Yes, I want money and advice and a global network for my startup. No, I don’t want to move to Boston.
It just makes sense, if you think about it: many entrepreneurs have family and job obligations that would make it difficult for them to sign up for a traditional, on-site 13-week accelerator program. Three months is a long time to be away from home.
This situation is a pain point for a lot of female founders, especially those with families, and it’s something we think about a lot. Through a quick brainstorming exchange between our CEO and a partner at Techstars—Kate had heard of and felt the pain point from our audience, sent over a quick note with a “crazy idea” of starting a virtual accelerator, and received back a note saying it was such a great idea that they had already piloted it earlier this year—we learned about the Techstars Anywhere Accelerator.
From a business standpoint, Techstars knew they’d be able to broaden their portfolio by opening up to founders who couldn’t relocate but were still making amazing companies. And in turn, those companies can access a program that gives them an opportunity to work with one of the top accelerators in the world.
Earlier this year, Techstars ran a pilot of the program.
For the pilot, Techstars leaders, including Kuder, hand-selected four companies to participate remotely from February to early May.
“We had co-founders who worked remotely with each other, a dad with five kids, a solo founder with contract employees, and another business that was run by farmers. Our goal [in selecting them] was to really think about types of entrepreneurs for whom a non-co-located experience would be ideal.”
As will continue to be the case, the Techstars Anywhere pilot group did travel to spend time together, at the start of the program, in Boulder, Colorado.
“It was energizing and eye-opening,” reports Emily Rotolo, founder and CEO of SimpleForms, a company that uses online forms and bots to make tax form-filling and filing easier for client businesses. “Before arriving at Boulder, I think it is natural to believe you don’t belong there or some sort of Imposture Syndrome sets in. But once I was on site and speaking with Nicole, Karina, and David, to a name a few, I realized that everyone started in this exact same spot and that Techstars is truly there to help you.”
The group spent a night in cabins, just getting to know each other. “It really helped to accelerate our comfort level within our cohort,” says Rotolo.
“I can’t even begin to name the things that changed for me by going through this program,” she adds.
“It’s like receiving an MBA in three months. I had never taken a business course of any kind before, no accounting, nothing! There was so much I didn’t think I could do, or had to hire out for. I was so wrong. Techstars really takes the time to show each founder how to push past what they think they are capable of accomplishing on their own, in a day, week, or month. The organizational techniques, iterating with lean startup, running your company on metrics, “slowing down to go faster,” all the phases you hear in start world—Techstars actually makes sense of those and helps you put them into actionable items.”
How to Apply
Techstars is inviting applications to its new “mostly virtual” mentorship driven accelerator program. Applications are due by October 15, and the accepted participants—ten companies in total—will start the program on January 22, 2018.
As with all Techstars accelerator participants, each company will receive between $20,000 and $120,000 and the benefit of expert guidance and the connections that come with a vast network of alumni and investors.
“We have no idea how many applications we’ll get,” says Managing Director Ryan Kuder, “But it is incredibly competitive.” This new program option has the potential, though, to diversify the pool. “We think that there are entrepreneurs for whom that whole relocation thing is unattractive,” Kuder explains.
Applying to be part of the program entails filling out a simple form online and sending in two introductory videos, one about the company founders and another about company’s product.
“Avoid animated marketing films with funky music,” Kuder says, when asked for any tips on applying. And for the video about the founders, he advises: “Just open your iPhone and tape yourself talking to us. Why is this something you can’t not do. Why are you the best person to start this company? Why is yours the best team in the world to take this on? We want to see founders who have to do this.”