Teaching a VC How To See

Mary Haskett, founder and CEO of Blink Identity, had a problem. Time after time, she and her cofounder, Alex Kilpatrick, would walk into an important meeting—often with a potential investor—and Alex, a man, would get the handshake.

People looked at the two of them and assumed he was the CEO and she was from the marketing department. Mary would quickly settle the misunderstanding, but everyone ended up embarrassed, and she often felt angry. It was a bad way to start a meeting, let alone a new working relationship.

Finding the Pattern

So Mary started looking for a solution. After all, she’s an expert in machine learning and pattern recognition. The Blink Identity security gateway uses facial biometrics to identify people. She has literally taught a computer how to see faces and correctly identify them. How could she teach the busy people she was meeting with to correctly identify her as the CEO?

“I started to frame it in terms of pattern recognition,” Mary said. “That VC probably doesn’t hate women. Or at least, that’s not a useful assumption.” The VC, rather, is busy, and sees what he expects to see (91% of the decision makers at U.S. venture capital firms are men).

When there’s too much data coming in, pattern recognition makes sense of it all. Figuring out how to teach machines how to do this is hard work, but people do it all the time. We have to do it. There’s always too much data: the world, in all its multitudinous splendor, is too much data.

That busy VC has met with thousands of entrepreneurs, and most of them have been men (though this is slowly changing, but has historically been the case). He’s probably meeting with a long string of entrepreneurs just today. So when a man and a woman walk in, he assumes that the pattern will hold true, and he holds out his hand to the man.

It Takes Teamwork

Once Mary thought about the problem this way, she let go of her anger around it. “It’s wrong, but it’s not personal,” she said. “And once I realized that it wasn’t personal—that the VC wasn’t slighting me personally—I started coming up with strategies to change the data, change the pattern.”

Today, when Mary and Alex walk into a room, she goes in first, and he enters a beat behind her. By then, she’s already got her hand out. They intentionally code their clothing: business clothes for her, company t-shirt and jeans for him. Also, if there’s anything at all to be carried into the room, Alex is carrying it. This subtly reinforces that Mary is in charge, plus it keeps her hands free for the shake.

Just like that, Mary is the CEO, and everyone knows it.

Mary and Alex have also come up with a technique for questions that are asked to the room at large, or even directly to Alex, but that Mary, as CEO, should be answering. Even though Alex may know the answer perfectly well—he’s the CTO, after all—he stays silent. Mary answers.

Of course, this takes real teamwork. “Alex has to be a partner in this,” Mary said. “He could undermine me very easily. Instead, he and I brainstorm solutions together.” It helps that these two are old friends, but any co-founders can do this—if they’re willing to work together and support each other.

Make the Pattern Work For You

In the man-filled world of entrepreneurship, Mary stands out just by being a woman. She breaks the pattern. Depending on the situation, she may do her best to minimize this, or to make it work for her.

“I did a lot of work for the Department of Defense.” Mary said. “They all wear suits, they all have a certain way of being. You either have to match it so they don’t even see that you’re a woman, or break it so strongly that they really have to see you.” At the DoD, Mary chose to go with the pattern, doing her best to blend into the rigid expectations so that she would be taken seriously.

In the startup world, Mary often goes in the other direction. As a woman, she already breaks the pattern, so she doubled down on this strategy in order to stand out and be more than just another in the day’s string of meetings.

She met a lot of investors during the Techstars Music Accelerator, but she wasn’t looking for funding yet. She was still working on customer discovery and knew it was important to get this right first. What she wanted was to ask the investors questions. “For someone who’s used to being asked for money, asking them questions instead broke the pattern,” Mary said. “By breaking the pattern, I got VCs to really see me.”

Mary also calms herself in investor meetings by breaking her own patterns of thinking. “I remind myself: they’re looking for a good investment. They’re not all powerful people to do a song and dance for.” Instead, she tries to think of VCs as coworkers. “We’re equals, peers, and each of us has different things we’re bringing to the table. I’ve got the idea, the tech, plenty on my side.”

Not that this makes the process easy: “Plenty of times my knees are shaking, but I do it anyway,” Mary said.

For Mary, this approach to investor meetings also helped her find investors who were truly looking to partner with Blink Identity and build a lasting relationship. A few months after the end of the accelerator program, Blink Identity raised a $1.5 million seed round.

How Do You Want To Be Seen?

We all should be doing the important work of finding our implicit biases and evaluating how they impact our behavior. (A man and a woman walk into a meeting. Whose hand do you shake first?)

But Mary’s lens of pattern recognition offers a tool for dealing with the world as it is, where we all have to cope with bias. This doesn’t remove anyone else’s responsibility to manage their bias, but it does offer some measure of control on your end.

The next time you’re heading into an important meeting, think about the pattern recognition going on in the people you’re about to meet. And ask yourself what you can do to help yourself be seen the way you want to be seen.

Others Must Provide Data: Getting the Most Out Of Techstars Mentors

“In God we trust, others must provide data.”

—Edwin R. Fisher

Mentorship is one of the key factors that sets apart Techstars accelerators (or as we like to call them “mentorship-driven accelerators”). One of the big responsibilities of each managing director is to find amazing mentors who will be a good match for the 10 companies in the program. This means digging deep into industries and areas of expertise so that these specific companies get to meet people who will be hugely helpful to them.

Mentorship is so essential to the Techstars experience that we even have a Mentor Manifesto, which describes what great mentorship looks like.

But for founders, the experience of being mentored by all of these brilliant, experienced, driven people can be wildly disorienting. When mentors give you contradictory advice, who do you listen to?

How To Be Mentored

Danish Dhamani, cofounder of Orai and graduate of the 2018 Comcast NBCUniversal LIFT Labs Accelerator, Powered by Techstars, had exactly this experience. “I was confused,” Danish said. “We’d talk to one mentor, and they would tell us to go the B2C route. Then the next day, another mentor would say go B2B. And we even got contradictory advice for which industry segment to go after. We were stuck!”

Finally, one mentor gave him some advice about how to take advice. She told him he was clearly a smart person, to have come this far, and he should trust that. Her advice was to trust his gut—and then validate everything using hard data.

Basically, every mentor’s experience is a data point. No more, no less. And once Danish realized this, he figured out how to ask the right kind of questions, which would give him the kind of data he needed.

There Is Such A Thing As A Bad Question

Danish came up with a framework of good and bad questions. For example, he was having a lot of trouble figuring out how to set the pricing for Orai. He used to ask mentors questions like, “How should I price my product?”

That’s a bad question. It assumes that the mentor knows the answer to Orai’s problem. She doesn’t. While the mentor may have set pricing at her own startup, she’s never been in exactly the same situation at Orai—no one has. That’s the fun and the terror of being an entrepreneur.

Asking this kind of question, Danish got all kinds of answers: free, freemium, $10K, $50K. He had no way of knowing which one was right.

Instead, Danish started asking: “How did you decide how to price your product? How did you validate your pricing?”

Mentors told him their pricing stories, describing the process they used to make decisions. Now Danish had data points instead of answers—and he could use those data points to find his own answers.

Danish now felt more confident trusting his own ideas about how to run his company—as long as he backed up his instincts with data.

He adapted the processes he learned from his mentors, and figured out how to use them in his unique situation. Research led to more data to support—or contradict—what his instinct was telling him about how to run Orai. And when he set prices, he did so knowing that he hadn’t forgotten or missed anything—the dread “you don’t know what you don’t know” situation.

A Grain of Salt

Want to know quickly whether someone is a good mentor? Danish found that the best mentors always recommend that you take their advice with a grain of salt. In other words, they know that they are fallible and that their comments may or may not end up being helpful to you.

This is particularly telling in the world of startups, where big egos abound. The best mentors stay humble and know that however much success they may have had, they don’t actually know everything. They don’t expect you to view everything they say as gospel truth and slavishly follow their instructions. They understand that they’re just another data point for you—and they welcome that role.

Of course: take this advice with a grain of salt.

Want to learn more about Techstars mentorship-driven accelerator programs? Read about the benefits of the programs; come to a Meet & Greet event; fill out our general interest form; attend an AMA (ask me anything); or apply to a program. Applications for programs in several industries and locations are open now!

Community Leader Spotlight: Kristopher Riley

Tell us a little about yourself. Who are you?

I’m a creative problem solver and servant-leader. My name is Kristopher Riley, born and raised on the East Coast, educated in the Midwest and now expanding my career here in the Bay Area. Getting to the West Coast has been an interesting combination of many different (often unexpected) roads—and every one has taught me powerful lessons, each step of the way. The first step was working in the hospitality industry during college, where I learned two very powerful lessons: patience and integrity. These two defining aspects of my character created the necessary foundation to grow my personal self and my entrepreneurial career.  

I got my first bite from the entrepreneurial bug at college, when I co-founded my first company, called Hype Dance. The process of starting Hype was difficult at best, but my co-founder and I managed our way through it. Today, Hype is at four different schools. It’s the longest running hip hop dance team in the Midwest.

My second and more profound “bite” was attending my first Techstars Startup Weekend in Philadelphia, almost six years ago now. Seeing the support of the community and other like-minded people caused me to look back at my days starting Hype, and wonder what that would have been with a support system like the one I saw at Techstars Startup Weekend.

I asked myself, “How do I solve this problem for other young founders?”

My mom always said, “It’s not a problem if it doesn’t have a solution.” This turned out to be an easy one—I joined Startup Weekend as an Organizer. Learning about the history of the organization, the global support system, and just the raw love of community gave me a new purpose and a great opportunity to give back.

Over the next six years I not only became a Techstars Startup Weekend Facilitator—the next level of responsibility up from Organizer—I also grew tremendously in my career. I’m now Head of Business Development for PayStand, a fast growing startup in the South Bay. The community gave me the confidence to start the founder journey again, and now I’m working with a handful of friends and bootstrapping two ideas: a mobile-first, automotive CPQ system that helps mechanics to drive business and manage customer engagements, called Oxivi; and a voice-first service allowing consumers to call a ride hailing service without the need of a smartphone, called Rotary Rider.

Why do you do what you do?

My why is simple—doing this gives me energy to be an example.

This energy is hard to explain with words. It happens when I’m able to help people get to that “a-ha moment” in their entrepreneur journey. It happens during the process of helping them build their startup and solidify their business model. It even happens when someone makes a career move because an event like Techstars Startup Weekend has opened their eyes to something they never knew they loved so much.

This moment is something I hold onto and mentally give to my younger self. I didn’t have people that looked like me in this space doing the things that I, my colleagues, and other community members are doing right now. I want to help younger black and brown aspiring founders to see the startup world (and the larger tech industry) as something that’s well within their reach.

This is the second part of my why—being an example to those who don’t have one. Reminding them that while success isn’t guaranteed, there is an active, excited community here to support their unique perspectives, ideas, and growth in so many amazing ways.

What’s new for the Bay Area?

What’s new for the Bay Area besides the Social Impact Startup Weekend on April 5th at Menlo College? Let me think 🙂 There’s a lot of new energy from the team at Techstars as they start to wrap their arms tighter around the larger Bay Area startup scene. So much is happening around the world when it comes to new technology centers: Silicon Alley (New York, New York), Silicon Fen (Cambridge, England), Silicon Wadi (Tel Aviv, Israel) and so many more. We’re leaders here in the Bay, and like all great leaders we need to step back out in front into the new and unknown. Combining the energy from new Techstars Startup Weekend Organizers with other startup community groups in the area—shoutout to Startup East Bay and The Hidden Genius Project—I’m positive 2020 and beyond will be more than just new, it’ll be news.

What’s a piece of advice you’d give to an aspiring entrepreneur?

Keep going. Keep failing. Ask for help. Give help to others. You’ll find success and happiness in the most unexpected but absolutely wonderful places.

Final remarks?

I’m a consummate networker. If you’re a growing startup or entrepreneur looking for introductions or keen to learn what first steps you can take, please reach out to me on LinkedIn. Furthermore, the great thing about working at PayStand is that my CEO is a true believer in entrepreneurship. Because of that I get to empower software startups with a new way to facilitate payments that also drives net new revenue for them, helping to continue their growth and success. If you’re interested in learning more, please connect with me on LinkedIn as well!

Techstars Startup Weekend can be transformative! In just 54 hours, experience the highs, lows, fun, and pressure that make up life at a startup. Find one near you.

Bee Well. Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars Spotlight: Combplex Aims to Help Beekeepers Save the Hives

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

It’s getting harder each day to be a honeybee.

Buzzing around pollinating our global food production is the fun part, but on the other side, these insects are fighting for their lives and dying at an alarming rate due to pesticide exposure, novel pathogens, and parasites called Varroa destructor—a giant tick that feeds on bees, spreading deadly viruses that can kill or greatly weaken colonies.

This increasing demise of colonies matters to humans because one-third of all food grown in the U.S. is dependent on pollination from bees. And the majority of bees responsible for pollinating these domestic crops—2.5 million colonies—come from managed beehives, according to California’s Managed Pollinator Protection Plan. In the last 10 years beekeepers have reported up to 40 percent of annual colony losses, according to the Bee Informed Partnership.

In the effort to help beekeepers, two Ph.D. students from Cornell University, Hailey Scofield and Nathan Oakes, leveraged their honeybee research, data science, and electrical engineering expertise to assist colony managers and develop a new approach to fighting parasites.

Combplex is a smart frame that helps eliminate parasites and remotely monitors bee health in a hive. Their new approach aims to eliminate the harmful Varroa destructor parasites within the hive without the need to use harmful chemicals traditionally used against these bee killers.

“We are in the prototyping stage. We are in the process of launching a field trial in South Carolina in April before a large-scale field test with commercial beekeepers in up-state New York over the summer and fall,” said Hailey and Nathan.

Combplex was selected for the inaugural LaunchPad Lift Cohort, a 10-week personalized mentorship-driven program for student-led ventures, which comes with a $10,000 grant upon completion of the program to help founders move their businesses forward.

Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars has been so influential in expanding our horizons as founders,” said Hailey and Nathan. “As scientists we tend to focus on the product, research, and vision. The LaunchPad program has provided personalized mentorship to help us build out aspects of the business, such as our brand, team, and the steps we need to take to reach our goals.”

Learn more about LaunchPad HERE

Follow our LaunchPad Lift Cohort series where we highlight each student-led venture.

Manage Anxiety On-The-Go: Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars Spotlight on CALM Neurotech Device

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

These days, Americans are feeling more anxious than ever. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1 percent of the population each year.” Without treatment or engaging in stress-reducing activities, feelings of anxiety can impact quality of life, job performance, and even your health.

A student-led venture from Temple University’s Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars entrepreneurship program has developed CALM, which uses neurotechnology to treat anxiety. CALM (Compact Anxiolytic Lull Mechanism) is a portable, non-invasive device that uses pulses of vibrations to alter the brain waves that influence anxiety, and help people regain control of stress levels

When a person feels intense stress or anxiety, she places CALM behind her ear, at the base of her skull. From there, CALM sends pulses of vibrational stimulation to the inner ear through bone conduction, which allows the brain to receive the signals. These pulses influence the user’s brain waves, creating a calm brain state, with wave patterns similar to those created by relaxation and meditation.

Daniel Couser, Founder of CALM, was inspired to develop this device for a friend who suffered from anxiety disorder. He saw first hand how this mental illness can impact a person’s life.

“Anxiety can be debilitating.  Being close to the issue urged me explore new and different ways to approach anxiety, resulting in the development of CALM,” Daniel said. “CALM provides a fast acting tool that can be used by individuals to better manage anxiety at home, work, school, or anywhere else that a person may go.”

Daniel reports that they are planning to conduct proof of concept testing in the first quarter of 2019, in clinics with individuals that suffer from anxiety disorders. This preliminary research will help them further develop the device, better understand the needs of people struggling with anxiety, and formulate next steps for research.

CALM was selected for the inaugural LaunchPad Lift Cohort, a 10-week personalized mentorship-driven program for student-led ventures from the United States and Ireland, as well as a $10,000 grant to help move their business forward.

“Through the Launchpad Lift Cohort, I am looking forward to connecting with high-caliber mentors and refining the execution strategy of the business, as well as learning how to run an efficient business,” Daniel said. “Being able to learn from entrepreneurs who have built successful businesses as well as the founders from the other companies in the cohort will help CALM to excel, and assist us in our mission to provide a new tool to help manage anxiety.”

Learn more about LaunchPad HERE

Follow our LaunchPad Lift Cohort series where we highlight each student-led venture.

Incumbent and Insurgent: Adding Value Together

Today, global energy corporation Equinor and startup Crux OCM are working together to test Crux OCM’s software, which functions as an “autopilot” for oil and gas control room operators. It’s early days yet, but if the Crux OCM solution works and scales, it will lead to efficiencies, cost savings, and new revenue opportunities for Equinor.

This sounds like a pipe dream: a startup and a large corporation partnering to give the startup a first user to test their idea and the corporation the kind of solution that would have taken years to develop internally.

In reality, this kind of partnership can be a rapid win-win, but only if approached the right way. Startups and large corporations think and work incredibly differently—and too often, great ideas get lost in translation. The first hurdle is identifying startup founders with deep domain knowledge who are at the top of their game.

Identifying the Stellar Startups

“We did not really know what we were getting into,” said Jens Festervoll, corporate liaison for the Techstars Energy Accelerator in Partnership with Equinor. “Equinor is a global energy company and wanted to partner with an accelerator company that had a reach into global startup ecosystems and a reputation for attracting top talent.” They were hoping to identify and work with truly stellar startups with products or solutions that could make a real difference to Equinor, and to inject a dose of startup culture into the company—but they also knew that working with startups would bring special challenges for a large corporation like Equinor. And so an accelerator was born.

From the moment she heard about the Techstars Energy Accelerator in Partnership with Equinor, Crux OCM founder Vicki Knott knew she wanted in. “The same day applications opened, the founder of Crux OCM hunted me down,” said Audun Abelsnes, managing director of the program. “Vicki’s real obsession for a niche problem like increasing the volumetric throughput of pipelines appealed to me. Techstars backs exceptional founders, and I immediately felt there was something special about Vicki.” Crux OCM indeed proved to be an exceptional startup, with a great team that was ready to #domorefaster.

The Startup Culture Injection

But Vicki did have some hesitations: “We were worried that the experience would be the same as all of our interactions with large corporations up to that point—that progress would be so slow we would not be able to determine and secure a trial opportunity within the three months of the accelerator.”

It’s true that corporations and startups work at different speeds, and this can cause friction. “The speed and sense of urgency is just totally different between a energy major like Equinor and any startup,” said Audun. Fortunately, Audun is also positioned to help ease this tension. “I have unique access to senior management in Equinor that can help and push the needle forward if necessary.” He gave Equinor the tools and methodologies to build trust with the startups in the program, creating strong channels of communication and overcoming cultural barriers.

For Equinor’s part, Jens reflected that he and his colleagues “appreciated the speed at which these startups expect things to happen, and the fact that we do not work that quickly.” But the Equinor people who mentored the startups in this program—giving their time and attention on a regular basis, week after week—found that they were changed by the experience. Nearly 80% of these mentors said that they would work differently in the future, with more agility. That taste of startup culture let them see ways to bring elements of it into their working lives, making them both more efficient and more engaged.

“We need this cultural change,” said Jens.

The Measurable Power of Mentorship

Techstars not only brought startup speed to Equinor—mentors also got first hand experience with the Techstars value Give First. This means helping others whenever possible, without expectation of a transactional return. It is the essence of mentoring. “The Equinor staff was so welcoming and open to the Techstars companies,” Vicki said. “All individuals in the organization did their very best to help us and fully embraced the Techstars #GiveFirst mantra.”

Going into the program, Crux OCM saw their technology as a solution for oil pipelines. Equinor mentors like Jofrid Klokkehaug, VP of operations and maintenance, and Ulrik Olbjørn, the digital lead for Equinor onshore, helped Vicki realize that she could expand this vision. The software was just as applicable to the 5000 miles (8000 km) of integrated gas pipelines and facilities on the Norwegian continental shelf. Thanks to this insight, Crux OCM had a great new market to attack—and Equnior had a potential solution to a problem.

That’s the beauty of Give First—you always do get something back. You just don’t know what or when it will be. In this case, the benefits for Equnior came quickly: “Crux OCM will test their solution on a small Unit at our Snøhvit LNG facility as a first user,” said Jens. “If the tech works, then there is an opportunity to scale to more complex systems, adding more value.”  

A Win-Win Times Six

With this accelerator, the company was looking to “improve Equinor’s ability to innovate and drive change,” said Jens. Less than a year after the first class of the program, Equinor is seeing gratifying results.

They’ve experienced the high quality of Techstars startups, overcome cultural barriers that made trust and communication difficult, and infused some of that energizing startup culture into their corporate culture—and these are just the intangible successes. Crux OCM is one of six startups from the program that are exploring potential solutions with Equinor. That’s a win-win times six—and a very measurable, and speedy, path to creating value.

Register to attend Techstars AMA “Five Steps to Building a Successful Corporate – Startup Relationship” on 4/3/19 @ 3PM EST

Looking Good! Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars Spotlight: Petitas Los Angeles Empowers Women One Stitch at a Time

In December 2018, the Blackstone Charitable Foundation and Techstars announced the creation of LaunchPad Lift, a 10-week program for top performing student-led ventures. The cohort was chosen from across the LaunchPad global network and represents a diverse group of businesses that span industries. LaunchPad Lift will help bridge the gap between the programming available on each college campus and the next steps these student-led ventures need for their companies.

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

Searching the aisles of a teen clothing section for appropriate work clothes that fit well is an exercise in frustration for petite women.

Chelsea LaFerla knows this all too well. Walking into her first business school mixer at USC, she was faced with a room full of men dressed in neatly pressed and perfectly tailored suits while her outfit was a dress from the Nordstrom teen department. Her confidence took a heavy blow, and she began to feel out of place.

That was the moment she decided to change fashion for petite women.

“I never wanted to feel that way again,” Chelsea said. Her response was to found Petitas Los Angeles, a fashion line made by petites, for the fast-paced petite woman.

Growing up, Chelsea was always around textiles. She came from a long line of Italian tailors and seamstresses. Some of her favorite childhood memories were making dresses with her grandmother, a wedding dress designer. So she knew clothes—and the impact they could have on a person’s self confidence, or on how they were perceived.  

“I remember walking into the fabric store with my grandma and spending hours choosing just the right fabric and trim for my newest design. She’d inspect my sewing, and inevitably make me un-sew and re-sew each garment. I loved the process,” said Chelsea. “It was my grandmother who taught me that every stitch matters. It’s that same quality that we bring to Petitas Los Angeles.”

Chelsea wants Petitas to empower petite women, 5’4” and under, to be “clothed in confidence” through uniquely tailored, high-end garments. The clothes will be made ethically and sustainably in the United States, using premium, hand-sourced fabrics.

Petitas Los Angeles was selected for the inaugural LaunchPad Lift Cohort, a 10-week personalized mentorship-driven program for student-led ventures, which comes with a $10,000 grant upon completion of the program to help founders move their businesses forward.

“Petitas LA’s acceptance into Blackstone’s LaunchPad powered by Techstars has been such a godsend. The mentorship, training, and support came at just the right time!” said Chelsea. “Building a business can easily get discouraging without the right help.  Fortunately, we’ve had the opportunity to work with incredible mentors, who’ve been in our position and know how to get to the other side of building a successful company.”

Learn more about LaunchPad HERE

Follow our LaunchPad Lift Cohort series where we highlight each student-led venture.

Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars Spotlight: NUA Surgical Aim to Improve the Safety of Cesarean Deliveries

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

NUA Surgical Team

When a baby is born, everyone hopes for a smooth and safe delivery. But that doesn’t always happen. In cases involving a cesarean (C-section) delivery, whether planned or emergency, there are risks involved for the mother and baby.

 NUA Surgical, a researcher-led venture from NUI Galway’s Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars entrepreneurship program, is developing an obstetrics product that improves the safety of the mother undergoing a cesarean delivery.

In a C-section delivery, doctors remove the baby from the mother’s lower abdomen. In the medical journal The Lancet, a recent study estimated that globally “29.7 million births occurred through cesarean section in 2015,” almost double the number from 2000. In the U.S., C-sections account for 32 percent of all deliveries, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI)

As with all major surgery, delivery by C-section can result in complications. Post cesarean, mothers face a risk of surgical site infection (SSI). SSIs are reported to be the “second most common health care-associated infection in Europe and the US” according to the World Health Organization

Depending on various factors, SSIs following c-section can occur up to 20 percent of the time, causing severe pain, discomfort, even death to an otherwise healthy new mother. SSIs are also becoming a major cost burden on the healthcare system, according to the BJOG, an International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and the NCBI.

NUA Surgical wants to change this, and make C-sections safer for mothers and better for doctors. “Our novel medical device will be used by physicians during surgery and is intended to improve the quality of surgery for both the doctor and patient,” said Founder of NUA Surgical, Barry McCann. “The needs and requirements of physicians, patients and hospitals are all vital ingredients into our device design, and we are committed to delivering innovation that will positively impact these key stakeholders.”

The team at NUA Surgical have over 50 years of combined industry experience covering commercial, technical and design development requirements. Barry McCann is a previous BioInnovate Ireland Fellow and founded NUA Surgical based on the unmet clinical need discovered during the fellowship; Marie-Therese Maher is an engineer and project manager who spent fourteen years in Research & Development with Medtronic; And Padraig Maher is an engineer with over twenty years’ experience in the medical device industry and has a passion for resolving technical challenges. They were awarded a Commercialisation grant from Enterprise Ireland and the European Commission, and aim to spin out of NUI Galway in 2020.

The team is in prototype phase and conducting some preclinical trials and testing in preparation for regulatory submissions to the US and EU.

NUA Surgical was selected for the inaugural LaunchPad Lift Cohort, a 10-week personalized mentorship-driven program for student-led ventures, which comes with a $10,000 grant upon completion of the program to help move their business forward.

“The Cohort is a great opportunity for NUA Surgical. With the help of Techstars, we aim to expand our network of advisors, key opinion leaders and potential investors,” said Barry, Marie-Therese and Padraig. “Our team have set clear objectives that we wish to achieve during the Cohort. We’re focused on activities that can be accomplished within the specific timeframe, and ones that require the assistance of the Techstars worldwide network of mentors.”

Learn more about LaunchPad HERE

Follow our LaunchPad Lift Cohort series where we highlight each student-led venture.

Preserving Lives: Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars Spotlight on Lazarus, Tech for Law Enforcement

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

Lazarus founders Ben Omonira and Elise Hackney.

Technology companies and innovators are taking a lead on developing less lethal devices for law enforcement to reduce fatal police encounters.

In July 2016, a Dallas ambush inspired Lazarus founder Ben Omonira to provide first responders with an alternative method of stopping a threat while preserving the life. Lazarus, a student-led venture from Texas A&M’s Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars entrepreneurship program, is currently in prototype phase for the development of a less lethal projectile which could help law enforcement safely and effectively deal with threats, while preserving lives.  

“First responders are actively looking for new technology and methods to stop a threat without losing a life,” say Lazarus founders Ben Omonira and Elise Hackney.

“Our company’s number one priority is to give law enforcement agents the tools they need while preserving lives. We do this by bridging the gap between lethal and non-lethal options.”

Lazarus is in the process of securing a patent for their solution and working to produce an MVP by May 2020.

Lazarus was selected for the inaugural LaunchPad Lift Cohort, a 10-week personalized mentorship-driven program for student-led ventures, which comes with a $10,000 grant upon completion of the program to help founders move their businesses forward.

“We operate in an industry that deals with important but difficult topics, and want to create a brand that is seen as positive and focused on safety – both for law enforcement and society at large.  We are excited about the opportunities to learn through Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars” as we continue to grow our business.”

Learn more about LaunchPad HERE

Follow our LaunchPad Lift Cohort series where we highlight each student-led venture.

After the Exit: What’s Next for SendGrid Founder Isaac Saldana?

Techstars Studio is Isaac’s Way of Giving First & Giving Back

Ever wondered what a startup founder does after their company is acquired for billions of dollars?

Isaac Saldana, Co-founder of SendGrid—which was acquired by Twilio for $3 billion in an all-stock deal in October 2018—isn’t lounging on a beach. He’s helping other entrepreneurs create companies, using everything he learned by building SendGrid. And he’s returned to Techstars, the company that taught him how to build SendGrid, to do it.

Just months after SendGrid’s headline-grabbing exit, Isaac has a new job, as Chief Technology Officer for Techstars Studio, a new Techstars offering that will empower members of the Techstars worldwide network to rapidly envision, validate, and launch disruptive startups.

Techstars For Life

“When I started building SendGrid, it was to solve a problem I had. I wasn’t thinking about acquisitions or the company going public.” Isaac says. “I had a problem, I thought I could fix it, I tried, and I couldn’t. And because I couldn’t, I became passionate about trying to solve it.” Isaac was on a mission to help businesses solve the problem of email deliverability, and he ultimately did it so well that by the time SendGrid was acquired, the company was the world’s largest email delivery platform.

But back in 2009, Isaac knew he needed help to build SendGrid into a successful company. His first company had a great idea and a great team, but failed for lack of funding. His second company had a great idea, a great team, and funding, but didn’t have the right mentorship. “We didn’t know what we didn’t know,” Isaac says. “We didn’t know the right questions to even ask.” That company failed as well. So when SendGrid was just starting out and Isaac saw the opportunity to apply to a Techstars mentorship-driven accelerator program, he jumped on it.  

“Techstars really, really helped me get SendGrid started,” Isaac says. “I attribute a lot of the reasons for SendGrid success to Techstars.” The benefits lasted far longer than the three months of the accelerator program. Over the years, Isaac hired from the Techstars network, and formed partnerships through the network as well.

Give First, Give Back

Returning to Techstars as a key player in Techstars Studio feels to Isaac like giving back—and an opportunity to be even more involved in Give First—the core Techstars value that encourages all members of the Techstars network to give of themselves, of their time and expertise, with no expectation of receiving anything in return.

“I feel so thankful to the network. I’ve experienced the value that it provides first hand,” Isaac says. “Techstars makes a difference to entrepreneurs, and Techstars Studio was a great opportunity to get involved in the mission and contribute to it.”

Techstars Studio

To Isaac, Techstars Studio makes sense because it makes use of so many of Techstars strengths: a network of top quality talent, experience building successful companies, access to intelligent funding. “People used to think that you only needed a great idea, or great entrepreneurs, or great engineering,” he says. “Now they realize that you need more. Techstars has everything you need to build great companies from the ground up.”

For himself, personally, Isaac is looking forward to working with the amazing people in the Techstars network. “I want to work with the great talent of the Techstars network, to help them and also learn a lot from them, and become a better entrepreneur myself.”