The Power of the Network: Techstars Alums Sphero & Naritiv Join Forces to Launch the Star Wars BB-8 Toy

One of the most powerful things about Techstars is the network: founders become alumni, alumni become mentors, mentors become CEOs or MDs, associates become employees, alumni companies share talent and do business together.

On that note, Sphero and Naritiv, two Techstars alumni companies from the Disney Accelerator 2014 class, are working together on one of the coolest product launches of all time….from the newest Star Wars movie, the BB-8™ App-Enabled Droid by Sphero!

Sphero, the makers of the BB-8 Droid, wanted to capture the excitement of Force Friday and Star Wars fans around globe through Snapchat. So, they turned to fellow Techstars alum, Naritiv, who builds audiences and strategies for brands on Snapchat.

Naritiv worked with Sphero to send Snapchat celebrities to Paris, Dublin, London, San Francisco and New York as well as representatives in Tokyo, Milan, and Chicago, to capture the first moments when the new BB-8 droid hits the streets. With over 100 million users of Snapchat and 3 billion videos viewed per day, Naritiv uses Snapchat as a platform to build brands, spread the word and tell a compelling story.

When the BB-8 launch is over, Naritiv will supply Sphero with sophisticated analytics to quantify the reach of the campaign. (We will share more details on the campaign success as they roll in.)

“It’s been really exciting to be a part of such a cool collaboration between two Techstars alumni companies just one year after graduating from Techstars,” says Eric Posen, co-founder of Naritiv.

“Both Disney and Sphero have been amazing to work with and we couldn’t be more thrilled to help bring the BB-8 droid to the world in such a new and exciting way.”

The Star Wars BB-8 App-Enabled Droid by Sphero launches today at Disney retail stores and other select retail partners all over the world as a part of Force Friday.  

Follow GoSphero on Snapchat to view the story happening now!

Congratulations to the teams at Sphero and Naritiv on your huge success!


[VIDEO] On Unicorns, Prunes and the Rise & Fall of the Corporate Accelerator

Many corporations, when facing the risk of disruption, seek to accelerate innovation by taking cues from the startup world. In this TEDx talk, Lou Kerner, founder of the The Social Internet Fund, focuses on how and why only a small subset of corporations will succeed in this paradigm.

Video highlights:

  • Money spent does not equate to innovation.
  • Average lifespan of a company has dropped by 70% over the last 50 years.
  • M&A is not driving innovation (Clayton Christensen, “The Innovator’s Dilemma”).
  • Corporations are hiring accelerator programs (like Techstars) so they can learn to innovate like startups.


Learn more about our programs, including our corporate accelerators, here.

Squirrel Co-Founder On How Mentorship Supported His Business

Squirrel was one of eleven startups to take part in the Barclays Accelerator powered by Techstars programme – a growth accelerator funded by Barclays. Here, Co-Founder Mutaz Qubbaj explains how mentorship supported his business through a period of intense development and learning.

Squirrel is a financial wellbeing platform designed to help people on low disposable incomes regain control of their financial lives. We do this by working with employers to provide simple saving, budgeting and bill management tools to employees that integrate directly with payroll systems.

Squirrel is one of eleven startups out of 340 applicants that were admitted to the first cohort of the Barclays Accelerator powered by Techstars in mid-2014. The program is transformative. The Accelerator helped us turn our original product – an ethical and affordable alternative to payday loans – into a vision.

The Barclays Accelerator provided an amazing catalyst for bringing this vision together. The primary goal of this mentorship is to coach and support companies for success through an intricately developed three-stage process:

1 – It’s all about the mentors

The first month of the program is like drinking water through a fire hose as we were was subjected to the startup version of speed-dating that Techstars has immaculately honed over the years of its existence – Mentor Madness. Squirrel (known as Wagevance back then) had to meet with close to 100 mentors over the course of three weeks to pitch their business over and over (and over) while answering what seemed like an endless barrage of questions that tested both our resilience and every aspect underlying the very nature of our business.

We came to the realisation very fast that this would be a humbling experience. The idea that we had become wedded to was being broken down to its very essence.

Collecting hundreds of post-its that covered every piece of insight related to building, marketing, user design and messaging, the rainbow of a wall next to our workspace quickly became the foundation for the next iteration within our evolution.

2 – It’s all about the product

This stage involved all the startups taking all our newly gained insights (post-its) and turning them into a vision.

The month of mentor madness had tested every facet of our business, and it was now time to bring it all together.

Each of us had been matched with mentors based on a mutual interest in working with each other, and those mentors would work closely – sometimes around the clock – with each of our startups to ensure that we built a product that increased our probability of success.

3 – It’s all about the story

Messaging becomes a key focus of the Accelerator in the lead-up to our Demo Day, a day when all of our startups would get to present the fruits of our labour to a packed house of 300+ industry experts and investors.

The combination of Mentor Madness, Techstars insights at the hand of entrepreneurial veterans and a pitch coach who operated on a different level of energy was meant to turn us into lean, mean, pitching machines.

The skills built during this third stage of the program would prove to be invaluable in distilling the value of our start-up to investors, champions, advisors, partners and mentors that would come to play a part in our journey.

Messaging has proven to be a key catalyst in gaining traction with investors, deployment partners, clients, and recruiting.

Since the Demo Day on September 30th, we have won the Duke of York’s Pitch@Palace event and the WIRED 2014 Startup Competition. We have to look back at how far we’ve come on this journey and be thankful for the opportunities that have brought us here.

Find out more about the Barclays Accelerator powered by Techstars at 

For more on Squirrel please see below


Contact email:

Twitter: @asksquirrel



Techstars Announces Techstars Mobility, Driven by Detroit

Today, Techstars is announcing Techstars Mobility, driven by Detroit with our partners Ford Motor Company, Magna International and Verizon Telematics. Mobility and transportation are changing and we want to help the next generation of companies make it happen. Techstars is also committed to operating this program in Detroit, the center of the global mobility and transportation ecosystem.

Techstars Mobility, driven by Detroit will give 10 selected companies deep connections with our partners, $120,000 in funding and three months engaged with our extensive mentor network. Each of our program partners brings an important piece of the mobility industry into this Techstars accelerator:

  • Ford, one of the leading innovators in the industry since its inception who continues to lead with a focus on mobility and transportation under the direction of Bill Ford;
  • Magna International, one of the largest automotive suppliers in the world with connections and distribution channels to virtually all auto producers and into other transportation industries;
  • Verizon Telematics, who puts the connected in connected car with their terrestrial and satellite based communication solutions.

The Techstars program will be located in the growing entrepreneurial district of Detroit. There has been a recent renaissance in Detroit with many startups moving to the downtown area and venture capital becoming very active in the region. Throughout the development of the Techstars Mobility program, Techstars worked with Detroit based venture capital firms Fontinalis Partners, Detroit Venture Partners and Renaissance Venture Capital to recruit mentors and ensure capital was ready to deploy in the region. Many other venture firms have also contacted Techstars communicating their interest in bringing capital to Detroit.

Techstars will be bringing their proven accelerator model and extensive network of mentors, founders and corporations to Detroit to support this program. Techstars will also coordinate efforts across the Detroit entrepreneurial ecosystem as a member of the Detroit Technology Exchange (DTX), ensuring that Techstars can have a positive impact across the entire community. Techstars Mobility, driven by Detroit will run for three years with a new class of 10 startups each year.

The program kicks off June 9, 2015, and concludes with a Demo Day on September 10, 2015 where each team will present to investors, industry leaders, and the community at large. Ted Serbinski, formerly with Detroit Venture Partners, has been named as the Managing Director of Techstars Mobility, driven by Detroit. Ted and his team are full-time Techstars staff and will live and work in the Detroit area. Applications are being accepted through March 15, 2015.

Disney Accelerator, powered by Techstars Demo Day 2014

On Tuesday of last week, ten amazing startup CEOs presented their companies to a theater filled with Disney executives, tech investors, and the entrepreneurial community of Los Angeles at Demo Day for Disney Accelerator, powered by Techstars. The event was a major milestone in the journeys of these remarkable startups, and it was a wonderful celebration of fifteen weeks of hard work and incredible progress.

All ten companies shared the details of pending business relationships with Disney, ranging from advertising campaigns to deep product development initiatives.

And most importantly, all ten companies completed Disney Accelerator having made substantial progress on their businesses. This progress was due in no small part to the efforts of the amazing mentors who participated in the program. More than 60 Disney executives and 70 entrepreneurs and investors from the business community gave their time to help coach and nurture the startups in Disney Accelerator, making a profound impact on each of the companies.

Here is Disney’s CEO, Bob Iger, speaking about his experience mentoring one of our companies:

You can watch each of the companies introduce themselves and their businesses here. I encourage you to dive deeply on each them below and get to know them. You’ll find that they are not only compelling companies, but they are also all wonderful people. My life is better for knowing them and I can’t wait to see what they accomplish next. Please join me in celebrating the 2014 companies of Disney Accelerator, powered by Techstars:


ChoreMonster unites parents and kids with the most ridiculously fun and motivating family framework, so every home is a joyful place.    @choremonster
Codarica creates seriously fun games that teach kids to code.    @codaricaHQ
Jogg is a mobile video platform that changes the direction of how we engage our audience.   @joggapp
Naritiv is a marketing and analytics platform for micro-content, starting with Snapchat.   @naritiv
Sidelines is a people-powered content marketing platform that drives brand influence through discussions by expert fans.    @sidelinesapp
Smart Toy is a learning toy that talks and listens to kids. Smart Toy can be customized to know your child’s name, teach lessons, and much more.    @smarttoylabs
SnowShoe creates magic with a touch of plastic. SnowShoe-powered objects unlock digital content through your smartphone.    @snowshoestamp
Sphero is the connected play company, fusing digital and physical play by creating toys and robots that you control with a smart device.    @gosphero
Twigtale builds happier families through personalization and expert-fueled storytelling.    @twigtale
TYFFON makes entertaining apps that put you in the center of the fun — founded by the creators of the ZombieBooth series, with over 30 million downloads.    @tyffoninc


Making in Manhattan – NYC hardware has its day

Hardware, often viewed as the poor step-child of the tech scene, is experiencing a Renaissance with West Coast based companies such as Nest and Oculus being snapped up for mind blowing amounts of cash. However, New York’s hardware scene is flourishing, proving to be a seductive environment for start-ups and partner companies that support the hardware ecosystem. Engrained industries, including marketing and manufacturing have built a formidable platform for new entrants. It’s easy to sense momentum from the dozens of Maker spaces, meetup groups, hack events and conferences centered on hardware, connected devices, wearables and IoT.

In the last few years, New York nurtured some impressive and now well established hardware companies such as Makerbot and Adafruit as well as start-ups such as Canary, the 2013 Indiegogo darling. Companies that showcase and celebrate hardware such as Quirky and Grand St. have also contributed to the success of hardware companies by providing necessary platforms for distribution. New York has always fostered strong e-commerce companies, laying the foundation for hardware marketplaces to thrive here as well.

This ecosystem has been supported by a solid investor base that has been early in identifying this opportunity. It includes VC’s like Matt Turck at Firstmark and Matt Witheiler at Flybridge as well as the various angel investors who have recently breezed through my office to see what’s cooking (or 3D printing!) at the RGA Accelerator. Unlike software, it still requires more cash to produce hardware, so start-ups need to look beyond crowdfunding to deeper pockets – and NYC has some pretty deep pockets.

As the fashion capital of the world, wearables are clearly influencing big brands like Tory Burch who are embracing new technologies. I’ve recently seen my fair share of wacky wearables — everything from a dress that gives directions to 3D printed stilettos that alert you when your feet need a rest. So much of it is happening right in the midst of the garment district, with start-ups working side by side with ‘old world’ garment manufacturers.

On a personal note, I am thrilled to be back in NYC as hardware comes to the forefront of the startup scene. NYC may have not have fully embraced recent tech trends like cloud and big data, but we getting excited about drone charging stations and talking Band-Aids! Software will continue to thrive but be warned, hardware is also here to stay.

Announcing 12 New Companies for the Kaplan EdTech Accelerator, Powered by Techstars

I’m thrilled to announce the edtech-focused startups that are gathering in New York this summer to participate in the Kaplan EdTech Accelerator, powered by Techstars.

The 2013 program was a huge success and we have high expectations for this new class of startups. Our intensive, three-month program will help these companies refine their vision and accelerate their progress towards making a real impact on education.

These companies have highly motivating projects. Instead of sitting in classrooms learning facts about how to start a company, they are ‘learning-by-doing’ and building real capabilities to reach the next level of performance in customer, product, organization, and fundraising competences (the curriculum).

We are honored to be a part of this journey with Kaplan. The 2014 class includes:

BrM_logo Branching Minds (New York, NY): an online tool to help identify, understand, and address students’ cognitive strengths and weaknesses while tracking and reporting data across grade levels, classes, and the home-school divide
logo ClassWallet (Miami, FL): digital wallet and ecommerce platform letting donors easily give and track donations to K-12 classes and also gives teachers decision-making power over budgets and purchases for their classrooms
logo-1 Cognotion (New York, NY): teaches students another language and career skills through story-telling, using online video narratives, gamification features, live simulation, and social media tools
logo-b0cc0e4008c1f7f1944effdcfdcfda3e CreatorBox (New York, NY): helps children ages 7-12 years old develop their creativity and practical science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills through a monthly series of engaging building projects
search (Toronto, ON, Canada and New York, NY): increases access to global educational opportunities by seamlessly connecting schools and educational travel agencies via a worldwide distribution system with integrated web tools
imgres-1 Grockit (New York, NY): online tool uses adaptive learning, peer-to-peer learning, and game-like motivational features to help students prepare for standardized ; originally founded in 2007, Grockit was acquired by Kaplan in July 2013
learn-logo-cmyk_png-400x102 Lea(R)n (Raleigh, NC): runs cost-effective pre-clinical and clinical trials to validate emerging education technologies’ impact on learning outcomes
logo-04b3e787e8ba505ac69d7dcb56f33ad9 reKode (Reykjavik, Iceland and  Redmond, WA): teaches computer coding skills to children and young adults—including those with learning challenges and disabilities—in a face-to-face environment, emphasizing peer-to-peer learning, positive development and creativity
robotslab-logo RobotsLAB (San Francisco, CA): creates robots as in-classroom teaching aids that help K-12 educators bring to life abstract math and science concepts in fun, engaging ways
smarton-1 SmartOn (Bangalore, India): teaches “new economy skills” in such areas such as coding, data science, social media and design
imgres-2 Story To College (New York, NY): offers online and in-person courses that leverage the neuroscience of storytelling to help students write impactful, effective admissions essays
imgres-3 TuvaLabs (New York, NY): teaches data literacy skills by engaging students through the exploration and use of real data related to students’ own favorite topics and interests

Meet the Companies Participating in Disney Accelerator, Powered by Techstars

Disney and Techstars are thrilled to announce the media and entertainment-focused technology startups that are gathering in Los Angeles this summer to participate in Disney Accelerator, powered by Techstars.

Disney Accelerator combines the magic of The Walt Disney Company with the mentorship-driven model and entrepreneurial network of Techstars to offer a game-changing advantage to startups in the media and entertainment space.  The breadth of impact that Disney provides to culture and business is incredible, and we are thrilled to help these companies leverage this influence and the business leaders, creatives, and technologists at Disney to each accelerate their progress and potential.

The companies we are announcing today represent a diverse cross-section of media and entertainment and join us in Los Angeles from a wide range of geographies.  We eagerly look forward to where they take their businesses next and are honored to be a part of this journey with them.


The Disney Accelerator Class of 2014:

Choremonster | @choremonster

Cincinnati, OH

ChoreMonster is a web and mobile platform that makes chores fun for kids and turns parents into superheroes.


Codarica | @CodaricaHQ

Stockholm, Sweden

Codarica serves as children’s first interaction into the world of code with help from characters Cody Coder and Holly Hacker.


Cogo | @Cogo_tv

Santa Monica, CA

Cogo provides video monetization solutions for content creators.


Jogg | @joggapp

Los Angeles, CA

Jogg simplifies the act of acquiring video from anyone. Users can gather, edit and share much more than just video from their own device.


Sidelines | @SidelinesApp

San Francisco, CA

Sidelines fixes the problem of substandard online discussions and comments by sourcing smart, high-quality discussions from its curated team of over 400 experts, and distributing these discussions to publishers based on relevance.


SnowShoe | @SnowShoeStamp

San Francisco, CA

SnowShoe makes simple, magical pieces of plastic that interact with touch screens to create the perfect bridge between physical items and digital media.


Sphero | @gosphero

Boulder, CO

Sphero is the connected play company, which fuses digital and physical play by creating robots that you control with a smart device.


Twigtale | @twigtale

Los Angeles, CA

Twigtale provides parents with personalized, high-quality, accessible expert advice for every major transition a child undergoes.


TYFFON | @tyffoninc

Tokyo, Japan

TYFFON is an entertainment app development company and creator of ZombieBooth series with more than 25 million total downloads.


Ubooly | @ubooly

Boulder, CO

Ubooly is a learning toy that talks and listens to kids. Ubooly can be customized to know your child’s name, teach lessons, and much more.

Announcing the Barclays Accelerator, Powered by Techstars, Video Series

We are excited to release a new video series on the Barclays Accelerator, Powered by Techstars program! This series will be a week-by-week walk-through of the companies and their evolution during this three-month program. Take a first-hand look at the 11 teams who just got started and all of their amazing work that goes on behind the scenes.  

Announcing the Sprint Mobile Health Accelerator, powered by Techstars

Today we announce the Sprint Mobile Health Accelerator, powered by Techstars, based in Kansas City. Technology companies focused on mobile health can apply today through December 6th for the opportunity to participate in a three-month intensive mentorship program starting in March 2014 and receive up to $120,000 in funding.

I couldn’t be more excited about launching this program in Kansas City. It’s an obvious “next” place that has an up and coming tech community to rival other top geographies. The presence of leaders in the mobile health space makes this the perfect home for the accelerator. We have been watching Kansas City from afar, seeing it come together, and now we’re excited to join the community and help it grow. It’s great to see Sprint giving first through their tremendous network of resources and executive knowledge. It makes all the difference for the companies we fund through the program. As we’ve spent time with the various leaders and feeders of the Kansas City ecosystem they’ve all been incredibly welcoming.

Sprint, with a rich history as a leading-edge technology company, is supporting this startup accelerator initiative as a way of driving innovation at a transformational time in mobile health. From remote patient monitoring to e-prescriptions to making sense of ever-growing volumes of data, technology is poised to reduce costs, improve productivity and increase quality in mobile health.

Kevin McGinnis, vice president-Development at Sprint, is taking a leadership role in expanding and strengthening the company’s work with entrepreneurial startups. He believes the Sprint Accelerator will make a vital contribution to the region’s success. Kevin told me that “Kansas City increasingly is gaining recognition on the national level as an emerging entrepreneurial technology center” and that “Sprint has been expanding its work with startups and other ventures that are developing intriguing innovations. The Sprint Accelerator will act as a catalyst for growth in this market.”   We’re coming to town with that same bet, Kevin.

The Sprint Mobile Health Accelerator will provide entrepreneurs in this field an unparalleled opportunity to strengthen their businesses with the guidance of leading technology experts from Sprint and top technology companies in the area and from around the country. The Sprint Mobile Health Accelerator is accepting applications now through Dec. 6. Finalists will be notified in early January 2014 and the three-month program is slated to begin in March.

To find more information and apply, visit