WASHINGTON, D.C. – October 2, 2019 – Techstars, the worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed, and HBCUvc, a nonprofit fellowship program providing Black and Latinx students with training and mentorship in venture capital, today announced the launch of a joint 10-city Startup Weekend tour across the country. The series of events will take place at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic-Serving Institutes (HSIs) across the U.S.
Techstars and HBCUvc partnered on this initiative to increase the representation of young black and brown entrepreneurs in each startup ecosystem and ultimately create jobs and wealth opportunities for communities of color, which are traditionally underrepresented in the VC and startup landscape. This is the first endeavor of its kind aimed to specifically reach HBCU students, who account for 60 percent of all black engineers in the country.
Each three-day Startup Weekend allows attendees to connect with like-minded individuals looking to build something new, pitch new startup ideas to a panel of judges and learn what it takes to start their own company. In just 54 hours, participants will experience the highs, lows, fun and pressure that make up life at a startup.
“We’re excited to partner with Techstars, a global accelerator, to bring Startup Weekends to HBCUs,” said Hadiyah Mujhid, Founder and CEO of HBCUvc. “Our partner HBCUs and their students benefit greatly as Techstars Startup Weekend events bring tech entrepreneurs, corporate partners, and investors to the campuses of HBCUs, helping to accelerate our next generation of technology entrepreneurs on our campuses.”
Results from past Techstars Startup Weekend events include the formation of more than 23,000 teams by more than 193,000 entrepreneurs in 150 countries. Some teams even started to generate revenue during the event, while others went on to raise funds from angel investors or venture capitalists.
“This is the vision and promise of an organization like Techstars – opening access and leading the charge in entrepreneurial ecosystem development through collaborating with groups like HBCUvc,” says Monica Wheat, Techstars liaison for the tour, Techstars Startup Programs Lead in Detroit and Founder of Venture Catalysts. “HBCUvc has already been fueling pipeline development work for years. Techstars and these communities are excited to see this program go live and we look forward to all the opportunities it will create.”
This unique initiative will cover five campuses in 2019, with more to follow in 2020. The tour officially kicks off at Howard University in October 2019. Below are the tour stops announced to date:
- Howard University, Washington, D.C. – led by students Shondace Thomas & Cory Lipsey and faculty Legand Burge. (October TBD)
- Fisk University, Nashville, TN – led by student Zahena Dieujuste and faculty Shavonte Hammonds & Nicholas Umontuen. (October 18-20, 2019)
- Prairie View A&M, Prairie View, TX – led by student Bryanna Barnett and faculty Lawrence McNeil. (October 25-27, 2019)
- North Carolina Central University, Chapel Hill, NC – led by student Lyndon Bowen and faculty Undi Hoffler (November 22-24, 2019)
- Morehouse College, Atlanta, GA – led by student Malcolm Beason and faculty Lavonya Jones (February 28-March 1, 2020).
Techstars is committed to being an action-driven thought leader for diversity and inclusion in the tech space. This partnership will directly impact those who choose a career in venture capital and those who become entrepreneurs. HBCU and HSI schools interested in participating should connect with HBCUvc at email@example.com. Interested partners and sponsors should contact Monica Wheat at firstname.lastname@example.org.
HBCUvc is a nonprofit organization that trains students attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) in venture capital and technology entrepreneurship. The organization provides students with venture capital skills training, mentorship, and the opportunity to build professional relationships with seasoned investors and entrepreneurs, and empowers them to fuel high-growth entrepreneurship. This first of its kind program unlocks and fosters entrepreneurship at HBCUs and HSIs and provides students with a unique learning experience that jumpstarts their careers.
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
How does a country go from lifting a national ban on television in 1999 to nurturing tech startups in 2019? What does a startup ecosystem look like in a United Nations’ classified Least Developed Country? What role does startup culture play in a country that measures success via Gross National Happiness rather than Gross Domestic Product?
This is the remarkable story of a country building a startup culture from the ground up. Since 2016, Techstars Startup Weekends have been introducing entrepreneurship to the Bhutanese people—with strong support from the government—and little by little, this agrarian economy is changing to make space for innovation.
Watching entrepreneurship take hold in Bhutan provides a fascinating view of how an economy can grow from literally zero technology to one where people don’t just use tech to enhance their lives—they problem solve with it, and build businesses that meet their unique needs.
And it demonstrates that startup success really can happen anywhere—with a little help.
Building a Better Future
In Bhutan, youth employment, especially for college graduates, is a pressing concern. In 2016, the youth unemployment rate was at 13.2%, and the number of male unemployed youth doubled in 2016. Many young Bhutanese see civil service and government jobs as their only options—and there aren’t enough of these jobs to go around among college graduates. Farming still provides employment for nearly 60% of the population.
At Techstars, we strive to help entrepreneurs around the world succeed because we believe that entrepreneurs build a better future. Youth unemployment and a desire to transform what is still primarily an agrarian society are exactly the kinds of problems that entrepreneurship can solve.
Enter Techstars Startup Weekend
The first Techstars Startup Weekend Bhutan took place in January 2016, in the capital city of Thimphu. Techstars Regional Manager for South & Central Asia, Anurag Maloo, remembers the event: 25 people showed up, and they ambled in nearly two and a half hours after the start time. Startup hustle was clearly not yet a priority. But after 54 hours of innovating hard, they left energized and enthusiastic.
“We are bringing Startup Week to Thimphu because the proven opportunities and successes that stem from SW will propel our growing startup community in the right direction” said Kitso Pelmo Wangdi, Research Analyst from event sponsor QED Consulting Group and one of the local organizers. “We would like to put Bhutan on the map.”
Progress For a Startup Nation
Anurag worked with local community organizers to bring the second Startup Weekend to Thimphu in June 2016, and this time they got 55 attendees.
By the end of 2018, eight Techstars Startup Weekend Bhutan events had attracted over 750 participants, with the then Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay attending three, and loudly praising the efforts.
“We live in a startup nation,” he said, in a speech at the close of the event. “It is up to all of us to fulfil the potential that we have here to create the startup nation together. We are unique. Our startup journey started many decades ago as a small impoverished country. Our Kings decided to give us free education and healthcare and to focus on Gross National Happiness. Your ideas reach out to community and the environment. They reach out to the poor and to the community. Here in Bhutan, it is clear we go beyond the bottom line.”
A Techstars Startup Weekend Bhutan For Women
In 2018, organizers of Techstars Startup Weekend Bhutan events realized that their participants were skewing heavily male: about 70%. This is, of course, an issue that plagues entrepreneurship and tech worldwide.
In late 2018, a team of passionate local organizers held Techstars Startup Weekend Bhutan (Women). As with the first ever Techstars Startup Weekend Bhutan, turnout was low: about 35 participants, 25 of them women. But if anything, enthusiasm was even higher than usual.
“Almost all the women participants pitched an idea. Women were very excited, keen in learning and in just 54 hours the transformation of women participants were so visible through their final presentation and showcasing of their prototype. The community building bond has been established so beautifully,” said Deepika Rai, Startup Weekend Bhutan Community Leader and ICT Professional at Department of IT & Telecom (DITT), Ministry of Information and Communications (MoIC).
Next Step: National Editions
With so much success in the first couple of years, the Techstars and local organizing teams were motivated to go even bigger. The next step: a national edition of Techstars Startup Weekend Bhutan, bringing together winning teams from Techstars Startup Weekends held at colleges around the country.
Building momentum for entrepreneurship? Check. Getting college students involved? Check. Growing startup culture across the nation? That, too.
The first national edition ran in the spring of 2018. Students from seven different colleges around the country pitched 600 business ideas the first night, and built out 157 businesses in the first round of the event. From these, the 20 best were selected to compete at the national edition.
In 2019 thus far, there have already been 14 Techstars Startup Weekends across Bhutan in 10 cities, around themes like education, HealthTech, FinTech, AR/VR, IoT, and construction. These events attracted a total of over 1000 participants, clearly demonstrating that among Bhutanese youth, interest in entrepreneurship is strong, and on the rise.
Bhutan’s current Prime Minister, Lotay Tshering, attended the finals, and live tweeted the pitches from the finalist teams as well as congratulations to the winners.
As Techstars Regional Manager for South & Central Asia, Anurag started out by attending every single Startup Weekend in Bhutan. But as more and more local organizers learned how the weekends worked, Anurag started hanging back. Today, he no longer needs to attend every event. He’s empowered local people and communities to facilitate their own Techstars Startup Weekends across Bhutan—and the events are thriving.
And that startup hustle? At the most recent Techstars Startup Weekend Bhutan, 120 people arrived two hours before the event kickoff.
A Truly Worldwide Network
When we say that Techstars is the worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed, we really do mean worldwide. While some new entrepreneurs are lucky enough to live in hotbeds of innovation where resources are plentiful and startup culture is the norm, others are farmers in Bhutan with a vision for showcasing their beautiful nation to eco-tourists. We believe that successful entrepreneurship can happen anywhere, and we support entrepreneurs literally everywhere.
If you ever think that you can’t be a successful entrepreneur because of where you live, or that your community can’t support a Techstars Startup Weekend—think of the fledgling entrepreneurs in Bhutan. You can do it. Techstars will help.
René Pons, co-founder of PPAP Manager, has founded a company in Mexico, run Techstars Startup Weekends across Central America, and gotten into Techstars Detroit. Everywhere he goes, René Gives First and strengthens the startup ecosystem.
In early July, a week before Techstars Detroit kicked off, TechCrunch ran an exclusive article announcing the new class of 10 companies that are, right now, enmeshed in their three month accelerator program. The article noted that the program name and focus have changed, from Techstars Mobility to Techstars Detroit: “Mobility is baked into Detroit, but Detroit is more than mobility.” The Detroit startup ecosystem is strengthening and expanding, and becoming ever more appealing to startup founders from around the world.
Techstars has believed in Detroit through the hard times—we announced the first Techstars mentorship-driven accelerator program in Detroit the same day the city came out of bankruptcy. Ever since, Techstars has been a part of building better times for the Comeback City, helping to grow the startup ecosystem, making connections that benefit corporations and startups alike, and attracting new companies to the region.
If you’re a startup that does business with automotive or manufacturing, you need to get to Detroit.
We’re beyond excited about every one of the 10 companies in the 2019 Techstars Detroit class, but one in particular has not just a great business, but a founder who lives the Techstars value #GiveFirst, and who has been a force for startup ecosystem building for years in his native Chihuahua, Mexico: René Pons, co-founder of PPAP Manager.
First, the company: PPAP Manager is a platform to streamline the approval of packets of documents required in the automotive industry, known as PPAP (Production Part Approval Process), to validate production parts.
There are 30,000 parts in your car, and every one of them journeyed a long distance, often passing through several sets of hands, before your vehicle arrived, shiny and new, in a dealer’s showroom. The global journey of each one of those 30,000 parts is documented by a PPAP.
PPAPs are crucial to safe car production because they are the quality assurance for its parts. Yet today, most PPAPs are handled using spreadsheets or google docs, solutions cobbled together by individuals at different companies. They’re not fast, they’re not efficient, and worst of all, they’re not trustworthy enough for such important information.
PPAP Manager aims to solve this problem for the global automotive industry by providing a single tool that documents parts as they go through all the many suppliers in the value chain, making these records both accessible and accurate, so that you know that the brakes on your car won’t fail. They’ve been checked. They’ve got a good PPAP tracing them back through production, assembly, and testing.
René has started a few companies, and he got the idea for PPAP Manager from his co-founders, Vinnie Delgado and Jeefb Santos, who have worked in the auto industry for more than 24+ years altogether. They were looking for opportunities in manufacturing that would solve a defined and important problem, and had plenty of room to scale. PPAPs provided exactly the right kind of opportunity.
“The land of opportunity for the automotive industry”
“PPAP Manager fits our investment thesis to a T,” said Ted Serbinski, Managing Director of Techstars Detroit. He saw the same opportunity that René did, loved the founding team, plus he knew what Techstars Detroit could do for the company. “PPAP Manager should be doing business in Detroit, and Techstars is the best way to make that connection,” Ted said.
Ted’s on a mission to change entrepreneurs’ perception of doing business in Detroit, and one of his favorite techniques is to bring in entrepreneurs from all over the world—and then let the city, and the Techstars experience, speak for themselves. In five years, he’s brought 54 startups to Detroit from eight different countries—the 2019 class alone is 60% international, with founders hailing from five countries outside the U.S.
“Detroit is the land of opportunity for the automotive industry.” —René Pons, Founder of PPAP Manager
For Ted, the message is clear: If you’re a startup that does business with automotive or manufacturing, you need to get to Detroit.
René agrees. “Detroit is the land of opportunity for the automotive industry,” he said. “There’s no better place for us to be.” René sees that more and more companies globally are trying to get standards working, and that Detroit is a great place to work with many of these global auto companies, to spread these standards quickly. René is hoping that Techstars Detroit will get PPAP Manager to a proof of concept in partnership with one or more of the program’s corporate partners—who he sees as hungry for the kind of quality assurance that his company can provide.
Power of the Network
René knows how important connections are—one aspect he values in the Techstars accelerator is its diverse corporate partners, including Lear Innovation Ventures, Ford X, AAA, Avanta Ventures, USAA, Nationwide, Honda Innovations, and PlanetM.
He knows the importance of great connections—to other entrepreneurs, mentors, and investors, as well as corporations—for helping startups grow because he’s seen this power, over and over again, as a Community Leader helping to run Techstars Startup Weekends across Central America. Since 2012, René has organized over a dozen Techstars Startup Weekends, most of them in Mexico, but also as a facilitator in Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, and one in Seville, Spain, when he was briefly living in Madrid and wanted to get involved in the local startup community. Two years ago, he organized six Techstar Startup Weekends at once, all in different cities, three in one weekend and three the next. He describes himself as “the crazy organizer who tries to do different stuff.”
René loves Techstars Startup Weekends because they change how people think, and then give them the tools and connections to start putting that change into action. “The first thing we need in Latin America is to change the way we are thinking,” René said. “We don’t have enough people building or starting new companies. People need to realize that they can take control of their lives and start solving the problems that they see.”
He sees the first step as getting people to try new things—like attending a Techstars Startup Weekend—and from this experience, new entrepreneurs and new companies will grow. René is happiest when he sees the locals in a community step up and start working. As a Techstars Community Leader, he knows the formula for a Startup Weekend, and his goal is to get the event rolling in each new community, and then leave the team there to keep it going. This is how the events—and the entrepreneurial spirit they engender—spread.
“You learn a lot by getting involved and Giving First.”— René Pons, Founder of PPAP Manager
To René, Detroit is a model for where he hopes to see Latin American cities get to, with an evolving startup ecosystem and lots of opportunity for making connections and building businesses.
Give First Wherever You Go
And, of course, René plans to get involved in the Detroit startup ecosystem, above and beyond participating in the accelerator program. “Wherever we go, we need to get involved. I’m looking forward to knowing people and to start sharing with them and learning from them,” René said.
René lives the Techstars value Give First, and he practices it wherever he goes. “You learn a lot by getting involved and Giving First,” René said. “The connections you get from being there and sharing with the community—you cannot put a price on it.”
How Startup Ecosystems Grow
At first glance, Chihuahua and Detroit may not seem to have much in common. But now they share René Pons, and that’s a bond that will show results, we suspect. Maybe one day soon, they’ll both be known as startup hubs—growing companies, attracting talent, and transforming their regional economies. Entrepreneurship is powerful.
Detroit has become a place that startups want to move to. Five years ago, post-bankruptcy, Detroit was a hard sell for startups. Today the supportive startup ecosystem and the affordable cost of living make it a desirable—and smart—place to start a business.
René and PPAP Manager have moved from Chihuahua to Detroit for the three months of the accelerator program, and René plans to get involved in the local ecosystem. It may even make good business sense to keep PPAP Manager in Detroit long term.
But that doesn’t mean René has abandoned his home, or the Chihuahua startup ecosystem. Long term, his dream is to invest in small companies in small cities all over Mexico. “There’s lots of talent with great ideas in Mexico,” he said, “But they don’t have the money to build a prototype. At that early stage, these companies need more support.” René wants to give that support, and be an angel or seed investor who helps make this startup ecosystem go.
Ask Chris Heivly, Techstars VP of Innovation, about how startup ecosystems develop, and he’ll tell you that “ecosystem development is all based on success through a thousand nudges.” Connectors and believers like Ted and René provide these nudges constantly, doing their part to grow their ecosystems.
They believe that entrepreneurs create a better future, and they’re doing their part to make that better future—one PPAP, one Techstars Startup Weekend, one company, one accelerator, one city at a time.
By Matej Michalko, Founder and CEO of DECENT
We at DECENT are investing in educating communities about the different ways that blockchain can be leveraged to make the world a better place. For example, in 2018, we worked with Techstars to bring a Techstars Startup Weekend Decentralize to Boulder. At this 54-hour event, participants pitched ideas for how to put blockchain to use, from improving infrastructure to bringing more equity into the insurance industry. However, one area we didn’t see discussed was how blockchain can restore trust in charities.
We all want to #GiveFirst and know that what we give is going to the right place, and blockchain can make this happen.
Charities Misuse Funds, Donors Become Mistrustful
In 2010, people gave half a billion dollars to the Red Cross to support victims after a terrible earthquake in Haiti. The Red Cross claimed to provide homes for more than 130,000 people with these funds, but in 2015, Propublica and NPR reported that most of that money did not go toward helping Haitians after this disaster, and only six permanent homes had been built. Also in 2015, the New York Times reported that four cancer charities—known collectively as the Reynolds Cancer Charities—took donations of nearly $200 million intended to support cancer patients and used these funds primarily for personal expenses.
These shameful examples left the public suspicious of charities. Trust in Charities 2018, a report from the Charity Commission for England and Wales, found an average level of trust in charities at 5.5 out of 10, with 45% of respondents self-reporting that their trust in charities has decreased—a dramatic increase of 12% compared to 2016.
Security, Transparency, Reliability
Blockchain can add much-needed security, transparency, and reliability into processes where those elements are important, like charitable giving. Here’s how:
1. Eliminate Corruption
All transactions on blockchain are available to public audit. This allows for donations to be tracked transparently, granting the donors direct information on when, how, and who handles their contributions. Users can put their trust in the fact that transactions are executed precisely as the protocol commands, removing the need for a third party. Changes to public blockchains are publicly viewable by all parties, which creates transparency, and transactions are immutable, meaning they cannot be altered or deleted. Donors want to see where the money goes and how it is used, and with blockchain, they can do exactly that.
2. Diminish Unnecessary Costs
Third-party intermediaries often eat into donations in the form of transaction fees or fees for payments. Blockchain can help charities avoid intermediaries and aggregators, and keep more money for the intended use. This can maximize the impact of the funds raised, and incentivize donors to continue supporting good causes with confidence.
In addition, charities will no longer need to depend on institutions like banks or various government agencies that may apply shady practices while handling the donated funds.
3. Turn One-Time Donors into Repeat Donors
The online fundraising platform Charity Checkout published a 2018 report on The Future of Online Giving, and found that nearly 90% of donors would rather donate through a charity’s website than a third-party fundraising platform. The report also found that “almost half of those donating directly via a charity’s website agreed or strongly agreed that they would be more likely to give again; this is compared to just 19 percent of donors saying they would give again after using third-party fundraising platforms.”
When charities use blockchain technology and accept donations on their own websites, they’re meeting donor preferences—and increasing repeat donations.
4. No Geographic Limitations and Real-Time Transfers
Blockchain works on an entirely decentralized basis. This means that it poses no geographic limitations for donors or charities, making cross-border payments seamless and much less expensive. Contrast this with traditional systems, like banks, which require any transferred funds to go through a single SWIFT network. A peer-to-peer-enabled system, like blockchain, can make it easy for charities to break down borders, allowing blockchain-created cryptocurrencies to be utilized from any country around the world.
Donations also take place in real time, with some of the more technologically mature blockchains being able to process upwards of thousands of transactions per second, eliminating atrocious waiting periods. This makes giving much more appealing for people who want to see their funds being received and used right away.
Re-establishing Trust Through Transparency
These are all important benefits. But the most important element for re-establishing public trust in charities is the transparency of blockchain.
For charities, this means that donations can be released quickly and transparently to those in need. Charitable donations can be tracked within the public ledger, making it visible for anyone to see exactly how the funds are distributed. Ultimately, this protects both the donor and the charitable institution accepting the donations from manipulated transaction records and any possible sanctions.
By utilizing cryptography and nodes which are distributed and decentralized, blockchain can ensure that these transactions are secured and immutable. By following protocols which intrinsically govern blockchain, known as smart contracts, donors are left with a sense of assurance between the trusted parties (i.e., the charity and donors). In their essence, smart contracts are fundamentally blockchain-enabled security protocols that ensure that a contract is fulfilled as per agreement. This can ensure that such contracts don’t get breached.
The New Kid On The Block
Blockchain is still the new kid on the block, often compared to the Internet in 1995, but it offers benefits that are hard to dismiss. The technology has experienced significant growth over just the past few years. Some charities are already taking advantage of these benefits to do good in the world, such as Alice, Humanity Token, AidCoin, and many more.
The number of blockchain charity projects is growing, and this is good for everyone: good for donors, good for people in need, and good for the charities that want to lend a helping hand. We look forward to seeing where else blockchain will solve problems and gain wide public adoption.
After all, the internet in 1995 may not have been too impressive—but the people and companies that saw its potential went on to change the world.
Friendly neighbors, wide open spaces, fresh air—the benefits of rural living are real. And now, with the trend toward remote working and co-working spaces strong and growing, tech companies are realizing that they can work with talented people who live anywhere, including small towns.
At Techstars, we believe you can build a great company anywhere, and we are here to support this new workforce migration. To do so, we are working with community leaders from across the States to support the first ever Techstars Startup Weekend Small Town Advantage Initiative, and we are super excited about it.
Techstars Startup Weekend is a hyper-inclusive, 54-hour event that lets you experience the highs, lows, fun, and pressure that make up life at a startup. The program is centered on action, innovation, education, and discovery. Participants give 60 second pitches of their company ideas on Friday night, and then everyone forms teams around the top ideas. The rest of the weekend is devoted to mentorship, workshops—and getting out of the building to validate ideas, develop prototypes, and finally pitch the companies on Sunday night to a panel of judges. The experience is exhilarating, exhausting, and life changing!
June 21, 2019, is the kickoff, when small towns from around the United States begin coming together to raise awareness of the untapped tech talent pipelines in their communities and to break the stereotypes around what rural communities have to offer the global economy. These community leaders want people to realize that with high-speed connectivity in their communities, there are no barriers to working remote tech roles. They’ll also be celebrating the advantages that rural areas offer, like how easy it is to get things done and cut through red tape in small communities where everyone knows, and supports, one another.
We’d like to take this opportunity to highlight to these incredible community leaders bringing Techstars Startup Weekend Small Town Advantage Initiative to life in their communities!
- Thadeus Giedd with Zeal Center for Entrepreneurship
- Joe Bartmann with Dakota Resources
- Brad Attig with Foundry Collective
- Kate Schwalzer with Indy Commons
- Tricia Teague with Trep School
- David Tominsky with The New Bohemian Innovation Collaborative
- Carol Nichols with Illinois Small Business Center Danville Community College
- Tinisha Shade with Vermilion Advantage
- Michelle Campbell with Neuhoff Media
For the events kicking off on June 21, check out these community pages for more information and tickets:
“Techstars Startup Weekend saved my life, literally!” said Synergy Space Founder and Techstars Startup Weekend Facilitator Sean Paul Shanor. It would be difficult to find a more enthusiastic advocate for these events, and he’s always willing to do whatever it takes to make another happen: “As a thank you and to spark as many as possible, I have every single weekend open to facilitate any event, anywhere on the planet. I’m in. Just ask.”
It was his mother who got Sean Paul to his first Techstars Startup Weekend (“thanks, Mom!”). After over a decade working in event operations and management, running major pro golf events around the world, Sean lost his “passion for life,” as he put it, and went home to Norway to find himself. One Friday evening, his mother kicked him out of the house, telling him, “Go to this thing called Startup Weekend. Looks like something you might enjoy.”
Catching the Startup Bug
For Sean Paul, the experience was a revelation: “First time in my life exposed to a 60-second pitch. Building websites and products in hours, not months. Brainstorming ideas and thoughts on a whiteboard. Feeling the openness and curiosity flourish. Meeting others in the same boat. Becoming aware of an entire ecosystem full of people willing to help, guide, and teach. In short, I got the startup bug. I found a new piece of myself to explore, and to this day I have never looked back.”
Ever since that first Techstars Startup Weekend, entrepreneurship has been Sean Paul’s driving force. But for him, it’s less about starting companies himself than about helping others. “I’m passionate about entrepreneurship,” Sean Paul said. “But infinitely more passionate about sharing my experiences and teaching others how they can become entrepreneurs. How anyone can be the impact they wish to be. It’s just a matter of choice.”
Living Give First
Sean Paul lives the Techstars value Give First. He segments his time in order to balance his priorities, and make sure he makes time for everything he considers most important. “I am privileged in being able to design an 80/20 balance for work,” Sean Paul explained. “80% is spent coaching individuals and teams, facilitating workshops, pitch training, and giving keynotes to inspire action—and finally, relaunching my own startup, Synergy Space. This allows me to fully volunteer 20% to help student projects and Techstars Startup Weekends.”
This is simply a response to Sean Paul’s deep belief that “everyone is an entrepreneur at heart. It’s just a matter of giving everyone a chance, teaching, and providing guidance where it’s needed the most.”
In Sean Paul’s view of humanity, “We are all entrepreneurial inside.” He sees many different ways this can play out. As he explained: “This applies to yourself as a living and breathing human, as an intrapreneur shaking up corporates positively, as a game-changing leader and cofounder. All require you to be strong on the inside, understand yourself and those around you, to listen, to learn, to fail, to get up and try again.”
And in case you were wondering whether Sean Paul might want to come to your next Techstars Startup Weekend, he said again: “I am not kidding when I say I am here for penciling-in any Techstars Startup Weekend, anywhere!”
by Chris Heivly, Entrepreneur in Residence at Techstars
My children are all adults now (that does not mean I am done being a parent) and I am reminded of one of my pet peeves that siblings seem to do all the time. That pet peeve is complaining about what they did not get as compared to what their sibling received. I used to call it the compare game and my kids all knew that was a hot button for me and thus to not use that in any of their arguments.
I find that that the same compare game is weaseling itself back into my soul as I work with startup communities around the world. We have all seen this in the rankings of various startup communities. I too am both a victim and purveyor of this. I am sorry, I am trying to rid myself of the ploy.
One of my mantras is this: Startup communities are like children—they should never be compared.
You see, on one hand, community leaders need a way to evaluate how well they are doing. On the other hand, the same leaders get caught up in using other communities’ attributes as a marker or milestone to set up goals for their community.
I feel like I am back listening to my children again. “If Jessie got a new pair of ice skates, then I should get a new pair, too!” Never mind that her sister did not ice skate or even care that much for ice skating.
In community speak, it might sound something like this, “Columbus, Ohio has a $100M new venture fund, I should get one, too,” says every Midwest city.
I firmly believe that the source of this thinking is rooted in a very simple motivation—we don’t know how to do this, and if something works for someone else, I need to do it too. By the way, we have no idea if that action on the part of the Columbus community will do anything to help inspire more entrepreneurs or help build better companies or result in more jobs.
Startup community building is a nuanced game with a thousand small actions that hopefully conspire to create an environment where great things can happen. It’s that simple—and that complex.
Passionate about building your community? Take a much closer look at the tools, the actions, the activities that community builders are deploying, and dig in deep as to their actual efficacy. Then experiment in your own community and see what helps move your community forward.
Building a startup community in your city? Try organizing a Techstars Startup Weekend. All the other startup communities are doing it.
Who are you?
I’m Greg Monterrosa, born and raised in South-Central LA. About 10 years ago I launched a startup that outgrew me. I hired my replacement and the business is still thriving. Since then, I’ve recognized my passion for helping others get their start. It all began at a Techstars Startup Weekend, when I saw the direct impact of supporting others. Four years ago some friends and I organized the first Techstars Startup Weekend event in our community, the Conejo Valley (North Los Angeles). It changed my life. Soon after the event I booked a one way flight to France, where I found myself mentoring at four different Techstars Startup Weekends. That cemented how important it was for me to maintain a global network.
While I was away, Cal Lutheran University Center for Entrepreneurship—where we hosted our Techstars Startup Weekend—contacted me to help them bring their space to life and open its doors to community members, and Hub101 was born. I picked up a copy of Brad Feld’s book “Startup Communities,” and it’s become required reading for all staff and community leaders—it’s become our bible. Over two years we’ve grown a community of about 150 people at Hub101, and we’re continuing to foster connections that tie early stage startups into economic development and beyond.
Why do you do what you do?
I am living my purpose, which is to empower people. It’s refreshing to surround myself by inspiring doers. I can also see the impact we’re making. To date we’ve created over 50 high paying jobs. Historically, people have used funding as a metric, but our community is a bit different. We’re hyper-focused on empowering our members to seek the people they serve, their customers. It’s amazing to see the people we serve at Hub101 want to give back to the space that helped them get their start.
What’s new for greater Los Angeles?
We’re excited to bring Hub101 to other underserved communities and are working on a second location in Ventura, which was recently affected by the Thomas Fires, and we’re working on launching a third location at a major mall. We are committed to bringing startup communities to places where they don’t exist, utilizing programs like Techstars Startup Weekend and playbooks like “Startup Communities.” Recently one our community members, Beth Sidenberg, formerly a general partner at Kleiner Perkins, launched Westlake Bio Partners, a $320 million fund, to support early stage biotech companies in the area.
Any final remarks?
If you’re a Techstars Startup Weekend organizer in a rural town or a place that is struggling, please reach out to me. I’m happy to meet with you and your team to map out where you’re at, and let’s talk out how we can help your community grow. To that end, I’m also looking for a mentor myself. If you’re a community leader reading this and think you can add value to what we’re up to at Hub101 or to my personal journey I’d welcome a note. Feel free to connect with my on instagram at @GregMetro!
By Chris Heivly, Entrepreneur in Residence at Techstars
For a brief, shining moment, I was in the fire suppression business, so I know a little about fire. Fire needs three elements: spark, material, and oxygen. That is why you keep your door closed when there is a fire outside the room—don’t feed it more oxygen.
When I meet with startup community enthusiasts, we talk about the factors that seem to grow a community and the factors that seem to inhibit progress. If we could only do more of the right thing and less of the wrong things maybe we could build a little momentum.
Every community has its challenges. Some of the ones I hear are:
- We do not have enough capital;
- There are leaders who try and control everything;
- I can’t find any good mentors;
- The local corporations do not engage with startups;
- We don’t have any breakout companies.
These are real challenges and each one plays a negative role. But here’s the thing—in itself, publicly and privately bitching about these issues also has a negative role to play. I know this is human nature. I also know we need to address the issue.
Those complaints just gave the challenges more oxygen. And now we have a bigger fire.
Negative community talk creates doubt and has a direct impact on each member of the community. At the very least we need to balance the challenge discussions with the positive milestone stories.
Are you an active member of your startup community? Find yourself spending just a little too much time whining about what you don’t have? Try and minimize those conversations, and try celebrating a few more of the advances you have made.
One great advance for any growing startup community is a Techstars Startup Weekend. Organize one in your city!
By Chris Heivly, Entrepreneur in Residence at Techstars
There are many aspects of life where more is better, and as such there are many times we employ strategies to maximize the more. A few examples that many of us live by are:
- Priceless Art
- Profound experiences
- Time with loved ones
- Goals in ice hockey (ok, maybe just me)
In terms of startup community building, there are a plethora of activities that local leaders utilize to create lift. (For clarity, I am using the word “activities” in a very broad sense.) These may include:
- Coffee meetups (1 Million Cups)
- Grant programs
- Pitch competitions
- Learn to code academies
- Networking socials
- Startup weekends
- Recruitment events
- Venture funds
- Community blogs
The list literally goes on and on. Developing communities are first challenged to convene the various actors across the ecosystem. This has an immediate positive impact as the tribe begins to organize. Participate in this over a few months and some momentum begins to build.
As a community matures, activities naturally increase as newly motivated leaders step up and attempt to fill various voids. In many mature communities, there may be as many as two to three events every week.
I find the number, the diversity, and the cadence of these activities to be one of the critical signals as to the maturity of a community.
But beware. There is a trap that evolves in some minds that if the first handful of activities start to build some very visible momentum, then more activities would have an even larger effect. Unfortunately there is a ceiling to the number of activities and the subsequent impact.
In terms of startup community building, the more is better strategy has a very visible limit to its effectiveness. Once a critical mass of organizing these basic activities is achieved (and there are different trigger points for different communities), then the strategy should shift to building more meaningful activities.
Looking for a great startup community building event? Find—or organize!—a Techstars Startup Weekend in your community.