May 4th, 2020
Taylor McLemore is Managing Director of the Techstars Workforce Accelerator. He is an entrepreneur, scale and growth executive, investor, venture advisor to family offices, and community builder. Taylor cofounded Codeable, a coding school, that is innovating on career transformation in Latin America and income share agreements for education financing. Taylor founded Patriot Boot Camp — a nonprofit established in partnership with Techstars and Governor Jared Polis that has built a community of 1,000+ Military Veteran and Military Spouse founders to support their entrepreneurial journeys through education and mentorship. He graduated from Davidson College and lives with his family in Denver, CO.
At Techstars, we focus on founders. The following are the specific trait’s we’re looking for in sourcing startups for the first year of the Techstars Workforce Development Accelerator.
Founder conviction and tenacity are critical because it takes years to build a company that solves hard and important problems. These founders wake up energized by their mission. They exhibit a natural responsibility to manage the innumerable details required to achieve success, and they have the tenacity to continue when times get tough. Founder conviction is a more powerful motivator than financial gains.
Balanced, cohesive, and resilient teams are best suited to persevere and build industry-leading companies on the long road of the entrepreneurial journey.
Earned wisdom - i.e. skills and perspective earned through successes and failures across a diversity of life experiences. It is important that founders have earned wisdom that acts as a competitive advantage in their target market.
Human-centric founders. The Techstars Workforce Development Accelerator’s mission is human-centric, supporting and investing in founders to build impact and value at the intersection of education, education funding, labor markets, business productivity, employer-employee success, social capital networks, and the future of work.
Builder mentality. Founders must love the act of building, rebuilding, creating, and iterating. The best builders want to constantly improve how and what they build, so we look for a dedication to learning and growth in founders.
It is also important to Techstars and the Workforce Development Accelerator program to acknowledge the global COVID-19 crisis impacting billions of people. These current challenges make the mission of our program more important than ever before. When thinking of innovation in education and workforce development, the horizon for change and improvement can feel many years or even decades away. In this crisis, startup founders are being offered a challenge: how can we accelerate the solutions and innovations needed by millions of students, workers, and employers from the distant future to now. Now more than ever, we need innovative founders and startups to provide solutions to crucial issues arising from this global pandemic.
As founders, the most important legacy is our impact on those we work with and bring together over the course of our entrepreneurial journeys. Brands, well-known products, and exits might be part of your impact — but how you treat others, lead, and build lasting relationships is more important. If this truth resonates and you embrace it, you and your startup will build more capable teams, stronger customer relationships, and resilient communities.
I’ve experienced this first-hand with the companies I mentor and support across the Patriot Boot Camp community. There is nothing more exciting than seeing a founder succeed and identify their next venture. In fact, the current CEO of Patriot Boot Camp, Jen Pilcher, is an alumna from one of our earliest programs. After building an impressive company and exiting through an acquisition, she was exploring new opportunities at the same time we at PBC were searching for a CEO. Jen stood out as the top candidate, and her personal connection to our mission and our existing trust-based relationship elevated her candidacy. It’s connections like these and opportunities to connect, and reconnect, people in our networks that build legacy: pursuing important missions and building companies of impact with good people.
This cuts the other way as well: unfortunately, the majority of startups do not survive. This can have very real emotional and economic impacts on founders, employees, and investors. For a founder shutting down their startup, the sense of failure is commonly overwhelming. In strong startup communities, the reality of startups failing is understood and seen as a transition point. I have never been more proud of the Patriot Boot Camp community than in moments like these. I’ve seen community members rally behind one another and help each other find the next opportunity. These actions are a true and pure example of Give First.
Also important - have fun. Building a startup of impact and scale is challenging but rewarding. Take the time to enjoy the process and show gratitude to those around you on the journey.
Denver and Colorado are chock-full of new and veteran founders that believe in helping each other and building inclusive communities. Techstars started in Colorado, and it’s amazing to look back at the impact it’s had in the state. This speaks to the company as a whole, but also about the startup community that it’s helped to develop in the Boulder and Denver areas. I experienced this firsthand when requesting support for Patriot Boot Camp. When I make an ask, people jump at the opportunity to be mentors, offer their offices as event space, and contribute financially as sponsors.
I also recommend working in a beautiful place — nothing beats Colorado!
ZOMALAB, Strada Education Network and Colorado Thrives are collectively committed to innovation in workforce development, with each partner bringing their own unique perspectives, resources, and contributions to this program.
ZOMALAB believes that every individual should have the opportunity to build a quality career. This means having access to tools and resources to make informed choices and get relevant skills, training, and education affordably. ZOMALAB will support participating companies by bringing a network of successful experts across workforce, education, and investment sectors as well as experience with public-private partnerships.
Strada Education Network recognizes that workplace skills training, in addition to completing a college education, are critical to long-term employment success. This Foundation will support participating companies by sharing their in-depth research on the future of work and views of precision learning and connecting them to a network of educators, employers, policymakers, and collaborating entities.
Committed to advancing Colorado as an inspiring and inclusive community, Colorado Thrives will provide founders access to, and insights from, 13 of the state’s largest employers and similar organizations. Participating companies will have access to mentorship from Colorado Thrive’s executives, who will be opening their doors to share their experience and pain points across workforce development efforts and initiatives. Through the partnership, Colorado Thrives will assist in selecting two local nonprofit organizations to participate in the accelerator program alongside the 10 selected startups.
In addition to experience-based research, all Workforce Accelerator partners will offer mentorship that will accelerate participating Workforce startups. Mentors from these organizations are industry experts as well as believers that startups can solve the most important and challenging problems in the workforce space.
As Brad Feld and David Cohen say on the Give First podcast, “Give First means simply trying to help anyone, especially entrepreneurs, with no expectation of getting anything back. It's the pay-it-forward principle that builds strong startup networks."
Give First has profoundly influenced my career. In 2011, I had an idea: we, the startup community, could and should do more to support military veterans on their entrepreneurial journey. I did not know David Cohen at the time, so I shared my idea with him via a tweet and this very simple blog post. I thought, at best, my idea might plant a seed with David and Techstars. To my surprise, David responded and we kicked the idea around for a while, and he ultimately challenged me to take the lead on such a project, offering his support and collaboration with Techstars. We did not have any goal other than serving those that had served our nation, connecting them with the best mentors and resources in the startup community. David helped move me from idea to action and together we embarked on building a weekend bootcamp program. We held no expectations of what we would get back, but the motivation of helping others pushed the program forward and brought together additional supporters from inside and outside the military community. Over the last decade, this idea has turned into a nonprofit, Patriot Boot Camp. What was first just an idea is now a network of 1,000+ military veteran and military spouse entrepreneurs helping each other and connecting with mentors and corporate innovators, all living Give First.
My life is richer for the relationships I have gained from the Patriot Boot Camp community. Give First, it works — trust me!