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.
As anyone who’s connected to the startup scene knows, starting and growing a company can be a lonely endeavor. When I founded a company several years ago in West Hartford, Connecticut, I was extremely fortunate to build relationships with leading organizations, to provide solutions that mattered, and to raise capital.
After two rounds of funding, I found myself in a whirlwind. My company was acquired by an industry leader, which shortly thereafter asked me and some members of my team to relocate to Boston. Since then, I have had countless opportunities to help the company with digital innovation, software development, process mapping, infrastructure modernizations and outreach into the startup community. In the past year, I’ve also joined the Board of Directors at a growing equity-backed company doing amazing things, and serve on an advisory board for another.
Techstars: A Worldwide Network
Techstars is a company I remember reading about and admiring in 2010 when I was working on my own company, but I wasn’t quite sure how to work with them from where I was at the time. Since then, they’ve continued to grow at a phenomenal rate, with countless success stories (SendGrid, DigitalOcean, etc.) and truly are the worldwide network helping entrepreneurs succeed.
If I had the opportunity, I know I would have greatly benefited from participating in an accelerator with Techstars as I was building my business, and am excited by the idea of helping other entrepreneurs work with Techstars now. So when I recently learned that they were launching an accelerator in Hartford, CT with a Fortune 500 company and industry leader Stanley Black and Decker (NYSE: SWK), I was intrigued.
The Hartford area is filled with smart, educated people who are doing big things across many industries. But it doesn’t have quite the startup scene of Boston or NYC… yet!
A Central, Vibrant Location
I moved to Connecticut in middle school, and have loved it ever since. After college, I spent time in other places including Rhode Island, Oregon and New York City, but when my husband and I mapped out where we wanted to ‘settle down’, we made our way to the Hartford area. Equidistant between New York City and Boston, Hartford is filled with many notable companies, has access to major universities, is loaded with history and a downtown that continues to be revitalized.
Innovating Additive Manufacturing
Additive Manufacturing, the industrial version of 3D printing, is in use for many companies already. In the past few years, advances in the space have started to radically shift how companies are using the technology, and the application of it has the potential for massive disruption. In fact, industry research from IDTechEx indicates the market may reach $40 billion by 2027. In the past two years, there have been significant investments in additive manufacturing companies and some acquisitions.
With additive manufacturing, companies can now share parts more easily across digital networks. But this same ease of transmission also creates an opportunity for stakeholders to consider the security and protection of data along the supply chain. Potential applications for the use of additive manufacturing are endless and include prototyping, advances in materials, and tooling. This vertical has created a new opportunity for startups seeking to understand and improve systems, or in some cases, to disrupt them. Forward thinking companies like Stanley Black and Decker are being strategic in identifying what innovations are happening out in the field and investigating ways to work with them.
The #givefirst mission of Techstars, combined with Stanley Black and Decker’s objective of finding innovative companies in the additive manufacturing space, got my attention and drove me to action. The entrepreneurial strength of an organization like Techstars and the industry expertise of a company like Stanley Black and Decker is certain to attract innovative, groundbreaking companies ready to disrupt business as usual. This combination of strengths will lead to an exciting accelerator and make great things happen for startups, for Hartford and for Stanley Black and Decker.
We can’t predict what any one company will develop, or the impact that it will have. And while ideas are many, execution is the key to success. So I’m energized by and appreciative of the opportunity to join Techstars to help find companies who are inspired and motivated to build the next great thing, and I look forward to the long term impact they will have.
I’m nervous. Public speaking is listed as a top fear among the vast majority of the world, right next to spiders and heights. Good thing there are no spiders around, right?
Standing on stage at the El Rey theater I look out across the venue to see Anna Barber, Managing Director for the Techstars LA program, along with the rest of the founders eagerly awaiting a turn to pitch their startup. We’re at dress rehearsal working out the final kinks before demo day, an event where top venture capitalists will come to see what the inaugural LA class has to offer. In typical Ross fashion, I keep my nerves at bay by being silly.
Hi, I’m Matt Damon… and I’m here to talk about cats.
People laugh, though I get an unamused stare back from Anna indicating that I should stay focused and get through my pitch. I start again, this time for real.
Our industry builds technology for humans, but maybe we forget what that means sometimes.
I forget my next line…
I’ve had my fare share of ups and downs since leaving Google. But Techstars is the best decision we made to give Maslo a proper start. The model for the accelerator is simple: in exchange for six percent of your company, they give you the best resources in the world to help your business start and succeed. Over the entrance, a big neon sign shines “Give First” — and we’d soon come to understand just how much Techstars lives by this principal.
The awesome Techstars LA staff: Jose, Robert, Anna, Ethan, and Olivia.
Give First is the belief that guides the Techstars community in an effort to give startups hands on mentorship from founders, partners, investors, and business leaders, with no specific expectations in return. And their numbers are compelling. In the 10 years Techstars has been around they’ve guided founders to raise more than four-billion-dollars in venture capital, helping entrepreneurs solve important problems.
I’m no stranger to Techstars. As a lead at Sphero, I had the opportunity to learn alongside cofounders Adam and Ian as they went through the Disney Accelerator. The partnership was a success. The Disney connection allowed Sphero to launch more than eight Disney robots, most notably the quirky BB-8 Droid from Star Wars. That opportunity let me see first hand how powerful the experience could be, so I was eager to repeat again, albeit in a much more central fashion as the cofounder of Maslo.
Sphero founders pitch at Techstars Boulder demo day in 2010. That’s me in the blue shirt with a photobomb.
Now, in the LA program, we have an endless amount of work to do and things to learn. Weekends are seen as optional work days where Cristina Poindexter and I dedicate most of our time building a business. We work late into the night as regulars of the ‘late night crew’ — a group of the founders whose interests in their companies cross that line between work and life.
It was in these hours when Cristina discovered my various voice accents, which were often fueled by the 5 hour energy drinks I’d consume. For the record, she charted 7 distinct voices. And I learned that Cristina needed to be outside in nature on a daily basis, even if it was short walks around the Techstars office where she’d return with flowers and leaves I’d never noticed before in Los Angeles.
Hey, can I tell you about my startup?
Starting a business is tough. You become painfully aware of everything you’re bad at. Which is why a cofounder is a must. We keep each other accountable and have a lot of fun in the process — growing and learning. Some of the most valuable lessons were the ones that come from time spent with patient mentors. Mentor feedback is always paradoxical, but memorable, like when Nicole Glaros said to get curious the first week of the program.
As the youngest company in the program, we had a lot of catching up to do. We came with a basic prototype and a big idea. Everything else was built from scratch. In the span of three months, the vision grew and so did our team. The team came from amazing professional backgrounds like Disney, Google, Apple, Sphero, and Vimeo, but more than the logos on our resume was the collective curiosity and love for the creative process. Great ideas are nothing unless you can bring a team together.
Even then, dreams don’t work unless you do.
The founders of Maslo at Techstars LA demo day rehearsal.
I’m on stage searching for my next line and glance over to Cristina who looks at me with a hint of encouragement. I shift my gaze back to the room full of founders and notice them looking on with reassurance. I remember my line.
What if technology could function as we do — with an understanding of emotions, social skills, and psychology?
As I finish the pitch and walk off stage, I feel an intense gratitude come over me. Tomorrow we’ll face an endless amount of struggles that will test us in ways we can never imagine. However, it’s important that we keep pushing. It’s been difficult, but being surrounded by amazing people — mentors, founders, and staff — made the long days feel short and turned three months into an experience I’ll never forget.
Growth comes to those who are willing to put in the time and effort.
Techstars is searching for the best startups in the world. We’re hitting the road Monday, February 5 to visit startup communities and meet your team. Join us to meet Techstars alumni, managing directors, program managers, mentors, and community leaders to learn more about entrepreneurship. This is your chance to connect with the Techstars team and learn about the exciting new programs we are kicking off in 2018.
The Techstars Mentorship-Driven Accelerator programs have expanded to 25 cities in 10 countries. Helping these entrepreneurs succeed is a network of almost 1,300 alumni companies, 4,000 mentors and a worldwide team, resulting in a $11.4 billion portfolio market cap.
Applications are now open for 18 Techstars Mentorship-Driven Accelerator programs. Our teams are excited to meet you and learn more about your company!
Find your city below and RSVP to meet the Techstars team!
Today, Techstars, the worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed, announced the leading verticals for its Q1 2018 accelerator programs. More companies that focus on SaaS, Marketplace and AI/AR/VR joined Techstars Mentorship-driven Accelerators this quarter than any other verticals, followed by EdTech, aerospace, and HR startup companies.
Overall, more than 120 companies joined Techstars’ Q1 2018 programs, which take place in cities around the world including Austin, Boulder, Dubai, Seattle, New York City, Boston, Berlin and Los Angeles — not to mention our mostly virtual program, Techstars Anywhere.
It’s fantastic to see our accelerator portfolio grow with this promising group of entrepreneurs. While we see demonstrated concentration in a few trending technologies like SaaS and Marketplace, we see a wide range of tech companies entering the Techstars network, continuing to grow our portfolio’s breadth and depth.
Between the horizontal focus of our city programs, like the Techstars Boulder Accelerator, and our vertical programs, like the Techstars Autonomous Technology Accelerator with the U.S. Air Force, we continue to attract the best entrepreneurs all over the world.
Additionally, Techstars’ Q1 2018 programs accepted companies focusing on genomics, sensors, robotics, hardware, energy, and many others. By investing in startups disrupting new fields, like genomics and sensors, we are continuing to diversify and expand the Techstars accelerator portfolio.
Below is a breakdown of the six leading verticals for Techstars’ Q1 2018 programs:
SaaS technologies continue to be one of the best known segments of cloud computing. Below are the latest SaaS companies to enter Techstars accelerator programs around the globe:
DNSFilterprovides a global network content filtering service that can be deployed in just 5 minutes.
Geospiza helps emergency managers and elected officials save lives in disaster by harnessing big data and translating it into forward leaning decision support.
KPIready automates KPI collection and investor reporting so that startups can focus on growing their business.
LaunchBoard is an integrated innovation portfolio & innovation project management.
Ninox empowering any user to create business Apps for teams.
One Step provides software to addiction & rehab facilities.
Ordermarkhelps restaurants adopt and streamline online ordering to attract and serve larger audiences.
Secondbrain is an artificial ghost writer that iterates for lyricists. Text-based AI analyzes your writing style and then helps you finish a phrase or a sentence.
Soluki eliminates cost and language barriers by empowering Arabic speakers to build websites without the need for any technical skills.
Walkthrough helps agents & home buyers replace the time-consuming process of touring properties with a simple and affordable virtual reality experience.
Wisk Solutionsis the most advanced beverage analytics platform on the market for restaurants, bars and hotels.
Today’s internet marketplaces are extremely innovative compared to their predecessors from the early 1990s. Here are the Marketplace companies entering Techstars programs in Q1 2018:
AVVAY helps creative talent find and book locations that enable their projects and events to come to life.
Elmy is an online marketplace to discover and book appointments with local beauty professionals.
Locumunity is a centralized marketplace for temp doctors, no middleman.
Queen of Raw is a marketplace matching buyers and sellers of surplus fabric, textiles, and other raw materials.
Artificial intelligence, augmented reality and virtual reality have had significant breakthroughs in recent years. Adoption of this innovative technology continues to grow across both consumer users and enterprises. Below are the AI/AR/VR companies joining Techstars:
The Pole Society – TPS Engage is for outdoor advertising what Facebook is for online advertising.
Techstars Music Accelerator
Blink Identity – Blink Identity builds biometric products for high-throughput, real-time identification of people in motion.
Edison.ai – Edison.ai analyzes consumers’ preferences and profile consumers using image recognition and AI technology.
Endel – Endel is a personalised sound environment app that generates soundscapes to help users focus and relax.
Gimme Radio– Gimme Radio, the ultimate listening experience for the the underserved fan equipped with an unique communication platform that connects fans, DJs, and artists, and its hyper-relevant music merchandising Gimme Radio keeps the listener engaged, excited, and purchasing.
HelloTickets – Hello Tickets is a blockchain based ticket solution that traces the entire ticket journey, so fans and artists will never have to worry again about fraudulent tickets and scalpers.
Mighty Audio – Mighty is the first portable audio player that takes your streaming content offline without a phone or a data connection.
Seated– Seated is a lottery-based ticketing system that weeds out scalpers and rewards true fans.
Secondbrain – An artificial ghost writer that iterates for lyricists. Text-based AI analyzes your writing style and then helps you finish a phrase or a sentence.
Soundcharts – Soundcharts is the Market Intelligence platform of the Music Industry: its goal is to modernize the workflow of every music professional by providing global and real-time data-analytics in an all-in-one solution.
Spark.dj – Spark.dj utilizes AI technology to bring the experience of a live DJ to any venue or social setting.
Techstars New York City Accelerator
Acculis– Using 3D models to help reduce errors in construction in the office and on-site.
I’ve been investing in companies for the last five years — as an angel, part of syndicates and with Techstars and Zeroth. I’m excited to be continuing that journey as managing director of the Techstars London Accelerator. It’s especially meaningful, as Jon’s first program back in 2013 was my first opportunity to mentor. Following the programs that he and Max (who is now the VP of Innovation for Techstars) ran leaves me with some pretty big shoes to fill.
You can see some of the companies we’ve invested in through the London program here. It’s a pretty broad range of companies — from genomics to travel, food to language learning, B2B to B2C, AI to content businesses and all points in between. That range is a great match with my background. I’ve been a journalist, run content and travel guide businesses, developed games, helped incredible companies scale internationally, and invested in everything from fast fermentation for food, alcohol and pharma to on-demand office space (sadly not the one you’re thinking of).
tl;dr – applications for the 2018 class are open now — and we want the same diverse mix of founders, companies, sectors and stages in the next program. Get in touch on Twitter, find me on LinkedIn or just email me.
Alongside this, I wanted to share some of the sectors that I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. If you’re working on or in a startup in any of these, let me know. In no particular order:
I’ve long thought messaging apps are effectively a command line for our lives. That’s true whether it’s Alexa, Messenger, WeChat or another current or future app/tech/device! I’m really interested in how companies can almost become a real-life abstraction layer. Take a look at the Plansnap demo day pitch (and pay attention to how this plays out on mobile, SMS and Alexa) to get an idea of what I mean.
I love the idea of products that don’t require you to download apps — but instead exist everywhere you are, regardless of the platform you’re using at that time. Over time, I expect to see these types of companies coming out in health, fitness, education, mental health, travel, recommendations and elsewhere. There are huge challenges around UI, UX and more around this — but if it was easy, everyone would do it…
Blockchain and the Token Economy
If I’m not being asked about Brexit, I’m being asked about ICOs and how tokens will impact companies, VCs and the whole world. I’m a believer in the power of the Blockchain and the utility that will evolve on top of it. I’m a big fan of Ethereum, zcash and others. I also really like practical token-based platforms like Sweatcoin, Reality Clash and Yovo. I even love the concept behind Cryptokitties. I’m keen to meet companies using tokens in interesting ways — particularly those who have thoughts on how to make their products, tokens, tickets and more accessible to a mass audience, and those who have thought about how to be a closed or open ended economy around those products, tokens and tickets.
AI, Machine Learning and computer vision
This probably feels like a hygiene factor nowadays, but I’m looking for companies using AI, ML and computer vision to solve real, everyday problems for individuals and businesses. I’ve worked with and invested in Lingvist, Intelligent X, Gastrograph and many others. I’m a board member at ADA alongside some of the smartest folks in the industry, and I’m really interested to see how people are using this technology for everything from healthcare to education and beyond.
Tech for older populations
People are living longer and having fewer children. As a result, we have an aging population base in several countries around the world. What I find fascinating is that there is very little visible innovation in tech for folks in their 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and beyond. In many cases, the tech that does exist infantilizes people, is extremely condescending, or is frankly just ugly, non-functional and embarrassing. This is a demographic that in many cases has the means, the savvy and the ability to use, pay for, and most importantly — derive benefit from a wide variety of products.
There are huge opportunities around health and well being, nutrition, alleviating loneliness, entertaining, educating, engaging and more. I firmly believe this is a sector that will see immense growth over the coming years. The right products have the potential to not only cause change and improve life, but also build a real, sustainable and scalable business.
The Era of Escapism
The world is a grim place at times. Whether it’s our dopamine addiction or just the news, we’ve created a world of opportunities to feel blue. I want to invest in companies that are putting a smile on people’s faces. I invested in Party With because I love the idea of getting interesting people together in real life around the world. I love AR, VR, games, content and anything that can make people laugh or give them an amazing experience in the real world, a virtual world or anywhere. One of the best parts about being part of Farmvillain and Kiip was getting fan mail from folks who we cheered up with a simple cartoon that made them laugh, or a reward that made them feel amazing. I’d love to work alongside companies that are helping people to do fun, engaging things that put a smile on their face.
By 2050 we’ll need to feed over nine billion people. How can we do that without overwhelming the planet? I’m keen to meet companies that are leveraging technology to create new food brands, experiences and more. The Impossible Burger is literally one of the best burgers I’ve ever tasted, and I can’t wait to try Finless foods and many others. I love the elegance of the Apeel approach to produce quality and shelf life. I love what the team from Smallhold is working on with mushrooms and vertical farming.
I’ve invested in a couple of companies in this sector already — EatCultured, the world’s first beer brewed by AI and Gastrograph, who is using AI to understand and model human sensory perception for some of the biggest brands in the world. The food we eat, the way we grow it, the way we interact with ingredients, brands, dishes, restaurants and more is all changing, and I’m interested in hearing from anyone working on anything in the space.
The above is by no means an exhaustive list. I think we’re at the end of the beginning when it comes to the backlash against Twitter, Facebook and others. It strikes me that there are huge opportunities for platforms that allow smaller groups of people to interact around shared interests, or do something totally crazy like actually meet up in the real world. I’m curious how messaging, voice and more will impact how we (re)connect with one another IRL and online. I’m interested in what the future of marketing and advertising looks like — how do big brands do interesting and engaging things in a post-adblocking world? I’ve met some incredible companies working on healthcare, education and more — and I hope we can work with and invest in many of those areas as well as others I haven’t even mentioned yet.
Fundamentally, I think about things in terms of solving for basic human motivations. Are products making people happier or healthier? Are they saving them time or energy in a meaningful way? Are they helping people and businesses make more money, reduce waste and wasted time, increase engagement and more? Are they having a material impact on the people or the businesses that use them? I like to think about what the tangible benefits of a product are in the short, medium and long term — and how a company can craft a narrative around that to help with user acquisition, sales, marketing, retention, recruitment and all of the other processes that help make them successful.
If you’re working on a product that fits any of the theses above, I’d really, really love to hear from you. If you’re not, I’m still incredibly keen to learn about what you’re working on. We invest in all sorts of companies at Techstars London — the ideas above are just ones that I’ve been mulling over recently. I love nothing more than food for thought and opportunities to meet smart people working on products that make a real difference to their users, customers and the world beyond.
I’m as happy to invest in an amazing team where the ink is still drying on the back of the napkin where they jotted down their idea, as I am in investing in a Series A company with millions in funding and 10+ staff. Applications are open now. If you’ve got questions, you can message me on Twitter, find me on LinkedIn or just email me!
I’ll be traveling around Europe and the world in February and March to meet companies — you can find out more here. You can also apply for online office hours here.
As a serial entrepreneur, I’ve taken many remarkable paths in my life – but I’m about to start my most exciting venture yet.
I am pleased to announce that I am taking over the Barclays Accelerator, Powered by Techstars in Tel Aviv as managing director. Working alongside Program Manager Yasmin Nachum, we are going to support our class of exceptional founders to help them accelerate their companies, tap into the industry and receive mentorship and insight from Barclays.
Before I found my passion in entrepreneurship, I completed two law degrees and practiced law in Israel and NYC. More recently, I was the CEO and co-founder of the publicly traded company White Smoke, Inc. While at White Smoke, we invented a sophisticated grammar engine that was adopted by over 50 million users around the world.
But my entrepreneurial experience doesn’t end there. During my life, I have raised over $40 million, built teams from the ground up, learned the ins and outs of business models, management, and the best part – making dreams become reality.
I sit on several tech advisory boards, I’m an investor, a mentor to multiple accelerators, and am continuing to become deeply embedded in the startup arena. Last year, I had the honor of being nominated one of the most influential people in tech by GeekTime, a leading Israeli website.
Another passion of mine is supporting women entrepreneurs. I am the founder of Yazamiyot, Israel’s largest community for women entrepreneurs, as well as Campus for Moms in Collaboration with Google, an international innovation program for moms on maternity leave.
What I’m Looking Forward to the Most
Discovering the Big Idea – The word innovation gets thrown around in the startup world, but I truly can’t get enough of it. I’m excited to discover great ideas that are in Israel and beyond. Two world changing ideas stemmed from Israel, Waze and Gett. How did we ever get anywhere before Waze? How did we think of ordering a taxi before Gett? I’m thrilled to work with Techstars to turn ideas into successful companies.
Building Great Teams – Techstars says that they look for five things when selecting companies to join their programs: team, team, team, market, and idea. In that order. I’m a great believer in people, and am looking forward to working with founders, partners and investors to form strong companies and even stronger teams.
Helping Entrepreneurs – As I mentioned before, I love being an entrepreneur, but I love coaching others. There’s nothing more satisfying than hearing founders say they were influenced by my advice. I can’t wait to work with all of our companies in the program, and use my experience to help them grow.
So let’s do this. Let’s draw in the best companies and mentors from all over the world to create a pool of successful fintech entrepreneurs. Let’s work with amazing partners like Barclays and grow the Techstars worldwide network.
Are you ready to take that step? Applications for the Barclays Accelerator, Powered by Techstars in Tel Aviv are open now and close February 25th, 2018. Apply today!
As a co-founder of Heartbeat, I came into the office each day knowing exactly what to do. Or at least, that’s what I thought at the time. We were building the world’s biggest network of brand ambassadors – all millenial women – and I felt sure about what we needed to do in order to scale the company.
We started Heartbeat with the idea that real women, not bloggers or celebrities, were incredibly powerful. We believed that the type of word-of-mouth marketing normal women engaged in could be game-changing in the marketing world, as long as we were able to scale.
When one of my co-founders suggested we apply to Techstars, I was skeptical. I had completed my MBA at UCLA Anderson a few years earlier, and I didn’t feel like I needed more education. I also had a huge network – if I already knew everyone in LA tech, how would Techstars help? I just wanted to put my head down and build Heartbeat, and I certainly didn’t need an accelerator program that would slow us down with busy work and trust falls.
Even though I was stressed non-stop, I thought our business was in a good place. We had real revenue, dedicated employees, and from the outside, everything seemed like we were headed in the right direction. In my opinion, we were too “far along” to apply to Techstars – our traction was undeniable.
With hesitation, I completed the application for our team. I actually didn’t mind it because I’m one of those people who oddly enjoy filling out forms. Despite my apprehension, we made it to the next round.
That’s when we met Anna and Ethan.
Have you ever had that feeling where you just know you’re in the right place with the right people? I remember feeling that way when I walked on campus when looking at potential colleges when I was 18, and knowing immediately which school felt like home.
Although my brain told me that we didn’t need Techstars, meeting Anna, the LA Managing Director, changed my mind. She and Ethan, the Program Director, were highly intelligent, and asked probing questions right away. Even during our interviews, they were able to tap into the underlying framework of our business, and clearly saw the bigger picture.
From the get-go, they identified issues we didn’t even know we were dealing with. By the time we completed numerous rounds of interviews, intense questioning from mentors, and a lot of team heart-to-hearts, we knew we wanted to be a part of the program. When we got the offer to join the first Techstars LA class, we accepted on the spot.
As it turns out, joining Techstars was transformative in ways I could never have imagined, and the decision to participate was one of the biggest surprises of my life.
During Techstars, we went through rapid growth and massive change. We were headed full speed ahead with our product, but in the wrong direction. The mentors helped us get back on track, and evolve our technology in a much stronger direction.
We hadn’t focused enough on our culture, and certain people had become toxic. We lost a member of our key founding team during the program, an event that might never had transpired had we not had such strong coaching and mentoring throughout the process.
We left with a thriving, exciting company culture and a newfound energy for what we were building. Most importantly, our business has really broken through, and we’ve seen our highest revenue numbers to date. We also raised another $1M a few months after Demo Day.
We also left with new friendships, new mentors, and an incredible network of investors and advisors. It turns out that I didn’t really know everyone in LA. Today, our business is in a phenomenal place.
Techstars truly surprised me, and it might surprise you, too. And the biggest secret of all? I actually loved the trust falls.
One of the first projects I got to work on when I joined the Kapor Center in 2016 was helping to launch the first Startup Weekend: Latinx in Tech here in Oakland. We brought together more than one-hundred Latinx entrepreneurs, coaches, and mentors over the course of a three-day weekend to conceptualize product ideas, pitch them, and form teams to turn their ideas into action.
Startup Weekend is a powerful way to turn tech dreams into reality over the course of just a few days.
This one was particularly important to me and my colleagues, however. The Latinx community is the second largest ethnic group in America, made up of 52 million people and yet there still are very few initiatives in the tech space directly serving our communities.
I say “communities,” rather than the “community,” because as the 2016 Latinx Startup Weekend showed, we are incredibly diverse. It’s one thing to know that Latins is an ethnic designation, rather than a race.
This diversity was wonderfully apparent at the first Startup Weekend, where we saw Latinx entrepreneurs from all different racial backgrounds bring their own lived experience to the table. It was a deeply powerful event, and we soon received requests from other cities to bring this energy to the national stage in 2017.
Last fall, I was excited to collaborate once again with my colleague and friend, Carolina Huaranca to make this a reality on a larger scale, when we partnered with 2 national organizations, Techqueria and Techstars, to reach our target audiences in brand new cities with large Latinx populations..
How We United the Latinx Population Across America
Our vision for the 2017 event was to bring together participants in Oakland, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami and New Yorkto design tech solutions to the specific problems affecting the Latinx communities in each city
In less than three months, we went from event concept to formalizing organizers in five cities with weekly advisement to bring 300+ community members across the country together in one weekend.
Navigating the Unexpected
Of course, things come up. Late into our planning we were faced with the unexpected as Hurricane Irma hit Florida, stalling the Miami Startup Weekend organizing team. After working hard to rally, the team on the ground ultimately decided to pull out and focus on crucial community rebuilding efforts.
We hope to welcome them this year as they are strong representation of our community who exemplify strength and resilience. Only a few days later Hurricane Maria devastated the island of Puerto Rico, affecting even more of our organizers and participants.
But one thing tech knows how to do is to pivot.
Organizers encouraged participants to tackle recovery issues using tech and entrepreneurship, and in three of our cities, top-placing teams focused on prototyping recovery and disaster relief solutions. It showed that the Latinx community can come together to channel their talents to help one another through action and innovation.
Despite all of the challenges, Oakland, Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago organizing teams led this first ever national Latinx in tech entrepreneurship initiative to success – we helped activate four cities, brought together +300 community members, launched +30 prototypes/startups in 54 hours.
Each city provided curated skill-building in lean startup methodologies with local ecosystem mentors that included local experienced entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and industry experts.
Over the 54 hours of the event, we were able to activate an action-focused Latinx in tech community in four ecosystems across the country with strong leadership. Participation culminated in over 300 community members, including participants, mentors, coaches, judges, and volunteers.
We also got people talking about this new and exciting national initiative. Social media exploded in excitement and interest with 4.2k overall tweets, and over 100 contributors on the platform.
By the end of the weekend, over 30 new venture prototypes had been pitched, ranging drone technology to assessing infrastructure damage of natural disasters, to talent matching using digital platforms for small businesses, to creating a marketplace to connect doctors on a global scale.
We’re excited to have helped demystify tech entrepreneurship for our diverse, multicultural LatinX community and ignited desire for change and leadership in each city.
We are excited to continue bringing more spotlight to the Latinx in Tech community through our efforts at the Kapor Center and in collaboration with partners, like Techstars and others who share the goal of increasing activating the potential of this inspiring community.
Through the last two years of Latinx Startup Weekends, we’ve seen how the lived experiences of our entrepreneurs make them uniquely qualified to identify problems specific to the Latinx community and design tech-enabled solutions.
This is where our story starts and we’re excited to see the continued growth and success of Latinx in Tech across America. Stay tuned for more details about 2018’s national initiatives!
As an entrepreneur for many years, I’ve had the good fortune of being on the entire path from googling how to be a CEO, to growing and leading that same powerful team to a successful exit. While the road has been ever winding, there has always been one constant: in the things I choose to show up and build – both head and heart must always be aligned. It’s what makes us powerful. It’s what keeps us showing up every single day to do the hard work of company building. And on those days where optimism wanes, that same strong belief can conquer fear.
So, when deciding what to build next – I set out on the same mission to align head and heart. I engaged with nonprofits, for-profits, foundations and founders on a path to understanding where there might be a fundamental need for creating impactful solutions for society through startups. And, together, we worked on some big questions. How might we reduce single-use plastics in consumer goods? How might we use technology to help reduce food insecurity? How might we build solutions to help identify and reduce exposure to toxic stress in children? How might we improve our health through connection to nature?
The questions were big and the impact on my heart was much bigger. I made the decision, whatever was next, it would help solve for a more sustainable future for people and planet.
This is a big call to action – and it has all of my attention and energy. And…if you are founder working in this space, this should have your full attention too.
This accelerator represents a rare powerful three way partnership between Techstars, The Nature Conservancy and smart mission-aligned investors. (Read: lots of opportunity and deep robust global networks to drive your disruptive technology forward at scale.) And trust me, The Nature Conservancy is showing up in full force…you can learn more from their inspiring CEO Mark Tercek in this Forbes article.
Driven by science-based optimism, The Nature Conservancy’s work spans 72 countries, 50 US states with over 400 scientists, 3600 conservationists, one million + dedicated members and decades of work collaborating with the private sector across thousands of companies. Combine their commitment with the Techstars network of over 10,000 mentors, 1,200 portfolio companies across 16 countries and $11 billion market cap – together, we’ve got a network at the ready. From mentorship with leading TNC science experts and executives, to creating the possibilities for pilots and partnerships, to deep functional business expertise across the technology community – we know that getting the right people together at the same table is going to be powerful on your path.
So what kinds of companies are we looking for?
We are searching the globe to connect with you, the founders, building commercially viable technologies and business models that can help governments, companies and communities provide food and water sustainably and tackle climate change. You are a mission-driven, for-profit company that can provide solutions at scale.
You are asking yourselves questions such as, “How might we provide food and water sustainably in a future where there are 9 billion people on earth?” “How might we use technology to tackle climate change?” or “How might we build solutions to support a world where both nature and humans thrive?”
You work across areas as broad as agriculture and soil health to fisheries, forests, aquaculture, water data and markets, climate adaptation, carbon sequestration, green printing cities and beyond. Your applications of technology may be broad but you know exactly why your solution drives impact at the core of what you do.
If this sounds like you, applications are open now and we are excited to start a conversation with you! The program begins July 16th in Denver and I’m confident it’s going to be a powerful place to be.
Together, we’ll strive to build significant value in your significant ideas. That’s my commitment to you, the founders, doing hard work that matters – for people and the planet.
Not a founder but want to help? Get involved by sharing this program with your networks or visit this page to sign up for ongoing updates.
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