Kelly will help Techstars increase connectivity between startups and the global venture community to fuel innovation and growth
BOULDER, Colo. – September 17, 2019 – Techstars is excited to announce the addition of Declan Kelly to the Techstars team as Head of Investor Platforms, EMEA. In his new role, Kelly will expand Techstars’ global investor ecosystem, with a focus on Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA), connecting more investors with some of the most exciting and disruptive startups around the world.
With 11 Techstars mentorship-driven accelerator programs in Europe and the Middle East, Techstars has a portfolio of close to 350 companies and invests in nearly 110 startups in EMEA annually. Kelly will play an instrumental role in working with Techstars’ portfolio companies, Techstars managing directors and the investment community to foster connectivity across the region.
“Declan has been a significant connective tissue between startup founders and the global venture community for years,” said Cody Simms, partner at Techstars. “Entrepreneurs are building a better future for us all, and we’re thrilled to have Declan join us at Techstars where he will help us provide Techstars portfolio companies with even greater access to capital to fuel their growth.”
Techstars operates 47 mentorship-driven accelerator programs around the world and is investing in nearly 500 startups on an annual basis. The worldwide Techstars’ global portfolio has raised $8.1 billion to date and has a market capitalization of $23.8 billion.
“Techstars’ explosive growth around the world, and particularly in Europe, is leaving a lasting positive impact on startup ecosystems and the entrepreneurs that support them,” said Kelly. “I’ve been watching the organization for quite some time and I’m looking forward to sharing my own experience to support Techstars’ mission.”
Kelly brings deep expertise in global investor relations to the Techstars network. Prior to joining Techstars, he served as the Head of Investors at Web Summit, the largest tech conference in the world, where he worked closely with some of the world’s leading angel investors, venture capital funds, LPs and heads of global M&A and TMT banking. Kelly is also a founding member and investor at Amaranthine, a long-term focused technology investment fund backed by Web Summit and its alumni community of top technology entrepreneurs.
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
“The true path to happiness is to have meaningful work and meaningful relationships,” Heidi Rozen says. She brings these two elements together as a VC working with entrepreneurs who are changing the world for the better. Her humane take on being a “mentor capitalist” is deeply Give First.
Heidi Roizen has called herself a recovering entrepreneur. Wendy Lea has called Heidi “the epitome of Give First.” Both of these are true, and go a long way toward describing the deeply humane perspective on the role of venture capital that Heidi brings to her current role as a partner at Threshold Ventures.
Heidi was an entrepreneur herself for 14 years before exploring other career options (VP of Worldwide Developer Relations at Apple, for example) and eventually settling in as a venture capitalist—or “mentor capitalist,” as she sometimes says, in a nod to the profound importance of mentorship in the role.
Heidi likes to joke that “entrepreneurs should be really careful about picking their venture partners, because the average VC relationship lasts longer than the average American marriage, and it’s probably easier to get rid of your spouse than it is to get rid of your venture capitalists.” There’s truth hidden in that joke: the VC-entrepreneurship relationship is a human relationship, not just a financial one. Heidi takes the human side just as seriously as the financial. She wants success in all areas, and sees how thoroughly the two are entwined.
For Heidi, “the true path to happiness is to have meaningful work and meaningful relationships.” She’s achieving this by working with amazing startups that are making the world a better place, and helping to make them better companies.
That sounds like Give First to us.
Listen for Heidi’s fantastic insights about how life and work mesh—and listen all the way through for stories about Heidi’s epic underground casbah from the dot com boom and why one of Heidi’s kids calls Brad Feld “toenail boy.”
Listen for Heidi’s take on…
The true path to happiness:
“The true path to happiness is to have meaningful work and meaningful relationships. And I think one of the beauties of the entrepreneurial environment that we live in is very often you form your meaningful relationships through doing meaningful work together.”
“I go into life thinking I’m about building relationships. I’m not about transactions, I’m not about win or lose or this is what am I going to get out of this deal. I’m about, you are a fellow traveler in life that I have met and if I can build a relationship with you, out of that will come good things. Or if not, not. But I’m always trying to optimize for the relationship over the transaction.”
“I’m such a huge believer in serendipity or what I call controlled randomness, right? The idea that you don’t necessarily know when you go into something what you’re going to get out of it. But if you position yourself in a place where you’re going to find other people that are doing interesting things, it’s likely that something good will come out of that. If you just put yourself in the mix and say, ‘I’m here to be helpful, what can I do?’”
“Just remember, we’re all people first. We’re our jobs second.”
The relationship between entrepreneurs and VCs:
“I only succeed if the company succeeds, and I really enjoy that alignment. I also really enjoy the idea that I get to be a part of a team for a long period of time.”
“I often joke that entrepreneurs should be really careful about picking their venture partners because the average VC relationship lasts longer than the average American marriage, and it’s probably easier to get rid of your spouse than it is to get rid of your venture capitalists. So both parties should go into this with their eyes wide open.”
“I say this to my entrepreneurs a lot, there are things you are doing that no one’s ever done before and those should be hard. There are things you’re doing that other people have done before. And those should be easy. You know, it should not be hard to design compensation schemes. It should be not difficult to put your financial operations in order. Those are all places where we can use best practices and stand on the shoulders of others to create the best situation we can.”
Companies, people, and resources mentioned in this podcast:
- Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, by James Clear
- Case Study: Heidi Roizen
- Memphis Meats
- Stan Meresman
- National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT)
- Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA
- San Francisco SPCA
- Tina Seelig
- There There, by Tommy Orange
LaunchPad Campuses Submit Up to Four Teams for 3rd Annual Program by September 20th.
Nominations for Propel, a 2-day student entrepreneurial event convening in New York City this November, have opened for the 25+ schools around the world in the Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars network. The program focuses on building mentor connections, providing in-depth entrepreneurial skill-building workshops, and fostering peer learning. Propel helps over 200 students with early-stage ventures further develop and refine their ideas and business models.
Day One of the event begins with a “mentor madness” session where student teams rotate through advising meetings with over 50 business and industry experts from the Blackstone and Techstars networks. Speed dating for entrepreneurs! Day Two begins with Jon Gray, President and COO of Blackstone, saying a few words to students before they participate in breakout workshops led by experienced entrepreneurs and industry professionals covering topics such as marketing, sales, fundraising, and more.
According to Hailey Schofield, 2018 Propel participant, “While all of our mentor madness conversations were very helpful, two in particular seemed like really significant meetings. With these, it felt like we had met exactly the people we didn’t know we were looking for but needed to connect with as soon as possible. I am so excited to be establishing a real relationship that is only possible because of the Blackstone and Techstars network.”
Throughout Propel, the leading teams accepted from each LaunchPad school will also be pitching their business ideas to a live audience and Blackstone and Techstars judges. The competition will culminate in one team being awarded a $10,000 prize, in-kind support services, and a guaranteed spot in this spring’s LaunchPad Lift cohort.
“This event is one of the best ways for LaunchPad campuses to showcase their student ventures and for student founders to practice pitching in front of a large audience,” said Erica Lock, Vice President with the Blackstone Charitable Foundation. “Every year we look forward to seeing what market solutions these LaunchPad students have come up with – and then provide them with unparalleled access to the Blackstone and Techstars networks of experts. More than the advice itself, the relationships that they build at events like this are critical to future success in their ventures and careers.”
While students are participating in Propel mentoring and workshops, LaunchPad Program Directors from each campus will attend education, training, and general sessions to share best practices and find opportunities for future collaboration.
Criteria and Process to Nominate:
- Students entrepreneurs attending Propel must come from Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars campuses. (To learn more about LaunchPad and how your campus can join the network, please click here.)
- Up to four student teams, and ten students total, are invited to participate from each school.
- Student ventures should be in the early stage phase, with at least some development of their idea, including an elevator pitch and funder deck, and should also have received some coaching or services from their institution’s LaunchPad program.
Techstars, the U.S. Air Force, and BAE Systems FAST Labs are proud to announce the opening of applications for the third class of the Air Force Accelerator Powered by Techstars. This year’s interest areas expand beyond previous year’s focus’ of autonomous technologies and AR/VR for training and education to include physical and cybersecurity of bases and installations.
Kicking off in 2018, the inaugural Techstars Autonomous Technology Accelerator with the U.S. Air Force, which renamed and expanded in 2019 to the Air Force Accelerator Powered by Techstars, was an experiment by the Air Force in establishing closer ties to innovative early-stage startups with commercially viable products and making it easier to do business with the Air Force. AFWERX, the sponsoring agency, determined that the pace of innovation in the private sector is accelerating away from the military. To maintain dominance, the Air Force needs to engage startups that otherwise avoid DoD bureaucracy, by making it as easy to do business with the Air Force as it is to do business with any commercial entity, rather than trying to train small businesses to be defense contractors. The 2018 and 2019 programs yielded 20 companies that have won more than $14M in non-dilutive contracts for prototypes and products, and are on the verge of fielding state-of-the-art capabilities to warfighters.
“We were surprised and delighted by the disruptive innovations produced by the first two classes, and the commercial pace at which those innovations are being fielded,” said Captain Steve Lauver, Director of Technology Accelerators at AFWERX. “As we aggressively seek to improve our sales cycles, processes, and the speed at which we transition promising technology to the warfighter, it is invaluable to have an experienced and respected partner, like Techstars, to help us build trust and interact seamlessly with the startup ecosystem.”
As with the 2019 program, several Air Force offices have signed up to deliver capability at the speed of relevance for our 2020 program, including the AFIMSC Tyndall Program Management Office (PMO), National Security Innovation Network (NSIN, formerly MD5), and Air Force Research Lab Small Business Office (AFRL/SB). The Boston-based program will again be run by Warren Katz, Managing Director.
BAE Systems is once again a corporate sponsor of the program, and as such, will fully participate in the recruiting and selection process, and have close interactions with all the participating companies during program. More on BAE Systems’ FAST LabsTM research and development can be found here.
“At BAE Systems we have learned first-hand how teaming up with Techstars supports our goal of leveraging and developing disruptive technologies to deliver discriminating solutions to our customers,” said Dr. Jerry M. Wohletz, Vice President and General Manager of FAST Labs at BAE Systems. “We remain committed to lending our technical expertise, market knowledge and resources to startups in support of the local innovation ecosystems.”
To support the seamless purchase of prototypes and products produced by companies going through the accelerator, AFWERX has pioneered a new variant of the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program that utilizes massively simplified proposal formats, accelerated award cycles, and a Phase II structure that resembles commercial product purchase orders as opposed to defense-contractor style labor contracts. The program will award some $200M of contracts to commercial entities, including accelerator class companies, in FY2020.
The Air Force Accelerator Powered by Techstars will focus on commercially viable startups with dual-purpose technologies– a private sector application as well as government application. Though startups with innovative solutions in any dual-purpose industry are encouraged to apply, specific areas of interest include:
- Autonomous technologies that might enable or enhance the ability to detect, track, identify, characterize, attribute or mitigate unmanned systems, including but not limited to sensor technology, high-performance computational hardware and software, computer vision and digital image processing, AI, multi-modal sensor integration, secure communications, trusted identification, power systems, high-performance materials, integration systems, and human-machine interface.
- Innovative immersive-training technologies including AR/VR and adult learning methods such as gamification, social delivery and self-directed learning, and technologies to support data-enabled recruiting, training and education.
- Base of the Future technologies that improve the security, affordability, efficiency, connectivity and quality of life at Air Force installations across the world. These will be specifically tied to a multi-billion-dollar, landmark effort by the Tyndall PMO to support the “long-term redevelopment of Tyndall Air Force Base as the model Air Force ‘Installation of the Future.'”
Interested in this program? Applications are open now.
Note: There is no endorsement of or formal partnership between the Air Force and BAE Systems. The Air Force solely decides whether it enters into direct contracts with any participating startup companies in the Accelerator program. Additionally, any startup company could ultimately contract with industry at its discretion (i.e., BAE Systems or any other company as it deems necessary).
Forming mentor relationships, fundraising, growing sales, and adding talent are just some of the accomplishments the student teams in this summer’s cohort achieved.
Seven student-led startups participated in the Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars Lift program. Although they were far from new to the entrepreneurial experience, the second cohort grew and advanced in their abilities and potential.
Some of the teams, like Sondr, realized important milestones around rebranding, business setup, registration, and customer discovery. Others, like Antithesis and Ridesurf, developed their pitch deck, confirmed and conducted investor presentations, and even raised capital. Several teams grew brand and generated product awareness, like Aviate Audio did at an international tradeshow. Others, including ROSEN Skincare, grew revenue through a new subscription sales model. One final area of achievement was production, with three teams, like May West, building relationships with industry manufacturers.
“The Lift cohort has been incredible for Visos. In just a couple short months, we’ve made more progress than we could’ve possibly imagined,” said founder Matt Shumer. “We’ve raised initial funding, found our fit in the market, started working with potential clients, and have networked with some of the leading figures in tech. This wouldn’t have been possible without the Lift cohort, and our amazing mentors.”
The LaunchPad Lift program is a virtual cohort-based program where select student entrepreneurs receive individualized support and long-term mentorship to get their ventures further, faster. Student teams from LaunchPad campus programs are selected by a panel of Techstars and Blackstone executives. Over the course of the Lift program students are both matched with dedicated Techstars mentors based on their specific business and needs and also participate in bi-weekly Q&A calls with Techstars subject matter experts. The Q&A calls allow Techstars mentors to share their knowledge on a broad range of entrepreneurial topics, including fundraising, business structure, pricing models, sales, marketing, and more.
Students weren’t the only ones that found the program invaluable. Mentors learned from the LaunchPad student entrepreneurs and were impressed with their initiative, passion, and effort to take advantage of this unique opportunity.
Babak Kia, Lift Mentor and Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Boston University, shared the following about the team he mentored: “Lift students had an incredible access to mentors, partners, and resources through the accelerator. I know that for instance as soon as Matt reached out for help on business model, product, or some other topic, the Techstars and Blackstone teams responded and delivered at an incredible pace!”
Lift participants will also get an opportunity to meet and interact with senior leaders at Blackstone. They will be able to present their business models to experienced business leaders, who will help them refine their strategies and expand their networks.
In addition to convening students and staff at world-class events like Lift or Propel, Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars helps complement existing entrepreneurship on-campus resources. LaunchPad also coordinates off-campus opportunities for schools and students to expand their reach, increase their networks, and gain first-hand knowledge on entrepreneurship. More than 700,000 college students around the world have the opportunity to participate in LaunchPad, providing them with access to industry-leading mentors, vast networks of business experts, and the experience, skills, and brands of Blackstone and Techstars.
INDIANAPOLIS – September 3rd, 2019 – Ten startups from around the world will present on Thursday, September 5th at the Techstars Sports Accelerator Powered by Indy Demo Day at NCAA’s headquarters in downtown Indianapolis.
“I’m thrilled by the progress our 2019 class has made over the course of the past 14 weeks,” said Jordan Fliegel, Managing Director of the Techstars Sports Accelerator Powered by Indy. “This year’s class represents 10 startups, in 10 different verticals across the sports industry, from 8 different cities, including as far away as Moscow. These talented founders, many of them working on their 2nd or 3rd companies, moved to Indy to participate in our intensive program, and have all dramatically accelerated the trajectory of their companies. I’m really proud of our founders and look forward to introducing them formally at Demo Day on September 5th as graduates of the top sports accelerator in the world.”
Demo Day is a showcase event for the 10 startups to present to an audience of venture capitalists, corporate leaders, industry experts and the Indy ecosystem. This year’s class includes diverse startups such as Pistol Lake, led by 3-time entrepreneur Ryan Light, which ethically produces men’s athleisure wear out of sustainable materials including recycled plastic bottles and eucalyptus pulp, with each shirt produced removing up to 11 plastic bottles out of landfills and/or the ocean. The event will also include George Foreman Jr., Founder/CEO of Fanpowered, and a successful serial entrepreneur. Fanpowered’s mission is to fundamentally disrupt the world of professional boxing, through a new platform and streaming service.
As an emerging tech hub, Indianapolis is the location where, for the past 3 months, startups in the Techstars Sports Accelerator Powered by Indy worked closely with leaders of the Indianapolis Sports and Tech ecosystems and mentors from around the world — comprised of venture capitalists, experienced founders, C-level execs from leading sports companies, and celebrity athletes — to further their businesses. This includes direct access and mentorship from founding partners Next Level Fund, Pacers Sports & Entertainment, NCAA, and Indiana Sports Corp, and supporting partners the Indianapolis Colts, NTT IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“We are excited about our partnership with Techstars to further accelerate entrepreneurship, technology and innovation in our local economy,” said Stephen Simon, Pacers Sports & Entertainment Vice Chairman. “Indianapolis is emerging as the premier sports-tech hub in the world with our professional and amateur sports pedigree, great employee talent pool, business-friendly environment and amazing Hoosier hospitality. At Pacers Sports & Entertainment, we are always looking for products, services and creative thinking in our continual quest to create memorable, engaging and treasured moments for our fans and guests. Our business craves innovation and forward thinking that Techstars and all our great partners help us achieve.”
“Indiana Sports Corp and its partners are proud of the quality and innovation of the first class of Techstars Sports Tech Accelerator companies in Indianapolis,” said Indiana Sports Corp president Ryan Vaughn. “This program brought some of the most talented entrepreneurs in the world to our city and we look forward to them leveraging their technology to improve the sports and tech industries in Indy and beyond.”
The accelerator’s partners were vital in providing hands-on mentorship throughout the program, connecting the startups to industry experts and inking many partnership pilots. Throughout the program Techstars Sports founders were able to experience all that Indy has to offer including access to world-class sporting events such as the Indy 500, and suites and field passes at the Colts pre-season games. Indianapolis’ tremendous support for the accelerator also included a private meeting for the founders with Indiana Governor, Eric Holbcomb.
Learn more about the 2019 class of the Techstars Sports Accelerator Powered by Indy, here.
Techstars is the worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed. Techstars enables founders to connect with entrepreneurs, experts, mentors, alumni, investors, community leaders, and corporations to grow their companies. Techstars accelerator alumni including Classpass, DataRobot, DigitalOcean, Outreach, Pillpack, Remitly, SalesLoft, SendGrid, and Zipline have a current market cap of more than $23 billion. Founded in 2006 by co-founders and co-CEOs David Cohen and David Brown, tech entrepreneur and venture capitalist Brad Feld, and the current Governor of Colorado, Jared Polis, Techstars is known for developing the principle of #givefirst, a core value of giving to and helping others without a direct expectation of a transactional return. Headquartered in Boulder, Colorado, Techstars employs more than 280 people across 20 countries. Learn more at www.techstars.com. For More Information about the Techstars Sports Accelerator Powered by Indy, please visit https://www.techstars.com/sports-program.
About the Next Level Fund
The Next Level Fund, established by the Indiana Finance Authority, is a charitable trust operating separately from the state and its board serves as its trustee. 50 South Capital Advisors LLC, a global private equity firm with a large Midwest presence, including an office in Indianapolis, administers the fund. The Next Level Fund was launched as part of Governor Eric J. Holcomb’s 2017 legislative agenda.
About Indiana Sports Corp
Founded in 1979 as the nation’s first sports commission, Indiana Sports Corp is a not-for-profit organization focused on bringing premier sporting events to Indiana to drive economic vitality, facilitate a vibrant community with civic pride and garner positive media attention. Because of this, Indiana Sports Corp is able to provide positive, sports-related opportunities for youth in the community. For more information, please visit IndianaSportsCorp.org.
About the NCAA
The NCAA is a diverse association of more than 1,100 member colleges and universities that prioritize academics, well-being and fairness to create greater opportunities for nearly half a million student-athletes each year. The NCAA provides a pathway to higher education and beyond for student-athletes pursuing academic goals and competing in NCAA sports. More than 54,000 student-athletes experience the pinnacle of intercollegiate athletics by competing in NCAA championships each year. Visit ncaa.org and ncaa.com for more details about the Association and its student-athletes.
About Pacers Sports & Entertainment
Pacers Sports & Entertainment (PS&E) is an integrated sports and entertainment company including the Indiana Pacers, Indiana Fever, Fort Wayne Mad Ants, Pacers Gaming, Pacers Foundation, Inc., and operations of Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Our team of inspired and dedicated employees has a shared purpose of WINNING through our commitment to excellence, SERVING our local communities and ENTERTAINING our fans and guests. PS&E is based in Indianapolis and was named a 2018 Best Place to Work by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.
About the Indianapolis Colts
The franchise has won four World Championships. Since relocating to Indianapolis, the Colts have won 11 division titles, including five consecutive AFC South crowns from 2003-07. The Colts won 115 regular season games from 2000-09, the highest decade total in NFL history, and the team’s 23 consecutive regular season wins (2008-09) set another NFL record. The club won Super Bowl XLI following a 12-4 record in the 2006 regular season, and the Colts reached Super Bowl XLIV after winning the AFC title during the 2009 season. The Colts take great pride in playing an active role in the community and are committed to corporate citizenship throughout Indiana. Leading by example, we hope to encourage and inspire our fellow Hoosiers to participate in the practice of giving back.
About Hulman Motorsports
Hulman Motorsports is committed to worldwide leadership in motorsports entertainment through its two entities, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) and INDYCAR. IMS is the world’s largest spectator sporting facility and the most famous racetrack on Earth. It hosts renowned racing events and series, including the Indianapolis 500 (Verizon IndyCar Series), Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard Powered by Florida Georgia Line (Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series) and Red Bull Air Race World Championship. INDYCAR is the Indianapolis-based sanctioning body for the fastest and most competitive open-wheel racing series, the Verizon IndyCar Series.
Highlights of student-led ventures participating in LaunchPad Lift, part of the Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars entrepreneurship program.
It was late one night in the winter of 2017. A blizzard raged outside, but the windowless engineering lab at the University at Buffalo provided a peaceful haven from the storm. After months of research and experimentation in their lab, Shane Nolan and Ryan Jaquin finally had a breakthrough and created something new. Airpatch was born—a small, wireless device that lets guitar players control their pedals and musical effects with the touch of a finger, expanding the functionality of the electric guitar.
Airpatch brings together Shane and Ryan’s passions for music and technology. As longtime musicians, they were looking for musical applications for their school electrical engineering project. Airpatch was the answer, and with this initial piece of technology, they founded Aviate Audio.
Shane, Ryan, and their team started out as electrical engineers at the University of Buffalo, but with the support of their startup community, they have become entrepreneurs. Aviate Audio has already won first or second place in several competitions, including the UB Panasci Technology Entrepreneurship Competition, NYS Business Plan Competition, Buffalo Bright, and UB Bulls Launch.
Since beginning the Blackstone Launchpad powered by Techstars Lift program, Aviate has been paired with Techstars mentor Vadim Gordin.
“The Lift program has been extremely meaningful to our team,” said Shane. “There have been real results, impacting our operations such as a major decision to bring our product assembly and quality assurance in-house as a result of the advisement of our mentor. This is leading us on a path to delivering a higher quality product with less capital.”
Shane and Ryan have found many parallels between entrepreneurship and music. Both require growing your audience, and they have found a similar energy, grounded in creativity and passion, in the joy of making something from nothing.
During their participation in the LaunchPad Lift program, Aviate Audio has successfully achieved a number of important goals. They launched a crowdfunding campaign, exceeded their goal, and got some great press around their product and company. They are also making a public product debut at the National Association of Music Merchants trade show in Nashville, TN—and they point to critical guidance from their mentor, Vadim, for putting them on this path.
“What’s most important to our team is the connections we are making in the program,” said Ryan. “We are excited that connections with the Lift cohort and the broad Techstars and Blackstone communities will continue to support valuable outcomes for our company long after this Lift cohort ends.”
Shane and Ryan happily report that creating a music products company is fulfilling both the musical and professional dreams of the team.
You don’t have to be in Silicon Valley to start a successful company. Marc Nager, Co-founder of Startup Weekend, and Dave Mayer, Founder of Aspen Entrepreneurs, are pros at building ‘non-urban’ startup communities. Listen for insights into how Give First helped them grow startup ecosystems in Telluride, in Aspen, and beyond.
Too many people believe that you have to be in Silicon Valley—or some similarly hyped tech-obsessed locale—to be an entrepreneur. Techstars knows this isn’t true: successful entrepreneurship can happen anywhere.
Marc Nager and Dave Mayer are living proof.
Marc is the Co-founder of Startup Weekend, the former CEO of UP Global before it was acquired by Techstars, and Techstars Chief Community Officer after the acquisition. He is on a mission to bring entrepreneurship to rural America.
Dave is the Founder and CEO at Technical Integrity and Massive Impact and the Founder of Aspen Entrepreneurs, and an active and passionate member of the Colorado startup community.
Both are hugely active in their local startup communities, Marc in Telluride, CO and Dave in Carbondale, CO outside of Aspen, and both see how entrepreneurship can thrive in these relatively small places—and what entrepreneurship can bring to them to make them economically sustainable for the long term.
Listen to hear Marc and Dave talk with Brad Feld—who literally wrote the book on Startup Communities—for a deeply thoughtful exploration of the how and why of entrepreneurship in a ‘non-urban’ environment.
Listen for Marc’s and Dave’s take on…
Marc and Dave on the economic benefits—and potential—of entrepreneurship in a small town:
Marc: “I fundamentally believe entrepreneurship is the most powerful force in advancing human welfare.”
Marc: “We can look at Telluride as a microcosm for what’s happening in the rest of the country through the lens of economic development, and see how can entrepreneurship can play a massive part in a vision for creating a more sustainable economy over the long term.”
Marc: “You find some incredibly accomplished people in these small towns. Likely they’re the people who grew up here who went off, had careers, and came back, and they’re looking to participate in different ways, as entrepreneurs or as investors. You end up with a vast resource of this intellectual and financial and network capital in these small towns.”
Dave: “For me it’s about quality of life, right? Broadband means that people can work from wherever they want now. All you need is a laptop and a great internet connection and a great idea—and obviously an ability to execute—and the ability to build a great team around you.”
Dave: “The word entrepreneur, the word startup—some people worry that we’re going to attract a Facebook to some 50,000 person valley and it’s going to change everything. That’s not really the goal, right? It’s getting five or 10, $10 to $20 million companies that can create real jobs for people and give them great health care. Those people can raise their kids here, live the life that they’ve dreamed of, and not be forced out by these rising prices around Aspen or Telluride.”
Marc and Dave on the new definition of success:
Marc: “The new American dream isn’t getting a fancy job and climbing the corporate ladder. It’s about living and working where you want—and having meaningful work.”
Dave: “Everybody has their own definition of success. And if that means working out of a coffee shop and hitting a powder day and then working with your friends and on something that you’ve been dreaming about forever, then that’s an easy one. That’s an easy success.”
Companies, people, and resources mentioned in this podcast:
- Techstars Startup Weekend
- Stephanie Copeland
- Greater Colorado Venture Fund
- Telluride Venture Fund
- Jesse Johnson
- Justin Lewis
- Mercury Payment Systems
- Roaring Fork Technologists
- Hunter S. Thompson
- Telluride Venture Accelerator
- Aspen Entrepreneurs
- Mental Health and Wellbeing in the Startup World (12016 Boulder Startup Week)
- Technical Integrity
Highlights of student-led ventures participating in LaunchPad Lift, part of the Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars entrepreneurship program.
Eliecer Vera hated the long drives he made several times a month from the University of Central Florida in Orlando, where he was a student, to see his family in Miami. Gas and tolls added up, and he got bored and lonely on the road by himself. A few years before, he had lived in Germany, where he often used a long-distance carpooling app that let drivers sell the empty seats in their cars on road trips. He was frustrated that no such service existed in the United States.
Breezy Baldwin had also traveled through Europe and used the same service. She missed it when she returned to the U.S. as well.
Both Breezy and Eliecer developed their own long-distance carpooling apps in order to fill what they each saw as an obvious need. When they met at school, they merged their companies into Ridesurf.
In Europe, there are 70 million active users on long-distance carpooling applications. Europeans embraced this form of ridesharing years ago—in part due to higher gas prices, but also due to a more communal mindset and an earlier commitment to reducing carbon emissions. In the U.S., Airbnb, Lyft, and Uber have paved the way for change, proving that Americans also desire app-based sharing services that make life easier and more affordable.
When the current Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars Lift program began, both Eliecer and Breezy had just transitioned to working full-time on Ridesurf—and had moved to opposite sides of the country (Miami and Los Angeles, respectively). Lift paired the Ridesurf team with mentor Andrea Perdomo, formerly the Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer of Revolar (Techstars Retail 2016).
“Participating in LaunchPad Lift instantly improved our focus and determination by providing us with a structured schedule, a mentor, and accountability, not to mention the great bi-weekly talks which improved our organization, goal setting, marketing plan, and fundraising plans,” said Elicier. “Beth Blecherman’s marketing talk was fantastic.”
Recognizing the importance of using team management software to set weekly goals and review outcomes has helped the co-founders release their MVP mobile app in the app store on schedule in mid-July. In addition, the team was able to develop a fundraising and marketing plan to be implemented in the coming weeks.
“Being entrepreneurs, to us, means finding a significant problem nobody is solving, and then solving it in the most socially conscience, eco-friendly, and inclusive way possible, said Breezy. “For us, that problem is the lack of a safe and easy way to sell the empty seats in our cars on long distance drives or drives to concerts, festivals, and conferences—places where lots of people are going.”
The co-founders are particularly excited about the prospect of solving a market problem that will also have a positive environmental and socioeconomic impact—two of their main passions.
“We’re so excited to get the word out about Ridesurf and help people reduce their carbon footprint,” Elicier said. “We couldn’t have launched so quickly without the help of the Lift Cohort.”
Highlights of student-led ventures participating in LaunchPad Lift, part of the Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars entrepreneurship program.
Back in 2015, Charlotte Sullivan was weeding a perennial bed at the Queens County Farm Museum, an historic urban farm in Queens, New York when she began to wonder whether the milkweed, usually thought of as a weed, could be cultivated as a useful crop. If so, what could be done with the raw material—the milkweed floss? To help answer this question, Charlotte enlisted the expertise of Alayna Rasile, a textile artist, product designer, and Montana State University MFA student.
Together, Charlotte and Alayna discovered that milkweed floss has incredible thermal properties and a fascinating historical legacy. The more they researched the plant, the more fixated they became on the ecological implications of milkweed as well. Milkweed is the host plant for the monarch butterfly, a beautiful and beloved insect as well as an important pollinator species that is on the decline. They learned that an additional 1.8 billion milkweed plants would be needed in North America to bring the monarch butterfly population back to a sustainable size. Clearly, milkweed does have value.
Charlotte and Alayna spent several years of research and development in their respective fields of organic agriculture and art and design, and they arrived at a jacket design that uses milkweed floss as insulation, and they founded May West. By creating a market demand for milkweed, May West helps fulfill the monarch’s need for food and habitat while simultaneously creating a sustainable fashion alternative to a wardrobe staple.
“Being a student entrepreneur means that I have the luxury to take risks, and be bold and adventurous with the launch of the startup,” said Alayna. “But it also means that I am spread extremely thin and need to be resourceful and creative with how to accomplish goals.”
With the help of the Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars Lift program, May West has spent the summer strategizing their first jacket production run, scheduled for later this fall. Charlotte and Alayna have been matched with Techstars mentor (and Austin Accelerator ‘18 alum) Andrew Gibbs-Dabney of Livsn Designs to help them grow their company.
“Through the LaunchPad, we’ve been able to connect with a network of thoughtful mentors with a diverse range of expertise and advice,” said Charlotte. “The ‘Give First’ mentality of the Techstars mentors, alumni, and staff allowed us to leave the Lift cohort equipped with an expanded network of generous, willing-to-assist industry professionals. Their support will be invaluable as May West continues to evolve and grow.”
May West embodies a value system that places importance on new manufactured products being regenerative rather than destructive in the process of their creation. The brand exemplifies how designers can consider the needs of other living things, both in their supply chain and in manufacturing decision making.