Micah March 12th

Why an Accelerator?

This am, I got an email from Nicole who runs Techstars Boulder reminding the mentors that Friday is the last day to apply. “Cool,” I thought, “I’ll just tweet that out.” But right before hitting send, I got an email from an entrepreneur with the title “Why an accelerator?”

So, I figured a-bloggin’ I would go.

I get asked this question a lot. In the explosion of startup accelerators, it makes sense. Raising money is hard. Really hard. Doesn’t matter what the tech news blogs say, its hard.

Especially if you aren’t in New York or San Francisco.

As a young entrepreneur, applying to YC or Techstars or 500startups or <insert 1000 other accelerators here> looks like free money. If you can get it. Thats really hard too. Well for some of the accelerators. For others, its super easy.

Oh, and mentors, lots and lots of mentors. Some great; some not so good. Some are dicks; some are super cool.

Space to work, a group of other companies to work with, and the ability to join a network of founders that understand the difficulties that you face.

So why wouldn’t you join an accelerator?

The most common comment I hear is age. Yes, there is a belief that accelerators are for the young. And, more so, for the inexperienced.

Often, you hear Techstars and the rest counter with the founders “of age” that have been successful in the program. Good selling strategy, right?

Here are the facts about an accelerator:

  • Being forced to work around companies that are doing an insane amount of work and having to validate that work with the accelerator staff and mentors is probably the single most amazing reality about membership in the accelerator club. Its impossible to replicate this in any coffee shop, co-working space or basement.
  • Being held accountable not only by your peers, but by potential investors, is a great litmus test for your ability as a founder to deal with the roller coaster of startupland.
  • Having access to mentors drives critical and creative thought in a way that is impossible outside of the accelerator dynamic. Even though that creativity and constructive criticism is overwhelming and not always creative or constructive.
  • It is easier to raise money if you have been through a well-regarded accelerator like Techstars, 500 or YC. Its impossible to raise money later if you don’t raise at, around, or just after demo day. Take too long, and your shine wears off.
  • Getting into YC, Techstars, 500, etc. is not like getting into a fraternity/college. Its not fucking party time. Its work time. The Bloomberg “reality” show was bullshit. Don’t believe the hype. Its work or die. And as friendly as the other companies are, they will gladly see you die in order to win. (Yes, I am being bombastic. But, in every single class, there are a couple of “favorites” that do extremely well, and then everyone else. Everyone wants to be the favorite, after all, everyone is a Type A. Don’t lose sight of that reality.)
  • Some companies are just not made for accelerators. You might not be thinking big enough. Your concept may be outside of the comfort zone of the accelerator’s staff and mentors. There are many reasons why your company just doesn’t fit within the accelerator framework. Its not the accelerators fault.
  • If you are worried about the equity you have to give up to the accelerator as part of the program, then don’t go. Seriously, don’t go.

Bottom line. Should you do an accelerator?

Maybe. It’s really your decision. Techstars Boulder’s deadline is 3/16/12. Get on it.

But, if you get in, and decide to do it, then do it 120%. Work harder than everyone else. Push yourself and your team. Become great. Don’t be one of the forgotten companies.

And if you decide that you don’t need an accelerator, well then, thats cool too. Prove to the world that you don’t.

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Micah December 22nd

What is Techstars Like?

When I started mentoring at Techstars, the first program was about 2/3 of the way through, and I spent a lot of time with several of the teams. As the years have passed, and the program has grown, I get a bit protective of that unique feeling that existed that first summer.

The feeling that this was something important. Something that was needed, and something that we all could be proud to participate in, either as mentors or founders.

Over the years, Techstars has grown, focuses have shifted, competition has heightened but that feeling from the first fall, that we are all part of something important that touches startup communities everywhere. (I get asked about Techstars and Silicon Valley and I always reply that programs like Techstars force Silicon Valley to up their game. As entrepreneurs we are taught that attacking a huge incumbent is often preferable because of blind spots and inability to adapt. If anything is true, Techstars and programs like it have put Silicon Valley on notice that, as the leading startup community, it has to continue to innovate on support infrastructure for startups or see its influence and dominance slip.)

I am proud to be involved in other programs, either directly or indirectly, like 500startups, Advise.me and a stealth mobile accelerator (yes, even accelerators are stealth nowadays), but Techstars is where I was reminded of my love of startups and entrepreneurs, and I am very excited to be part of this video (and is Taylor, my crazy ass dog).

Want to know why community will always define Techstars? Watch this:

Micah August 2nd

Techstars and its Closeup

Every year, Techstars has a reunion for Techstars companies. About a year ago, it was hosted in New York during Techstars For A Day. The excitement was that it was the first time that many mentors and former Techstar companies would see a fair number of the more than 600 applicants for the yet to launch New York program.

New York is a big city. Sounds silly, but one of the charms of Techstars Boulder is that the size of the city increases the focus of the companies during the program, because there are so many fewer distractions. Seattle and Boston for their size certainly allowed for more distraction, but neither are New York.

Throw on top of that a relatively unknown (to me!) general manager, David Tisch, and my concern for the ability for the New York program to perform like a New York program should were certainly heightened as I  entered 92Y for that Techstars reunion / TS4AD.

Boy were my concerns unfounded. Tisch crushed it. The companies crushed it. The mentors crushed it. And more importantly, New York crushed it.

Over the course of the program, which I dropped into, the energy and focus of the companies rivaled anything I had seen at any of the other cities. The program was just as intense, the mentors just as helpful and brutal and the growth in the companies was just as meteoric.

And, most importantly, Tisch became a true leader in New York.

There was still silliness and a lot of bad moves (I hate ‘Series Awesome’ for being childish and taking away from what OnSwipe is doing), but overall it was a successful season. And the new crop of companies, as it should be, is twice as good as the previous bunch.

One of the early knocks on Techstars has always been its secretive nature. When it first moved into the bunker in Boulder, its address was hidden on Brightkite. Then, given the support the community had given Techstars, David Cohen made the right move by including the community versus hiding away from them. The community was invited to Demo Day, the Bunker is used for community events and coworking space in the off-season, and he hired Megan to film the Founders Series (which won an emmy!!)

New York took it to a whole new level bringing in Bloomberg TV to show Techstars as it was, warts and all. Techstars isnt perfect, and the companies are far from perfect.  The mentors, well, most of us understand that our imperfections are part of the reason we have done what we have done, and are willing to share our knowledge.

The new show is coming. Here is the a trailer: And Techstars’ closeup will show the world why I love the program so much, and have been as involved as I have been. Its not perfect. Its about learning who you are…and arent. But mostly, its about building companies collaboratively.

TechStars Trailer from Vortex Media on Vimeo.

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