Cazalot to Lead Techstars Boston, Wants to "Energize" Local Community

The first thing to know about Clément Cazalot is that he is French. The second thing is that he co-owns a new French restaurant in Boston’s South End, called Frenchie. It has a killer wine list and excellent food, based on a recent visit.

The tech startup community will also want to know that Cazalot has just been named managing director of Techstars Boston. That’s the startup accelerator program that came to town in 2009, from Boulder, CO. The local program is finishing up its 2017 session with a demo day today.

Cazalot’s will be the fourth “regime” of the Boston program, following those of Shawn Broderick (the inaugural director), Katie Rae and Reed Sturtevant, and Semyon Dukach, who has been at the helm since 2014.

Dukach says his last Techstars class stands out for a few reasons. Half the companies are led by women. Half of them have immigrant founders. And five of the startups have already raised outside venture rounds. Now Dukach is passing the torch to Cazalot, who has spent some time shadowing him for the past four months.

Techstars founder and CEO David Cohen once said that “past operators and founders with real experience make the best managing directors.” Cazalot is no exception to that criteria, and he was already a close member of the Techstars family.

Cazalot moved from Paris to Boston with his startup, docTrackr, to go through Techstars Boston in 2012. DocTrackr, which made document-security software, raised money from investors including Atlas Venture (now Accomplice) and Polaris Partners. It was acquired by enterprise software firm Intralinks for $12.5 million in 2014.

Cazalot served as vice president of technology there until this week. He was in charge of engineering, product design, and new products for a team of nearly 1,000 people. Intralinks was publicly traded—headquartered in New York with an office in Waltham, MA—and was acquired by Synchronoss Technologies (NASDAQ: SNCR) for $820 million-plus last December.

That’s when Cazalot made his move. He and his wife—with whom he opened the restaurant in January—both grew up in the south of France. Why they put up with the Boston weather, I have no idea, but Cazalot decided to double down on the local tech ecosystem. He has been making angel investments recently, so a transition to venture investing and mentoring seems natural.

Over a lunch of escargots, Brussels sprouts, tartine, and a burger (eaten with hands in non-French style), Cazalot talks about his motivations and early goals with the program. First of all, the focus is all on Boston entrepreneurship. “I want to try to re-energize the community,” he says.

Cazalot is well aware of the perception that Boston tech is in a lull at the moment—and that some venture investors are looking elsewhere for hot companies. He’s also aware of Boston’s old-guard, academic culture; for a city with so many young people, it can be surprisingly hard to gain credibility with the establishment (my words, not his).

So, he’s looking to turn all of that on its head. Cazalot, who is 28 and grew a beard early in his career to be taken more seriously, wants to use his youth to his advantage. “Five years ago, I was in the trenches,” he says of the early-stage founder lifestyle. “The best advice I got was from other [Techstars] alumni who were still in operating roles. I know what it’s like to go to a restaurant and choose the cheapest wine, get the shittiest salad, and say you’re on a diet.”

Still, being close to one’s founder peers doesn’t mean it’s easy to choose the best companies. For now, he’s keeping the criteria broad in terms of sector. Cazalot’s background is in cryptography and security software, but he says he won’t show a preference for those types of companies. He’ll consider consumer tech as well as enterprise-focused startups. He wants to find very early-stage “diamond in the rough” startups, he says. The key is they have to get value from Techstars’ network and mentorship, and they should be committed to staying in Boston, if possible. (This is an issue for any accelerator, as companies may move for the program and then depart.)

Cazalot also has plans to reach out to Boston businesses, investors, and universities. He wants to “build bridges, but also walk them.” That means developing relationships with “other ecosystems that are also entrepreneurial,” he says, and avoiding the tech-bubble echo chamber that’s easy to fall into as a tech investor. The restaurant and food-service industry would be an obvious example; Cazalot’s experience there may help keep him grounded in the realities of physical products, logistics, and customers.

Cazalot’s first Techstars session won’t begin until next January. That should give him plenty of time to build his team and network of mentors, get the lay of the startup/accelerator land, and make his company selections. He notes that Techstars Boston alumni companies account for some 1,000 jobs in the area—which makes for a rich pool of potential mentors to tap. “Those are executives who can help,” he says. “They know their industry.”

Dukach, for his part, calls Cazalot “balls-to-the-wall aggressive.” And he seems bullish on the overall future of Techstars and its network of companies, saying “there are more and more alumni, and it seems to be getting stronger.”

Dukach hasn’t said much publicly about what he’s doing next. But he plans to raise a new venture fund specifically to back immigrant founders (like Cazalot, for example). More on this next chapter soon.

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