Auto Show Notes: Techstars Mobility Rebrands, Expands Mission

Detroit’s North American International Auto Show was the place for a plethora of mobility-related announcements this week, including some significant news from the Boulder, CO-based Techstars accelerator program.

Techstars launched an incubator for mobility startups in the Motor City four years ago, and the program has flourished since. In recognition of that success as well as an expanded mission, Techstars has changed the name of the program from Techstars Mobility to Techstars Detroit, says managing director Ted Serbinski.

Serbinski says the word mobility was too limited for the program’s newly expanded focus, and Techstars didn’t want to scare away potential participants that don’t identify as mobility companies.

“The name change helps us recruit what Detroit is good at: mobility, manufacturing, and the Internet of Things,” Serbinski explains. “It also represents Techstars’ long-term commitment to the region—it’s a commitment to doing more and bringing in different partners.”

Techstars Detroit has a new corporate partner in auto supplier Lear (NYSE: LEA), and the program is moving its headquarters to the Lear Innovation Center in the Capitol Park neighborhood downtown. The partnership is part of Lear Innovation Ventures Possibilities, an investment arm led by the company’s chief technology officer, John Absmeier.

“John is bringing in an early-stage startup mentality. It’s a good fit,” Serbinski says, adding that LIV Possibilities has a directive from company executives to do more startup investing. Techstars Detroit’s other 2019 partners are Ford (NYSE: F), Honda (NYSE: HMC), AAA, USAA, Nationwide, and PlanetM.

“We are fully committed to accelerating the pace of innovation and collaboration around the autonomous, connected, electrified, and shared mobility trends and believe the expansion of focus for Techstars fits well with our strategy,” Absmeier said in a press release. “We have had great traction with the startup community and look forward to working with Techstars to grow the ecosystem here in Detroit.”

Since its 2015 inception, Techstars has brought 44 startups to Detroit from eight different countries. According to a blog post by Serbinski, those companies, which encompass the automotive, transportation, city infrastructure, travel, manufacturing, and materials sectors, have raised over $80 million and are valued at over $215 million.

Serbinski says that in just the past few months, program alumni have been busy—mobile convenience store Cargo scored a $22 million funding round, Wise Systems raised a $7 million Series A for its last-mile decision-making technology in a round led by Google’s Gradient Ventures, and Acerta snagged roughly $2 million from Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT).

Serbinski says Techstars Detroit is again aiming to recruit 10 startups to its next cohort. Despite the name change, the program’s structure will remain the same, with the accelerator beginning in July and ending with a fall demo day. Applications are open until April 7; click here to apply.

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