Build Locally, Thrive Globally: CEO David Cohen on Techstars’ Future


As we wrap up our seventh year of the Boulder Techstars program, it’s been a time to reflect on the past and look to the future. Not just the future of Techstars, but of startups everywhere. Because we strongly believe that we’re making a difference that spreads far beyond the companies we invest in or even the cities where we work. We hope to continue this by leveraging the power of the network to help startups interact, collaborate, and succeed on a global scale.

At Demo Day last week, we had all four Techstars founders together on stage. It was really fun, especially since the four of us don’t get to see each other all at once very often. It was also a perfect opportunity to remember where we started and talk about where we’re headed next.

In 2006, David Brown, Brad Feld, Jared Polis, and I launched Techstars, and we ran our first program in the summer of 2007. Our primary goal at the time was to create a better way to invest at the early stage—a different way of doing things so that angel investors could better understand what the startups were all about.

We had another goal in mind, too. We wanted to help Boulder grow into an even better place for startups, so that investors wouldn’t have to leave town to find great companies, and entrepreneurs wouldn’t feel like they had to move to Silicon Valley just to have a shot at making it.

We wanted to accomplish these goals by creating something new, something that didn’t exist at the time—a mentorship-driven accelerator. The idea was to combine hands-on, intense mentorship with some seed investment, to help the best startups have the best possible chance at success.

This concept of combining top-notch mentors with carefully selected startup teams has proven to be a winning combination. Techstars is now in seven locations, one of which is our first overseas program in London, and we have programs with corporate partners including Nike and Kaplan. We’re funding about 100 companies a year, and we have more than $70 million under management.

Techstars has gone above and beyond our original goals and accomplished much more than we ever imagined. What began as a simple experiment has impacted the way startup communities develop and thrive all over the globe. The effect on the local startup community in Boulder has been even more amazing than we anticipated. Boulder has developed a culture of sustained mentorship, where new founders place great value on seeking out mentors, and experienced entrepreneurs generously offer their time and expertise. This mindset makes the community better as a whole and it helps everyone in the community be more successful.

The same has been true in our other locations as well. Whenever Techstars expands to a new location, we always take our time and make sure the local startup community is poised to support the program. In order for Techstars to be effective, there have to be the best mentors in the community who are ready and willing to participate and who understand the “give first” culture that is so important to successful startup communities.

When we stop and reflect, the mentorship-driven accelerator model has had a huge impact around the world. There are now more than 1,000 programs modeled after Techstars. Over the past seven years, we’ve seen a lasting change to how startups are built.

Now we want to amp up the network even more. We’ve got incredibly strong nodes in our network that operate very effectively. They use their local communities to benefit the startups that we work with, and the results are simply amazing. When you have a whole community behind you, rooting for you to win, and making connections for you—it’s a huge, unfair advantage. Looking forward, we’re going to try to create even more powerful leverage across the network, with mentors helping mentors, alums helping alums and investing in new companies, and everyone generally helping each other out in any way they can. Now we’re really trying to leverage the network across nodes. We’ve barely scratched the surface there so far.

As this growth is occurring, our team is naturally growing as well. There are now more than 50 people working for Techstars, and they’re really just an amazing bunch of people with a common mission to build this network. We are fortunate to have an incredible team of managing directors: Katie Rae, Reed Sturtevant, Andy Sack, Jason Seats, Nicole Glaros, Luke Beatty, Dylan Boyd, Don Burton, Troy Henikoff, and Jon Bradford.

Another recent and major addition to the team is David Brown, who is joining Techstars as President while I continue as CEO. David and I have known each other and worked together for 22 years. We co-founded Pinpoint Technologies, which we later sold to ZOLL, where David has been president for the past ten years. David Brown was also a co-founder of Techstars. Other recent additions to the team include Mark Solon as a Partner, and Ari Newman as Network Catalyst. Ari came to us from Filtrbox, which was the second exit ever for Techstars. As our network catalyst, he’s working to drive advantage to our companies across our 1,200+ mentors. I’m truly honored to be working with a team of such incredible and talented people.

It was a proud moment at Demo Day when we handed out gold t-shirts to the founders of GoodApril, the 24th Techstars company exit we’ve had. It’s exciting to see how far Techstars has come and the impact it has had. The mentorship-driven model we created and developed together has forever changed the way many startups are built, not just through Techstars but many similar programs as well. But we’re just getting started, and we’re excited to see what the future holds.

David Cohen is the founder and CEO of Techstars. Follow @davidcohen

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