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. 








Techstars Partners with Harlem Capital to Fast-Track Success for Women and Minority-led Startups

New York, N.Y. – October 21, 2019 – Techstars, the worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed, and Harlem Capital (“HCP”), a New York-based early-stage venture capital firm, today announced the launch of a joint partnership focused on recruiting and investing in diverse founders to build the next generation of world-class businesses. 

In partnership with Harlem Capital, Techstars Includes is an initiative aimed at increasing diversity and inclusion within the Techstars network and across global entrepreneurship communities. The partnership is part of Techstars’ larger commitment to support underrepresented entrepreneurs and create a more inclusive ecosystem, while also offering a diverse investment pipeline for HCP. 

Through Techstars Includes, Harlem Capital now has access to the Techstars D&I Affiliate Program where the organization can refer diverse founders to Techstars mentorship-driven accelerator programs, fast track their application process and increase deal flow between founders and Techstars’ network. Techstars will also refer diverse-led, early-stage companies to Harlem Capital for the capital they need to scale and grow. 

A study of 500 U.S. businesses found that companies with diverse teams outperform their less diverse competitors – generating higher sales revenue, more customers, greater market share and greater profits. A similar study by Morgan Stanley showed that more diverse companies delivered better returns and were less volatile. Unfortunately, recent studies also show that over the past five years less than nine percent of overall VC investments went to startups with female founders, and only 23 percent to startups with ethnically diverse founders. 

“Techstars continues to be one of the most diverse accelerators, which has led to 25% of our portfolio being Techstars backed companies,” says Henri Pierre-Jacques, Managing Partner at Harlem Capital. “Techstars and Harlem Capital know that to improve the flow of capital to diverse entrepreneurs, we have to be intentional in our investment efforts and will use our partnership to move beyond talk to action.”

Harlem Capital and Techstars are taking the first of many steps to increase the number of diverse-founded companies that get investment from VCs in the tech space. Techstars intends to connect HCP to more than 500 diverse-led startups in the company’s current and future alumni network over the next 5 years. As a result, Techstars is directly supporting Harlem Capitals’ mission to invest in 1,000 diverse founders over the next 20 years. With Harlem Capitals’ referral, Techstars also looks to further diversify the company’s incoming accelerator classes.  

Techstars knows this partnership with Harlem Capital can make a generational change,” says Jason Thompson, VP of Diversity & Inclusion at Techstars. “This will change the dynamics of underserved communities forever through economic empowerment of the next generation of diverse entrepreneurs.”

Harlem Capital’s investment criteria reflects their deep commitment to supporting minority and female entrepreneurs. Through the partnership, Techstars and Harlem Capital will be intentional in all future investment efforts and will use the partnership to take real actions that create substantial impact. 

About Harlem Capital Partners: 

Harlem Capital (“HCP”) is a New York-based minority-owned early-stage venture capital firm on a mission to change the face of entrepreneurship by investing in 1,000 diverse founders over the next 20 years.  HCP is committed to reserving capital for investments in minority and women founders in the United States. www.harlem.capital 

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 1,500 companies with a market cap of $15 Billion. www.techstars.com

Media Contacts:

Techstars
Andrea Perdomo
andrea.perdomo@techstars.com

Harlem Capital Partners
Henri Pierre-Jacques or Jarrid Tingle
henri@harlem.capital or jarrid@harlem.capital








Techstars Partners with Alabama Business and State Leaders to Bring EnergyTech Accelerator to Birmingham, Alabama

BOULDER, Colo. – October 16, 2019 – Techstars, the worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed, today announced the launch of the Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator. The accelerator will run in partnership with Alabama Power with support from the Alabama Department of Commerce and the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama (EDPA). Alabama Power is a southern electricity provider for 1.4 million customers across the state of Alabama and a subsidiary of Southern Company, the second largest utility company in the U.S. in customer base.

The new 13-week mentorship-driven program will provide startups in the EnergyTech space hands-on mentorship and access to Techstars’ worldwide network, helping them to gain traction and accelerate their businesses for success.

The Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator will be based in Birmingham, Alabama, catering to startups addressing innovative technologies in the electrical and utility space. The accelerator will provide participating startups access to guidance from Techstars’ mentors as well as leaders and experts from business and state leaders. The first year of the accelerator will run from July 2020 to October 2020, culminating in a demo day event where the participating startups will pitch their accelerated business models to investors and industry leaders.

“We’re thrilled to launch our first accelerator in Alabama in partnership with Alabama Power, with support from the EDPA and Department of Commerce. This accelerator program will combine these organizations’ dedication to economic development and electrical and utility innovation with our startup expertise and global network reach,” said Keith Camhi, Techstars Senior Vice President of Accelerators. “Founders addressing electrical and utility solutions who join our 2020 inaugural class are poised for three incredible months of mentorship and growth.”

Applications for Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator will be accepted January of 2020 through March 2020. Startups interested in learning more about the program are encouraged to contact Techstars or visit the Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator program page.

“This partnership with Techstars is an exciting opportunity that supports our commitment to find better ways to serve our customers and elevate the state,” said Alabama Power CEO Mark Crosswhite. “With a world-class accelerator program, the Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator will be an important catalyst for Alabama to continue strengthening its reputation as a growth center for technology and energy innovation.”

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 Alabama Power

Alabama Power, a subsidiary of Atlanta-based Southern Company (NYSE:SO), is focused on providing innovative energy solutions to improve customers’ lives. Learn more at www.alabamapower.com.








Jason Mendelson on demystifying venture deals

Jason Mendelson, Co-founder of Foundry Group, has spent over 15 years explaining how venture deals really work. From blog posts to a book—Venture Deals is now in its 4th edition!—to a free online course, Jason and co-author Brad Feld are determined to Give First by demystifying VC. 

podcast jason mendelson give first with david cohen

Jason Mendelson, co-founder of Foundry Group, can explain what matters in negotiations between entrepreneurs and VCs in just two words: 

Control and Economics. 

It takes enormous expertise to make something complicated really simple, and these bare two words speak to Jason’s profound understanding of venture deals and how they work, for the entrepreneur, the investor, and the lawyers. In addition to being a VC and a company founder himself, Jason has also been a lawyer, a software engineer, and a professional drummer. 

Control and economics mean that, in the hundreds of pages of legal documents around an investment, the two things that really matter are control of the company and economic return from the company. Jason and his Venture Deals co-author, Brad Feld, coined this paradigm—and Jason is very proud that it has been used, and stolen, widely. 

This is what Jason is most interested in: sharing information. He loves making complex things, like the legal negotiations around VC deals, simple. He works hard to pry open the black box of VC and show everyone how deals get made, and what aspects are most important to the parties involved, whether you’re a startup founder seeking funding, an aspiring VC, or a lawyer diving into the world of venture deals. 

Jason has been on this path for over 15 years now. He and Brad started blogging on the subject in 2005, and their book Venture Deals first came out in 2011. The fourth edition just published, and Jason explains why they’ve needed every single edition—he cites both better explanations and better writing. Jason and Brad also lead the free and popular online course, Venture Deals. 

Listen for Jason’s insights into the evolution of venture deals, how teaching helps him learn, and, best of all, for the story of a board meeting during which all questions had to be answered with Hall and Oates song titles. See? The professional drummer bit really does connect. To listen on all platforms, choose your favorite here. 

Listen for Jason’s take on…

The response to the first edition of Venture Deals:

“We immediately got hate letters from a ton of lawyers and VCs, and that’s when we knew we had done it right.”

What Venture Deals includes:

“Everything that Brad and I know about raising around of venture capital financing, and it’s slanted toward the entrepreneur.”

Why Jason and Brad wrote Venture Deals:

“So we really wanted to give this to the community and say, ‘Hey, here are all the secrets.’ Now all the bad people in ecosystem, they can just go away.”

Companies, people, and resources mentioned in this podcast:








Techstars Opens Techstars Tel Aviv for 2020

BOULDER, Colo. – October 7, 2019 – Techstars, the worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed, today announced the launch of Techstars Tel Aviv, an Israel-based accelerator program. The new 13-week accelerator will provide hands-on mentorship and guidance as well as access to the Techstars worldwide network to support founders and entrepreneurs interested in growing their businesses in the city of Tel Aviv.

Techstars Tel Aviv will be led by three-time entrepreneur and experienced Techstars Managing Director Hilla Ovil-Brenner, with support from Program Manager Franka Godina. The program will run March – June 2020, culminating in a demo day the week of June 22th, 2020. The program is open to all startups interested in accelerating their businesses in Tel Aviv.

“Through my experience as a Techstars managing director over the past two years, I’ve witnessed the amazing magic of the Techstars’ worldwide network of corporate partners, investors and mentors,” said Ovil-Brenner. “It’s inspiring to see so many people come together to support young companies at every step of their entrepreneurial journey. The launch of Techstars Tel Aviv will further support entrepreneurship in the heart of the Israeli Startup Nation, which will lead to more exceptional founder success stories out of Israel.”

Applications for the program are now open and will be accepted through December 8, 2019. Startups interested in learning more about the program are encouraged to contact Techstars or visit techstars.com/programs/tel-aviv-program to learn more.

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








Techstars and HBCUvc Launch 5-City Startup Weekend Tour to Promote Diversity in Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital

WASHINGTON, D.C. – October 2, 2019 – Techstars, the worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed, and HBCUvc, a nonprofit fellowship program providing Black and Latinx students with training and mentorship in venture capital, today announced the launch of a joint 5-city Startup Weekend tour across the country. The series of events will take place at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic-Serving Institutes (HSIs) across the U.S. 

Techstars and HBCUvc partnered on this initiative to increase the representation of young black and brown entrepreneurs in each startup ecosystem and ultimately create jobs and wealth opportunities for communities of color, which are traditionally underrepresented in the VC and startup landscape. This is the first endeavor of its kind aimed to specifically reach HBCU students, who account for 60 percent of all black engineers in the country. 

Each three-day Startup Weekend allows attendees to connect with like-minded individuals looking to build something new, pitch new startup ideas to a panel of judges and learn what it takes to start their own company. In just 54 hours, participants will experience the highs, lows, fun and pressure that make up life at a startup. 

“We’re excited to partner with Techstars, a global accelerator, to bring Startup Weekends to HBCUs,” said Hadiyah Mujhid, Founder and CEO of HBCUvc. “Our partner HBCUs and their students benefit greatly as Techstars Startup Weekend events bring tech entrepreneurs, corporate partners, and investors to the campuses of HBCUs, helping to accelerate our next generation of technology entrepreneurs on our campuses.”

Results from past Techstars Startup Weekend events include the formation of more than 23,000 teams by more than 193,000 entrepreneurs in 150 countries. Some teams even started to generate revenue during the event, while others went on to raise funds from angel investors or venture capitalists.

“This is the vision and promise of an organization like Techstars – opening access and leading the charge in entrepreneurial ecosystem development through collaborating with groups like HBCUvc,” says Monica Wheat, Techstars liaison for the tour, Techstars Startup Programs Lead in Detroit and Founder of Venture Catalysts. “HBCUvc has already been fueling pipeline development work for years. Techstars and these communities are excited to see this program go live and we look forward to all the opportunities it will create.” 

This unique initiative will cover five campuses in 2019, with more to follow in 2020. The tour officially kicks off at Howard University in October 2019. Below are the tour stops announced to date:

Techstars is committed to being an action-driven thought leader for diversity and inclusion in the tech space. This partnership will directly impact those who choose a career in venture capital and those who become entrepreneurs. HBCU and HSI schools interested in participating should connect with HBCUvc at partnerships@hbcu.vc. Interested partners and sponsors should contact Monica Wheat at monica.wheat@startupweek.co. 

About HBCUvc

HBCUvc is a nonprofit organization that trains students attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) in venture capital and technology entrepreneurship. The organization provides students with venture capital skills training, mentorship, and the opportunity to build professional relationships with seasoned investors and entrepreneurs, and empowers them to fuel high-growth entrepreneurship. This first of its kind program unlocks and fosters entrepreneurship at HBCUs and HSIs and provides students with a unique learning experience that jumpstarts their careers.

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

###

Techstars
Andrea Perdomo
andrea.perdomo@techstars.com
(720) 924-1836‬

Techstars Tour
Monica Wheat
monica.wheat@startupweek.co
248-633-8514








Janet Bannister on human-centered investing

Canadian VC Janet Bannister, a partner at Real Ventures, loves investing in “conscious founders” who are trying to make the world a better place. Her style of “human-centered investing” prioritizes people and relationships, and investing in smart, self-aware, teachable entrepreneurs. 

Today, Janet Bannister is a Partner at Real Ventures, but when Founding Partners John Stokes and Jean-Sebastien Cournoyer first approached her about joining to give the firm a presence in Toronto, Janet was nonplussed. “Why would I go into Venture Capital?” she asked. “Isn’t Venture Capital all about grinding the entrepreneurs down?” 

But she listened, and she learned about what VC could be, when it was done better, seeing “entrepreneurs as the heroes, and as people who can be supported and helped” with a mission that involves “helping the next generation of entrepreneurs and building entrepreneurial ecosystems.” 

Now she’s all in, with an approach that she calls “human centered investing.” Like Techstars, Janet believes that team is paramount in whether a startup will succeed or not. “What exactly is a great founder, what exactly is a great team? In my mind, in my experience, it’s not about years of experience. It’s not about whether they’ve worked in the industry or not,” Janet said. “It’s much more about how they are as a person and how they are as a leader.”

When she’s investing, she looks for the “conscious founder.” Meaning: “Are they self-aware? Are they transparent? Are they aware of where they need to improve? Are they continually trying to improve and be open to feedback?”

Most of all, Janet is thrilled to be working with entrepreneurs who are trying to make the world a better place. “I love working with entrepreneurs. I love their passion, their determination, the fact that they are going all in on something that they believe in,” she said. “If I can be in a place and have a role where my job revolves around helping entrepreneurs and doing so in a consulting, advising, mentoring capacity, where really my mandate is to help entrepreneurs be more successful—What could be better?” 

Listen for Janet’s hints for how she manages to talk with (almost) everybody, and how she stays healthy while also working so very hard. 

Listen for Janet’s take on…

The importance of physical fitness:

“I was a competitive athlete growing up. I was a long distance runner. Then I got into triathlons, and I was on the national triathlon team for three years. I still get up between 4:30 and 5:00 every morning to exercise for an hour or so. And that gives me a lot of energy. I think that being physically fit is incredibly important for everybody, but particularly for entrepreneurs.”

“I try for eight hours of sleep every night and then getting up early and exercising. Those blocks are not moveable. They’re not flexible, they’re not negotiable. It’s just something that I do.”

How Janet schedules her time:

“I think I’m very efficient. My schedule is generally booked back to back. I have a 14 year old son, often I’ll drop him off at school and then I have a call booked in my car from the time I’m driving down to the office. And then from when I get into the office to when I leave, I’m back to back. Then on the way home I usually have a call booked. I don’t know if that is best practice, but it’s what I do to try to fit things in.”

“It’s something that I do struggle with. I try to make time for everybody, but at the same time I’m wrestling with, okay, at some point I need to say No because I need to prioritize the companies that we have invested in and make sure that I have enough time to spend with them and to think deeply about their businesses.”

How Janet Gives First:

“What helps me is, when I give, I never expect anything back. I don’t even expect a thank you.”

“My attitude is, I just give because I sincerely care about people and I want to help them. I want to see other people succeed and I don’t expect anything back. And I think, for me anyway, that helps my peace of mind, because I genuinely get a huge amount of satisfaction from helping other people. If I can help people, that is amazing.”

“I learn from every interaction. I think that so much of the venture business, of entrepreneurship, of building a business—It’s all about making connections. And I find that I learn from every interaction—and then I make connections.”

“I think that every time you meet somebody, if you’re open and curious, you’re going to learn something, and everything that you learn can somehow be applied to make you better in your next meeting.”

Companies, people, and resources mentioned in this podcast:








UC Students Gain New Resources, Opportunities Through Expanded Entrepreneurship Program

Reposted from the University of California Press Room.

The University of California and the Blackstone Charitable Foundation announced today (Sept. 24) the expansion of an exciting program that will equip students with more tools and resources to take their entrepreneurship and innovation to the next level. The $5 million expansion of the Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars program will give more UC campuses critical access to resources, opportunities and mentorships for students and recent graduates across disciplines and experience levels.

“As the home to entrepreneurs and researchers at the forefront of cutting-edge discoveries and technological advancements, UC is the powerful engine behind California’s global leadership on innovation,” said UC President Janet Napolitano.

“We take great pride, especially, in our efforts to break down barriers and increase opportunities for women and minority entrepreneurs. We are excited to bring LaunchPad — and its valuable resources, opportunities and network — to UC campuses to further embed the ‘startup culture’ into the fabric of our campus communities.”

UC students will be able to take advantage of LaunchPad events, coaching and an exceptional talent network to help them succeed in their entrepreneurial ventures, moving groundbreaking research out of the laboratory or classroom and into the marketplace. This program has been operating at UCLA since 2014, reaching more than 8,000 students, serving 800-plus startup ventures and facilitating more than 3,000 startup consulting meetings. Eight more UC campuses will now be able to leverage the opportunities from LaunchPad thanks to the Blackstone Charitable Foundation grant.

“With its unique network of colleges and universities, California has a rich history of fostering entrepreneurship and a bright future for the next generation of entrepreneurs,” said Jon Gray, president and chief operating officer of Blackstone. “The LaunchPad program has been transformational for students who draw on its resources to grow new businesses and invest in their communities. We are proud to partner with the University of California system in expanding this important programming to more students.”

The Blackstone Charitable Foundation established LaunchPad in 2010 and partnered with Techstars eight years later to provide participants with access to their network of more than 10,000 mentors, invitations to signature events like Startup Week and Startup Weekend, and access to world-renowned content and startup services. Blackstone LaunchPad and Techstars also help student entrepreneurs navigate the complex landscape of fundraising, job placement and recruitment. LaunchPad has achieved success across 18 campuses in the U.S. and Ireland, providing nearly 500,000 students with the access to resources, personal connections and professional networks they need to get their companies off the ground. To date, LaunchPad graduates have gone on to incorporate close to 9,000 businesses that have raised nearly $200 million in investments.

UC has a long history in innovation and entrepreneurship, helping launch iconic industries and businesses in California semiconductors, biotechnology, digital media and aerospace, among other fields. LaunchPad amplifies UC’s flourishing entrepreneurship efforts for students, which currently include 43 incubators or accelerators, numerous competitions, entrepreneurial training academies, and boot camps that support students through the startup stages of discovery, validation, commercialization and scaled growth.

The 2018 TechCrunch list recognized several UC campuses as the country’s top public universities with the highest number of alumni startup founders who have raised at least $1 million in venture investment funding. UC Berkeley and UCLA scored the top two positions respectively.








From Zero to Tech: Growing Startup Culture in Bhutan

How does a country go from lifting a national ban on television in 1999 to nurturing tech startups in 2019? What does a startup ecosystem look like in a United Nations’ classified Least Developed Country? What role does startup culture play in a country that measures success via Gross National Happiness rather than Gross Domestic Product? 

Techstars Startup Weekend Bhutan (Women)

This is the remarkable story of a country building a startup culture from the ground up. Since 2016, Techstars Startup Weekends have been introducing entrepreneurship to the Bhutanese people—with strong support from the government—and little by little, this agrarian economy is changing to make space for innovation. 

Watching entrepreneurship take hold in Bhutan provides a fascinating view of how an economy can grow from literally zero technology to one where people don’t just use tech to enhance their lives—they problem solve with it, and build businesses that meet their unique needs. 

And it demonstrates that startup success really can happen anywhere—with a little help. 

Building a Better Future

In Bhutan, youth employment, especially for college graduates, is a pressing concern. In 2016, the youth unemployment rate was at 13.2%, and the number of male unemployed youth doubled in 2016. Many young Bhutanese see civil service and government jobs as their only options—and there aren’t enough of these jobs to go around among college graduates. Farming still provides employment for nearly 60% of the population. 

At Techstars, we strive to help entrepreneurs around the world succeed because we believe that entrepreneurs build a better future. Youth unemployment and a desire to transform what is still primarily an agrarian society are exactly the kinds of problems that entrepreneurship can solve. 


Sonam Pelden is the Founder of Code for Bhutan. Tech Entrepreneur, Finance and Economics Writer, Marketing Strategist, FORBES 30 under 30, Techstars Startup Weekend Bhutan mentor.

Why is entrepreneurship important to Bhutan?
“If Bhutan is ever to escape the economic lethargy largely attributed to our size and our geographical disposition, it must do so on the success and vitality of creative free enterprise. An economy without sufficient innovation and creative enterprise risks stagnation and decline. Unlike many other industries, the impact of technology is exponential and embracing it 100% will mean that Bhutan’s economy can also grow exponentially.”


Enter Techstars Startup Weekend

The first Techstars Startup Weekend Bhutan took place in January 2016, in the capital city of Thimphu. Techstars Regional Manager for South & Central Asia, Anurag Maloo, remembers the event: 25 people showed up, and they ambled in nearly two and a half hours after the start time. Startup hustle was clearly not yet a priority. But after 54 hours of innovating hard, they left energized and enthusiastic. 

“We are bringing Startup Week to Thimphu because the proven opportunities and successes that stem from SW will propel our growing startup community in the right direction” said Kitso Pelmo Wangdi, Research Analyst from event sponsor QED Consulting Group and one of the local organizers. “We would like to put Bhutan on the map.” 

Progress For a Startup Nation

Anurag worked with local community organizers to bring the second Startup Weekend to Thimphu in June 2016, and this time they got 55 attendees. 


Dr. Tshering Cigay Dorji is the CEO of Thimphu Tech Park and a Techstars Startup Weekend Bhtuan mentor.

Why is Techstars Startup Weekend important for Bhutan?
“Techstars Startup Weekend program is very important for Bhutan to provide effective experiential entrepreneurship education to our youth and also raise awareness on entrepreneurship and innovation which are so essential for a developing economy like ours.”


By the end of 2018, eight Techstars Startup Weekend Bhutan events had attracted over 750 participants, with the then Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay attending three, and loudly praising the efforts. 

“We live in a startup nation,” he said, in a speech at the close of the event. “It is up to all of us to fulfil the potential that we have here to create the startup nation together. We are unique. Our startup journey started many decades ago as a small impoverished country. Our Kings decided to give us free education and healthcare and to focus on Gross National Happiness. Your ideas reach out to community and the environment. They reach out to the poor and to the community. Here in Bhutan, it is clear we go beyond the bottom line.”

A Techstars Startup Weekend Bhutan For Women

In 2018, organizers of Techstars Startup Weekend Bhutan events realized that their participants were skewing heavily male: about 70%. This is, of course, an issue that plagues entrepreneurship and tech worldwide. 

In late 2018, a team of passionate local organizers held Techstars Startup Weekend Bhutan (Women). As with the first ever Techstars Startup Weekend Bhutan, turnout was low: about 35 participants, 25 of them women. But if anything, enthusiasm was even higher than usual.

“Almost all the women participants pitched an idea. Women were very excited, keen in learning and in just 54 hours the transformation of women participants were so visible through their final presentation and showcasing of their prototype. The community building bond has been established so beautifully,” said Deepika Rai, Startup Weekend Bhutan Community Leader and ICT Professional at Department of IT & Telecom (DITT), Ministry of Information and Communications (MoIC).

Next Step: National Editions

With so much success in the first couple of years, the Techstars and local organizing teams were motivated to go even bigger. The next step: a national edition of Techstars Startup Weekend Bhutan, bringing together winning teams from Techstars Startup Weekends held at colleges around the country. 

Building momentum for entrepreneurship? Check. Getting college students involved? Check. Growing startup culture across the nation? That, too. 


Tashi Wangdi is the Founder of iHub Bhutan, and a Techstars Startup Weekend Bhutan Community Leader.

Why is Techstars Startup Weekend important for Bhutan?
“Techstars Startup Weekend, especially to aspiring entrepreneurs, has helped them adopt and understand what it takes to start their own business and even helped expose tradition business to use technology to up scale their business.”


The first national edition ran in the spring of 2018. Students from seven different colleges around the country pitched 600 business ideas the first night, and built out 157 businesses in the first round of the event. From these, the 20 best were selected to compete at the national edition. 

In 2019 thus far, there have already been 14 Techstars Startup Weekends across Bhutan in 10 cities, around themes like education, HealthTech, FinTech, AR/VR, IoT, and construction. These events attracted a total of over 1000 participants, clearly demonstrating that among Bhutanese youth, interest in entrepreneurship is strong, and on the rise. 

Bhutan’s current Prime Minister, Lotay Tshering, attended the finals, and live tweeted the pitches from the finalist teams as well as congratulations to the winners.

As Techstars Regional Manager for South & Central Asia, Anurag started out by attending every single Startup Weekend in Bhutan. But as more and more local organizers learned how the weekends worked, Anurag started hanging back. Today, he no longer needs to attend every event. He’s empowered local people and communities to facilitate their own Techstars Startup Weekends across Bhutan—and the events are thriving. 

And that startup hustle? At the most recent Techstars Startup Weekend Bhutan, 120 people arrived two hours before the event kickoff. 

A Truly Worldwide Network

When we say that Techstars is the worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed, we really do mean worldwide. While some new entrepreneurs are lucky enough to live in hotbeds of innovation where resources are plentiful and startup culture is the norm, others are farmers in Bhutan with a vision for showcasing their beautiful nation to eco-tourists. We believe that successful entrepreneurship can happen anywhere, and we support entrepreneurs literally everywhere. 

If you ever think that you can’t be a successful entrepreneur because of where you live, or that your community can’t support a Techstars Startup Weekend—think of the fledgling entrepreneurs in Bhutan. You can do it. Techstars will help.