To the UP Global Community Leaders around the world,
Today, we announced that Techstars, one of the world’s leading accelerators and early stage investors, will be acquiring UP Global and all of its programs. Over the last six years, we’ve supported over 3,000 events with 300k attendees across more than 120 countries. Startup Weekend, and later, Startup Digest, Startup Next, and Startup Week, have become part of a global movement of grassroots entrepreneurship. We’ve watched significant change in this timespan – startup activity is accelerating globally, early stage capital markets have never been as accessible, and we’ve successfully eliminated the hyphen from the world “startup” – for those in the space!
Since the early days when Franck Nouyrigat, Clint Nelsen and myself took what Andrew Hyde started with the first versions of Startup Weekend, we had a dream for it that went beyond events. These community building efforts eventually grew into UP Global, the vision for which is best captured in our “Entrepreneur’s Journey” model.
To say that the paths and visions of Startup Weekend and Techstars were inextricably linked from the beginning is an understatement. Andrew created Startup Weekend as the first employee of Techstars in 2007. The first real office for Franck, Clint, and I was in the basement of the Techstars Seattle office. Thank you Andy Sack! Today, UP Global’s HQ is the co-anchor tenant with Techstars in Startup Hall Seattle; not even a wall between us.
More important than the practical and human alignment behind our organizations, today’s announcement represents the value and mission alignment of our two organizations. Early on, David Cohen and Brad Feld coined the #givefirst mantra which became one of the fundamental premises in the book Startup Communities that just so happened to reference Startup Weekend a half zillion times. The values of #givefirst to the community and putting the entrepreneur first has not only kept our organizations in close touch over the years, but has also complemented the values of what has become the respective startup movement behind both organizations.
Sharing the motivations for this strategic move combines the reality of more than two years since the launch of UP Global with the struggle to establish a business model that would continue to be dynamic and scalable beyond just sponsor and grant support. One of the most frustrating things for any non-profit is being able to create value while making a very real and tangible impact in the world, yet being unable to capture and reinvest that value to grow and sustain the mission. We refuse to jeopardize our current programs by dramatically raising prices, becoming a franchise model, or following any other approach to squeeze money from entrepreneurs or their communities. The answer continually pointed us towards the later stage activities for different business models and revenue streams that could sustain the organization long-term.
You might immediately ask, “Well, isn’t UP Global a non-profit?” It absolutely was in the U.S. I’ve said since day one, being a non-profit was a business model decision, not a way of life. It allowed us to accept grant dollars in the early days from folks like the Kauffman Foundation, as well as to help establish credibility in a young and just evolving sector. It was the business decision that allowed us to build and scale in a market that had not yet fully understood the value of education for entrepreneurs.
I’d like to be the first to say that today’s announcement of UP Global transitioning from a non-profit to a for profit is a massive victory for the entire entrepreneurial industry. I believe that every charity should be trying to eventually work itself out of existence in a perfect world. In our case, impact investors, foundations, and social sponsors saw the need to step in and support efforts like ours to educate entrepreneurs where the private markets hadn’t yet stepped in, and now, six years later, we’re finally able to effectively link our value creation to the impact of creating entrepreneurial communities; and ultimately, more successful startup ventures within the private market. I hope we can be the first of many non-profits in the entrepreneurship space to make this shift.
Over the coming months, I’m personally excited to roll up my sleeves and work more closely with the community to improve and innovate our programs. Startup Weekend will continue to enter new markets, explore new editions, test new themes, and serve mature markets in new ways. Startup Next will continue to grow as the world’s largest pre-accelerator and will be dropping its fees while providing deal flow across the ecosystem, not just to Techstars. Startup Week will continue its amazing growth globally, and Startup Digest will continue to offer the world’s most curated content for founders and offer even more relevant and useful support to communities. Above and beyond the current programs, we will be working with Community Leaders to create processes to identify high potential teams that might make a great fit for accelerator programs or even be ready for conversations with a venture fund. The concern of our programs becoming exclusive deal flow for one entity was an early concern for both David Cohen and myself, as our intent is to truly create the most value for the entire ecosystem. As we’ve seen with efforts like GAN, and through our planned proactive collaboration and outreach with other players in the ecosystem, we’re confident that we can make this a genuine win for everyone. At the end of the day, it is the entrepreneurs themselves who should and will be choosing the path that makes the most sense for their company. If that path is with Techstars, great. If not, that is going to be something we celebrate too. We just want to see more entrepreneurs getting the stage appropriate resources they need, when they need them.
Ultimately, as community members, I want you to know that the programs you know and love will only be changing for the better, and those changes will be driven by guidance and feedback from you. My ask to you is to give us your candid feedback. Our mission of unlocking human potential through entrepreneurship isn’t changing, but the number of tools in our tool chest are expanding in a wonderful, new way with Techstars’ support.
I’m looking forward to continuing our mission, making our programs better and stronger, and ultimately creating a more entrepreneurial world with you all. A special thank you to all of the community leaders, mentors, judges, speakers, and sponsors who continue to make this all possible. Also, we couldn’t do this without the support of Google, Chase, Sprint, Intuit, Coke, .CO, and 3M, so thank you for your dedication to supporting entrepreneurs as well!
If you have questions, concerns, or ideas about Techstars and how our work together will roll out, please reach out to me directly or visit http://www.whatsup.community/ for FAQs and more information.
Former CEO of UP Global
Now the Chief Community Officer with Techstars
PS – Since I’ve been asked a couple times already, I wanted to make sure everyone knew that no founders or team members at UP, including myself, had any financial benefit on this transaction. The team you know and have worked with is still dedicated to the mission as much as ever and excited to continue that work as part of the Techstars family!