling so intimidated. But I quickly figured out I could leverage the wisdom of all those more experienced investors by simply finding creative ways to be helpful to them.”

The origins of MergeLane:

“Sue Heilbronner approached me and said, ‘I’ve got this idea, I want to start a venture fund to invest in women.’ And I originally told her that I had absolutely no interest in that because I’ve never felt limited by my gender, and I wasn’t sure that I wanted to narrow my focus only to women. But Sue is a former federal prosecutor, and she’s quite persuasive. She said, ‘You know, I really think you should take a second look at the data and talk to the people you’ve been investing with and see what they think about the idea.’ The data was very clear that gender diversity did increase returns. Since starting MergeLane, I and I have now met thousands of people who have told me their stories of why they believe that investing in women makes good business sense.”

What VC needs now:

“We have this army of people who are willing to Give First to entrepreneurs, which is incredible. And I think it’s much easier today for entrepreneurs to find answers to their questions. There’s a lot more content than there used to be, and there’s also a lot more capital in the ecosystem. One of the things that I’ve recently realized is that every question that an entrepreneur might have is pretty Google-able these days. That’s not the case for venture capital funds. That’s one thing that I’m interested in working on now: we don’t have the same resources for venture capital fund managers as we have for entrepreneurs.”

What is Give First?

“To be honest, at first Give First seemed a little counterintuitive to me, that I would volunteer my time to help a for-profit businesses achieve a greater return. However, I remember Nicole Glaros saying to me that she was hesitant as well, and that David Cohen kept saying, ‘Just trust me, this is going to come back to you in spades.’ And that was her experience and that has 100% been my experience as well.” 

David and Brad’s superpower:

“Being able to give really hard to hear feedback from a place of love.”

Companies, people, and resources mentioned in this podcast:

Techstars Partners with Grinnell College to Bring Techstars Iowa to Des Moines in 2020 and Beyond

BOULDER, Colo. – October 22, 2019 – Techstars, the worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed, and private liberal arts college Grinnell College, today announced the launch of Techstars Iowa, a new accelerator program in Des Moines, Iowa.

The mentorship-driven accelerator will be Techstars’ first program in the state of Iowa. Open to startups addressing innovations across a broad technology landscape, and to those who will benefit particularly from the Iowa ecosystem, the program will welcome 10 startups in its inaugural year.

The program will be led by Techstars Managing Director Kerty Levy. Levy, a long-time Des Moines resident and community leader, brings decades of tech and leadership experience to her role as Manager Director. Serving as a business advisor and coach for the past 4 years, EIR (entrepreneur in residence) at the Iowa AgriTech Accelerator since its inception, and most recently holding the title of Interim Director at the local Des Moines accelerator, she is a trusted member of Iowa’s startup community and expert on the Des Moines entrepreneurial ecosystem.

“Helping companies think through strategies, business value, execution – it’s what I love,” said Levy. “I’m thrilled to lead the Techstars Iowa Accelerator and continue coaching entrepreneurs and serving the startup community in Iowa. Techstars coming to Des Moines is a great thing for Iowa – it’s putting a brighter spotlight on our startup ecosystem and will further community collaboration and entrepreneurship opportunities across the state. Partnering with Grinnell College is a phenomenal opportunity for Techstars’ first accelerator in Iowa.”

Levy will be supported by Grinnell College leaders and mentors, and various Iowa community members. Techstars and Grinnell College are exploring additional partners to participate in the Techstars Iowa Accelerator program, as well.

“This partnership gets at the heart of what it means to be Grinnellian,” said Raynard S. Kington, President of Grinnell College. “We promise our students a diverse educational experience rooted in creative and critical thinking. This is another excellent way for our students to gain meaningful, real-world experience and to put ideas into action.”  

“The state of Iowa and our communities are increasingly named among the best places to start or own a business, so it makes perfect sense Techstars would locate here,” said Debi Durham, Director of the Iowa Economic Development Authority and Iowa Finance Authority. “We have worked across business, academia and government to make critical resources more accessible to startups and I think we’re beginning to see the results in a thriving, growing entrepreneurial environment.”

Techstars Iowa will run for 13 weeks from September 2020 – December 2020. Applications will open on February 17, 2020 and accept submissions through May 10, 2020. Startups interested in participating in Techstars Iowa are encouraged to learn more by visiting the Techstars Iowa program page or expressing interest here. Corporations interested in learning more about Techstars Accelerators and Techstars’ dedication to corporate innovation can learn more at techstars.com/corporate-innovation-partnerships.

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 $23 Billion. www.techstars.com 

About Grinnell College

Grinnell College, a private liberal arts college in Iowa founded in 1846, provides individually advised learning for intellectually engaged students to produce graduates who are prepared to navigate the world’s complexities and responsibly contribute to the common good. Grinnell enrolls 1,700 students from around the world, who earn B.A. degrees in a range of disciplines across the humanities, arts and sciences. Grinnell’s rigorous academic program and campus life emphasize excellence in education through free inquiry and the open exchange of ideas, a diverse community and social responsibility and action. More information about Grinnell College is available at www.grinnell.edu.