Techstars founder David Cohen covered a range of topics during his fireside chat at this week’s CED Tech Venture Conference, from how he enticed storied venture capitalist Brad Feld to invest in Techstars to his early investment in Uber. But one theme rose to the top—the communities with entrepreneurs, investors and support agencies that “give first” are the most successful.
Cohen would know—he’s in the business of building successful, dynamic startup communities and ecosystems. The global network of portfolio companies, accelerators, Startup Weekends and corporate partnerships guides entrepreneurs through the stages of starting a company, providing mentorship, connections and capital. Techstars manages a $265 million fund that invests in companies in the Techstars ecosystem. Its’ accelerators graduate 300 companies each year, which have collectively raised more than $3.8 billion in funding in the last 12 years.
Cohen’s credits the “give first” philosophy—or helping others achieve their goals without any expectation of receiving something in return—as the driving force behind his company’s success as well the success of portfolio companies and local communities in the network.
“It’s sort of the rising tide, and it’s a bit obvious but it’s super powerful if you get it to scale across the community,” he told fellow chat partner Chris Heivly, now a Techstars EIR, as well as the large crowd at the conference.
It wasn’t always easy to implement that vision.
Cohen noted that he was often chastised by investors and partners for helping “competitors” by offering up lessons learned and best practices. Heivly noted that Cohen and Feld were his first phone calls when he started thinking about how to build his now defunct accelerator, The Startup Factory, in Durham. Many of his practices were based on Techstars’.
Despite the pushback, Cohen and his team persisted and even credited acquisitions of once competitors like UpGlobal (operator of Startup Weekend) and Excelerate Labs (a Chicago accelerator) to the give first philosophy. Cohen joked that Heivly’s accelerator, The Startup Factory, was too expensive to acquire when it shut down last year.
Now that Techstars has helped build startup ecosystems in 30 locations, its focus is to offer quality programs there, while continuing to integrate disparate startup communities into a global community through Startup Weekend and Heivly’s new consulting practice. Cohen says the work, “stitching them (startup communities) together is really unprecedented.” And the impact could be larger than anything they’ve done yet.
While Heivly’s new role takes him all over the world consulting with cities and vetting potential new sites for Techstars accelerators, the two danced around the question, “will Techstars open a new location in the Triangle?” Both mentioned that two Techstars managing directors were meeting with 50+ entrepreneurs at both HQ Raleigh and American Underground this week. And both noted the similarities between Techstars’ values and the Triangle’s.
Heivly told ExitEvent a few months ago that Techstars wouldn’t add any new sites in 2017, so it’s not a surprise they avoided the question. Regardless, Heivly is making good on his commitment to better connect the Triangle ecosystem with this huge player around the globe.