5 Questions with Warren Katz, Managing Director of the Air Force Accelerator Powered by Techstars

March 1st, 2020


2-min read


Warren Katz is Managing Director of the Air Force Accelerator Powered by Techstars , a partnership to increase engagement between commercial startups and the U.S. Department of Defense. Immediately prior to that, he was President of Neurala, a leading Artificial Intelligence company that develops The Neurala Brain, an edge-based AI framework with continuous learning. He co-founded MÄK Technologies in 1990, a leading supplier of military simulation software, which was acquired by VT Systems of Alexandria, Virginia in December 2006. He is an avid mentor and angel investor with expertise in how to fund companies using government contracts.

01. What are the key elements you look for when sourcing startups for the Air Force Accelerator Powered by Techstars ?

The company must have a product or service that clearly has both a large potential commercial market and a valid DoD use case. Then I look at whether the IP is defensible, the company has any market validation, and the team has at least one person on it who is tenacious, the more obsessive the better.

02. What are some of the biggest learnings from your career and entrepreneurial journey that you bring to being a Techstars MD?

I was the founder and CEO of a startup company for 22 years. The company was profitable for most of that time, and we bootstrapped the company on government contracts, never raising outside capital. Though I’m an engineer by training, the most important lesson I’ve learned in my life is that all decisions are emotional. People then go find the facts and figures necessary to rationalize the emotional decision they’ve already arrived at.

03. What is your favorite thing about the Boston startup scene?

There is just SO MUCH going on in the Boston startup scene. All the elements of a healthy ecosystem are here in abundance: entrepreneurial founders, flood of IP coming out of universities, abundant investment capital, large pool of talent at all levels, intellectually stimulating, vibrant city that’s a huge attraction for outsiders to migrate to.

04. What do our partners, The Air Force and BAE Systems, bring to the accelerator?

The Air Force brings a wealth of business opportunities, especially for high-risk early enterprises. They also have subject matter expertise and global reach. BAE brings deep industry expertise, early adopter capital for high-risk projects, and also global reach.

05. Describe a situation with a startup founder or team where you felt like you made a difference.

SmileML from the 2019 class had an AI product for emotional recognition. When they entered the program they thought that consumer product analytics was going to be their best market. After 10 weeks of program they were discouraged that the market wasn’t that excited about such a capability. Then, when all seemed gloomy, one of our mentors asked them to look into analysis of facial expressions during sales calls. After some quick market research the company pivoted into real time sales call analytics and is launching a product into the sales tool market. They would not have discovered this massive market opportunity were it not for the primordial soup of the Techstars environment.


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