Techstars Kansas City Announced 2018 Class

Techstars Kansas City is proud to welcome Techstars Class 137! This year’s class hails from three countries and includes six companies from the midwest. Although our companies come from many industries, they share in common that they are all solving problems to make the world as we know it more efficient and transparent. From making our water safer, our food safer, to solving the problem of payday loans right where they began — in Kansas City. These ten companies will make a big impact on our city and our economy.

Techstars is the Worldwide Network that helps entrepreneurs succeed, and strong partners and incredible mentors help make this happen. We’re grateful for their support as well as the support from the broader global network.

We kick things off this week, and will conclude with an exciting Demo Day and conference in partnership with TechWeek October 11th.

We hope to see you there!

Without further ado, here are the 2018 Techstars KC companies:

Bellwethr automating forecasting bots for your business.

Daupler a first-response platform for the water industry.

EdSights helps universities measure and improve the student experience.

Noviqu is digitizing safety, training and maintenance in the manufacturing industry.

Qwyk is leading the path towards digitized international logistics interactions.

Reducing recovery times for occupational injuries through our digital assistant, SaRA.

Don’t go alone. Go SoLo. A mobile lending exchange connecting lenders and borrowers.

Smart Diagnostics Systems detects pathogens in food 75% faster, 90% more accurate, while reducing costs by 50%.

Townfolio is a real-time analytics platform for local economies.

Wattbuy helping homeowners take charge of their electricity.

 








Global Applications for the Techstars Worldwide Network are Now Open!

There’s an often-repeated stat that 90 percent of startups fail. Not sure the source is, but no doubt that it scares entrepreneurs. At Techstars, we see the reverse in our accelerator portfolio – 90 percent of our startups are active or have successfully exited. Which statistic reflects your business? If you’re ready to succeed, take the next step and apply now to the Techstars worldwide network with more than 10,000 mentors, partners, investors and founders.

At Techstars, we are on a mission to help entrepreneurs succeed. Our mentorship-driven accelerator programs invest in founders to help them do more faster. Over the past 10 years we have helped over 1,274 companies grow and raise over $4.4 billion in funding, with a market cap of $11.4 billion. Now, we are excited to start the search for the next wave of companies to join our worldwide network!

We are reaching new regions and verticals around the world with our newest mentorship-driven accelerator programs. Applications are opening for five new programs:

Take the next step in your journey and apply to join the Techstars worldwide network with more than 10,000 mentors, partners, investors and founders.

This is more than a three month program, the Techstars worldwide network is for life. Listen to stories about our founders from Techstars alumni companies like SendGrid, ClassPass, and DigitalOcean.

Application deadline is April 8, 2018 for most programs. We will be announcing details for information sessions and online events where you can connect with Techstars founders and team, as well as mentors who have the experience and proven track record to help you succeed. Be on the lookout for more details soon!

When you apply, you can choose from any of the following locations and verticals:

For tips and resources on the application process, check out our Application Toolkit.








Non-Sexy Sectors Are Ripe for Disruption

In the process of looking for a new crop of companies to invest in on behalf of Techstars Kansas City, I thought I should highlight the type of companies I think are undervalued and critical to our economy. In 2017 we invested in Ampogee. The founders of Ampogee realized they had uncovered a solution that could help the manufacturing industry as a whole optimize their workforce and increase productivity by a minimum of 20 percent.

My first question was of course, according to my friends at MIT, all manufacturing facilities will soon be full of robots, not people, so how can this be relevant? The founders quickly helped me understand that most manufacturing companies or companies with manufacturing facilities do not have granular data on productivity and therefore understanding what can actually be automated would be extremely difficult due to the lack of data.

As Tim O’Reilly has referred to in his new book WTF (Why the Future, and What’s Up to Us), machines will in most cases be extensions of humans, not necessarily a replacement for humans. In a similar way we have no complete provenance data on machine parts, nor any supply chain transparency on the steak I am eating for dinner. We are making massive assumptions about many things with a lack of granular data that can inform logistics, supply and in this case employee engagement and productivity. All of this might be considered super boring (not sexy), which has actually increased my interest.

A significant number of manufacturing facilities fall into the category of 100-500 employees. In 2015, there were 251,774 firms in the manufacturing sector in the United States, with all but 3,813 firms considered to be small (i.e., having fewer than 500 employees). These firms have little to no technology in place to measure productivity, let alone engage employees to boost productivity and retention.

According to Kylene Zenk with the Manufacturing Business Technology, “in 2016 alone, manufacturers contributed $2.18 trillion to the U.S. economy. In fact, for every dollar spent in manufacturing another $1.81 is added to the economy, which is the single largest multiplier in any industry.” This “boring” problem is a huge economic opportunity.

Robert Lawrence of the Kenny School at Harvard further explains that “while some blame measurement errors for the recently recorded slowdown in manufacturing productivity growth, spending patterns in the United States and elsewhere suggest that the productivity slowdown is real and that thus far fears about robots and other technological advances in manufacturing displacing large numbers of jobs appear misplaced.” But, manufacturers in the United States currently put only 10 percent of their capital spending into tech equipment and software, according to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Sounds like a market opportunity.

Michael Mandel, chief economic strategist of the Progressive Policy Institute has stated that “we’re about to find out that innovation in domestic manufacturing isn’t a job destroyer at all—it’s a job creator.” According to the National Association of Manufacturers over the next decade, nearly 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will be needed. This is occuring in parallel with a recognized massive skills gap and shortage of available employees to work in manufacturing firms. Attracting and retaining employees in the manufacturing sector has to become a national priority.

All the above leads me to believe that in this industry segment, productivity is about more than autonomous cars and robots. There are few technology solutions focused on employee engagement and productivity, and Ampogee has proven success with their customers that today include across industries (Sandvik, Michelin, Thermo Fisher, Commscope etc). The time has come to embrace technology in the manufacturing industry and I am feeling pretty confident about the role that Ampogee will play in the future of this industry.








Are the “Boring” Companies the Biggest Disruptors?

Grit Virtual is building a completely new type of construction management software: a construction schedule generator. Grit went through our 2017 class, and have something that we are now looking for more of in 2018: boring. Boring in a good way — a company that is doing something so sensible and timely, it will disrupt the market in an important way.

When we think of industries focused on continuous improvement, we think of manufacturing. Manufacturing shares many similar properties to construction, but manufacturing is growing in labor productivity of about 3.6 percent a year, while construction productivity improves at a rate of about 1 percent a year. Manufacturing is blowing construction out of the water.

98 percent of construction projects have overrun costs (costing about 80 percent more on average than estimated) and delayed schedule (of on average 20 months). Furthermore, construction today is one of few industries that does not have real time reporting. Foreman write down their reports for the day (hours worked, delays, progress), which are then inputted into a system, analyzed, and reported back. This lack of real time data adds to the exorbitant cost and delays in any construction project. Industries like retail, which are already struggling, would be nowhere if not for their digitized, real-time, productivity data: customer conversion, items per transaction, cost per transaction, and so on.

With 7 percent of our workforce and $10 trillion annually at stake, it is about time construction was brought into the twenty-first century.

All other construction schedule softwares simply digitize a schedule created by one or two individuals. Grit’s system captures all team members’ knowledge and applies artificial intelligence to​ generate the project schedule

Grit’s software includes a suite of coordination algorithms that prioritize and sequence a project’s schedule resulting in the most reliable workflows for all performing crews. They automatically generate daily plans and reports, allowing contractors and other project stakeholders to receive up-to-the-minute updates on project progress with this “living schedule”. This unprecedented level of insight enables contractors to reduce labor waste and deliver projects to their clients on time, quicker than ever.

Decision Making

Human Factors

Time on Paperwork

Delays

Poor decisions

Sick days

Daily reports

Weather

Guesses

Lack of engagement

Safety

GC

11th hour decisions

Lack of improvement

Time sheets

Inspections

Missing Information

Other administration

Owner approvals

Other subs

Equipment

Missing materials

Safety

I asked Chris Callen, CEO of Grit, which barriers to labor productivity can Grit improve. He sent me back a list which highlighted everything except weather, safety, and sick days. With so many possible things slowing down a project and making it more expensive, there should be interventions and real-time information associated with each productivity measure.

Big, expensive problems like these are ripe for disruption. Chris Callen likes to say that he wanted to start a company that solved such a big problem, that in a few years, anyone who didn’t adopt a solution to fix it would be obsolete. Those are exactly the kinds of problems that most excite us as we get into looking for companies for our 2018 program.

Our applications opened last week. If you have a big idea to disrupt a tired industry, we want to talk to you.








Women Founders Office Hours in Kansas City

We know women are underrepresented in entrepreneurship and venture capital. Only 17 percent of founders of startups are women. Women receive about 2 percent of venture capital financing. Even at Techstars, only 19 percent of participants in 2016 were women. Women start companies with half the capital that as men.

There is a new group trying to do something about it: FemaleFounder.org. The women involved are VC partners in New York, Boston, and Silicon Valley who are holding office hours for founders at various stages of funding to begin opening the door for more women.

We borrowed the same model to host a Women Founders Office Hours in Kansas City last week. Nine women investors attended to meet with over twenty women founders for speed-meetings. Each woman founder was able to meet with three to five investors.

In cities like San Francisco and New York City, there are enough female potential tech founders that the office hours have an application process. We left ours open in Kansas City. With little competition in the middle of the United States, we are hoping that by keeping this open, we are increasing competition. By finding the ideas in the midwest and connecting them to mentors early on, we have the opportunity to make their ideas bigger and more feasible.

The event made me reflect on my life prior to Techstars. I was a researcher studying diversity in entrepreneurship. I think back to interviewing numerous accelerators about the diversity of their founders and hearing over and over how challenging it was to find women founders. We would share recommendations for different ways they could recruit and attract women: use inclusive language, schedule the program so that women with children are able to participate fully (no meetings after 6:00 pm!), recruit a diverse network of women mentors and ask them to refer women founders, and so on. Still, after having implemented all of those tactics the first year, we were unable to find women CEOs for our class. This year we are doubling our efforts to be proactive in finding women founders.

Not to say that we did not love all of our CEOs in our first program, but it was personally quite challenging to not have any women CEOs in our class. We talk about diversity nearly everyday in our office, and not being able to see that reflected in the first class was not easy.

When we are off program, we consider it our responsibility as a city program to help elevate our city the other months of the year. Perhaps events such as the Women Founders Office Hours is a new approach to begin broadening the net to finding a diverse group of founders.

Can we get more cities to host Women Founders Office Hours? Let me know if I can help share what worked and ways we could have improved!








Building Organizational Culture in Your Startup

How do founders go from a couple of people toying with an idea, to managing a great team with values, good rapport, and everyone’s favorite phrase, strong culture?

Recently I set out on a fool’s errand to gain some insight on building organizational culture in startups. The truth is, this field of research is still in its infancy — not a lot is known.

We know a lot about organizational behavior in established firms and how they design their culture. But, startups are trying to build something that’s never been built before and they are brand new companies. By nature, startups are super weird and hard to make sense of in a way a researcher would like to.

There are lots of organizational culture theories out there when it comes to startups. It is 80 percent the founder of the company. It is established in the first 20 people. Things get weird after 150 employees.

A while back, researchers published a study in the California Management Review about different models of organizational culture in high-tech startups, which I believe are still hold relevant lessons for entrepreneurs today.

The study looked at five types of organizational models: Star, Engineering, Commitment, Bureaucracy and Autocracy. The researchers identified how each model retains, selects, and controls talent.

Star model employees are high-skilled talent that will grow and develop with the startup.

The Engineer model has high-skilled employees producing high-quality work, but they may expect to have beer and ping pong tables around.

The Commitment model treats employees like they are family.

The Bureaucracy model formalizes the work environment.

Finally, the Autocracy model pays their employees a lot for more transactional assignments.

Many companies choose a hybrid of these employment types. I will share some of the study’s findings and the implications for startups.

Choice Model of Startups

While startups vary on the model they choose to use, the Engineering model seems to be the Silicon Valley default. Furthermore, while VCs more commonly bureaucratize startups, VCs also attract many other different types of cultures and like the emotional bonds of the Commitment and Star cultures.

Does the Founder’s Background Impact the Model?

Founder background does not link to a particular employment model. The founders’ intended business strategy seemed to have the most bearing on the employment model chosen — marketing, service, and customer based models went more toward a Commitment employee model.

Think Zappos, which continues to be a company that is known for their organizational culture and customer service.

How HR is Leveraged in Startups

Companies that had a Star or Commitment model brought HR expertise in earlier than the other employee models. According to the researchers, star companies need HR expertise to recruit and attract Star talent. Commitment companies use HR to build a strong culture as a talent and retention plan. Engineering companies make sure employees have access to enough caffeine, sugar, and alcohol to fuel their startup environment. Bureaucratic companies rely on HR mainly for administrative purposes.

Success and Pitfalls of Employment Models

According to the research, companies with a Commitment model are the fastest to IPO. Companies with the Autocracy model were most likely to fail. However, Star and Commitment models can be more difficult to scale. Star models deal with turnover issues because of the need to screen out the non-stars, and they rely most heavily on equity options, so when it does not look like the equity will work out, employees are more likely to leave.

Transitioning to a New Model

Transitioning from one model to another can be negatively disruptive and costly. Companies that were founded on Star or Commitment models that switch to another model have a hard time with the transition. Bureaucracy, for example, would be a difficult adjustment from the Commitment model, particularly because this often involves the departure of their founder-CEO.

The researchers explain that it is incredibly common for startups to not put the thought into culture and HR, however they cannot imagine a scenario where a startup does not have a strong and thought-out plan for marketing, pricing, fundraising, and the milestones attached to those things.

Knowing how important talent is for startups, this non-strategy strategy can be a big limitation down the road.

At Techstars, we try and help companies think through organizational culture and other points along the way to success. By helping companies understand the type of organization they want to run, hopefully they will think more about their plan to build a sustainable organizational culture.

What model does your company follow? If you could have thought more about this earlier into your startup, would you?








Announcing the First Class of the Techstars Kansas City Accelerator

We are excited to announce the ten companies that will be joining the Techstars Kansas City Accelerator for our 2017 program. We kick things off this week and are looking forward to three months of awesomeness, capped off by Demo Day on October 12. This is the first class to go through the Techstars Kansas City program.

Techstars is the Worldwide Network that helps entrepreneurs succeed, and strong partners and incredible mentors help make this happen. We’re grateful for your support and we couldn’t do it without you. Almost all of our companies were referred from our mentor network.

We love this city and know 2017 is going to be an amazing year for both Techstars and Kansas City. If you have additional questions about our companies, please feel free to reach out to me at lesa.mitchell@techstars.com

Without further ado, here are the Kansas City 2017 companies:

Ampogee gamifies manufacturing, engaging and motivating employees – making operational excellence look easy.

CasaIQ is a smart home solution for multi-family properties.

GRIT Virtual Construction creates VR software solutions for the simulated use and construction of our built world.

Hanzo is a cutting-edge platform that helps companies quickly scale.  

NexusEdge is a career development platform for lifelong learning powered by artificial intelligence.

Planetarians provides plant based high protein, high fiber food products at an affordable cost.

REP provides artificial intelligence for human movement. A revolution in the world of sports and physical rehabilitation.

Somatic Labs provides a software and hardware stack that animates your sense of touch, enabling a future of wearable devices that leverage what our bodies do best: feeling.

TeacherTalent where big data predicts teacher effectiveness and matches the best teachers with client schools.

Vector Legal Method is building the first comprehensive litigation case management, collaboration and analytics application.

 








Structured Accountability: The Answer to Startup Success

Why do accelerators work and why should companies go through them?

While we know there is no one single entrepreneurship personality, many entrepreneurs start their own companies to get out of the grind of daily structure. And, as I wrote in a previous post, accelerators put infrastructure around something so traditionally unstructured.

When companies join a Techstars accelerator, they fall into a strict routine. Meet 50-100 mentors, report weekly on KPI progress, send a weekly update to mentors and investors, pitch practice, and so on.

Companies get out of their garage and into an intense routinized work schedule.

One paper I recently read explains that while there is little evidence explaining how exactly accelerators affect startups, there is one critical benefit of an accelerator program: “structured accountability.”

Structured accountability “induces entrepreneurs to articulate and reflect about specific strategic tasks, an increase in self-efficacy, and knowhow about building a startup. We find no support for causal effects of basic services of cash and co-working space.”

Accelerators force what we often have no time to do — deep reflection. Often, that sort of contemplative time can only be found in structure. Sending out weekly updates to a captive audience, meeting with 75-100 mentors and investors pitching and iterating all of the time builds greater self-efficacy around a founder’s company.

There are other reasons why accelerators work. From making key startup milestones faster and providing intensive learning, developing the entrepreneurial ecosystem around the accelerator, and others. But, this focus on structured accountability I find really striking.

Another Brookings article asked one of our own founders, Brad Feld, why accelerators are so valuable, and different from other entrepreneurship support and early stage investors.

“[H]e likened the accelerator experience to immersive education, where a period of intense, focused attention provides company founders an opportunity to learn at a rapid pace. Learning-by-doing is vital to the process of scaling ventures, and the point of accelerators, suggests Feld and others, is to accelerate that process.”

Feld’s philosophy on why accelerators can work is validated by the findings around structured accountability.

When companies make the decision to join an accelerator, they’re certainly gaining a lot of important financial and network resources. But, they’re also gaining a critical training on teaching their teams how to create good work habits. And, while we hope all of our teams have really good work habits, we know that there’s always room to improve.

Learn to work like someone’s watching, even when no one is.








Building a More Inclusive Network for Entrepreneurs

When you receive an invitation to meet Anita Hill and spend time with Ellen Pao, you go. And later, you share the experience with others.

Mitch and Freada Kapor have been personal guiding lights for me on the topic of inclusion for a long time. They challenge my own understanding, sometimes beating me up but, always making me better. Recently, they hosted a sold out event in San Francisco that allowed all of us to Reimagine Equality – cleverly titled after one of Anita Hill’s books.

After working in support of greater inclusion in and around entrepreneurship since 2004, it is difficult not to be frustrated that Anita and Ellen became “famous” for similar reasons twenty-six years apart. Anita Hill with her famous Clarence Thomas sexual harassment case, Ellen Pao after her lawsuit for gender discrimination with a Silicon Valley VC firm. These two women changed the conversation about bias and harassment.

One of the reasons (on top of sheer admiration of the team) that I joined Techstars was and is the opportunity to take everyday action in supporting and growing a worldwide ecosystem of entrepreneurs that are inclusive. I am happy to work in an organization that pushes us each day to assure inclusiveness in everything we do. A work in progress.

In 1931, J.T. Adams wrote the Epic of America, which is highlighted in one of Professor Anita Hill’s books. “A dream of a social order in which each man and each woman shall be …recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”

At Techstars Kansas City, we are in the process of selection for our first Techstars class and I am keeping this quote top of mind every day. We are looking for companies that will have a positive impact on lives if they scale and founders who are uniquely capable of scaling those companies – regardless of birth or position.

In the process of applications and interviews, I have talked to a number of entrepreneurs who say – I’m too early in the process but I wish there were ways in which I could engage with you and get ready. At Techstars, we have a broad network of opportunities like Startup Weekend and Startup Week to help you get ready.

For individuals in the midwest, take advantage of Startup Weekend Kansas City, I will be there looking for 2018 Techstars applicants that are getting ready. I hope to see lots of new faces there and commit to a weekend of inclusion and support for you.








Global Network of Techstars Partners & Locations

We’ve been getting a lot of questions around where we are looking for companies for our first Techstars Kansas City program. The answer is simple: everywhere!

This week is Global Entrepreneurship Congress (GEC) in Johannesburg, South Africa. Every year, GEC gathers entrepreneurship supporters from around the world to figure out new ways to help founders start and scale their companies.

Our Techstars Kansas City Managing Director Lesa Mitchell is at GEC celebrating entrepreneurship and on the hunt for new companies!

Techstars is a global startup ecosystem for entrepreneurs. And, all of our founders have access to the entire network. We work with global network partners and investor partners from all over the world. Our Techstars accelerators are now in Africa, Australia and Europe. We host close to 50 Startup Weekends across the globe every week!

In observation of this week, check out this data vizzie, which maps where our accelerator programs are located around the world.

What are you doing to celebrate entrepreneurship globally? Are you interested in being one of our international Techstars companies in Kansas City? Feel free to reach out to me to connect!

Techstars helps entrepreneurs succeed. Interested in joining the worldwide entrepreneur network? Learn how.