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RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Trey Bowles had lots of things to do in the Triangle last week but he missed out on a shopping trip for startups during Raleigh Durham Startup Week.

“Weather-related cancellations and they couldn’t get me out the next day,” said Bowles, shaking his head on our Zoom call. “So I was stuck in Dallas.”

But Bowles, Managing Director of the Techstars Physical Health Fort Worth Accelerator, is definitely paying attention to the region.

Making connections

In addition to Raleigh-Durham Startup Week, which he had planned to attend, Bowles missed an event in Chapel Hill hosted at the newly-opened Innovate Carolina Junction space. That event was a partnership with Launch Chapel Hill and the Carolina Angel Network to bring together investors, educational leaders, and startups from the area. And while Bowles missed out, his Program Manager Jordan Warnement did make it.

“She said it was a good turnout,” Bowles reported. “[Folks] stuck around for a few hours and chatted and got to know each other and really just got to dive in a little bit more into what we were, what we were looking for how we thought we could be helpful to the region.”

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A seasoned entrepreneur himself, Bowles knows many of the heavy hitters in the Triangle startup community, including NC IDEA’s CEO Thom Ruhe, Fay Horwitt of Durham-based Forward Cities, and Chris Heivly, the driving force behind RDSW. In the spring of 2022, Bowles attended the Startup Champions Network Summit in the area.

“While I was there, I also began to sort of recruit and talk to some of the people in the ecosystem and that has just continued to grow. Those relationships have tended to grow over the last year. So when we sat down at the end of our program last year and said ‘okay, let’s take some physical trips to places to try to source companies,’ Raleigh Durham was absolutely one on the list because we just had such a great experience before.”

Among those experiences included working with Triangle startup BOOMROOM, created by UNC alum Anna Shuford. BOOMROOM is a platform to support fitness and wellness entrepreneurs. Shuford participated in the fall 2022 cohort of the Physical Health Accelerator.

Recruiting Startups

Bowles’s planned visit to the Triangle was in pursuit of startups to join the next cohort of his Physical Health Accelerator. Founders participating would need to commit to three months in Fort Worth, Texas for the program, but the experience is – in Bowles’s words – a “game changer.”

“We’re gonna give people a great experience. We’re going to connect them to awesome mentors. We’re going to help them pilot programs and teach them how to build customer relationships and grow and we’re going to teach them how to pitch their company so that they can really go on and make it to the next level of the investment process.”

Bowles pointed out that as challenges are emerging this year for startups in terms of limited funding and growth, it makes now a great time to invest in a program like this.

“We’re getting more companies that would apply that maybe wouldn’t have applied last year,” Bowles observed. “I think a lot of times founders think they’re too far along to go through a program that can really make a masterful difference in the evolution of their business.”

‘BoomRoom:’ UNC-CH entrepreneur creates a Zoom platform for virtual workouts

Techstars model

Techstars is one of the biggest companies in the world offering pre-seed investing, having contributed to more than 3,300 startups. They take pride in their “give-first” mission which, whenever possible, focuses on giving first to the community, without expectation of return.

They have two models for support. First, a “city model”, which is fully funded by Techstars and typically has a long lead time for planning.

Their second model, which Bowles said is more likely for the Triangle area, is a “partner program” with investments coming from several partners that usually include city or regional municipalities, businesses, and universities.

I asked Bowles if he thought there was room for a Techstars program in the Triangle.

“Oh, absolutely,” he responded. “TechStars programs are the network-driven model for acceleration is really proven to be successful and I think Techstars over the last 15 years has done a great job of continuing to facilitate that type of give first culture, but also creating pipelines for entrepreneurs to be successful. And so I think we will continue to see TechStars expand the number of locations and the number of investments we make on an annual basis.”

In the meantime, physical health startups, which Bowles defines as “anything that improves one’s physical health”, can still head to Fort Worth for their accelerator experience. Bowles encourages anyone to apply.

“Whether somebody gets in or not, whether somebody gets an interview or not, we’re looking at every deal and we’re going to create value-based responses on the stuff that we’re getting so that at the very least the entrepreneur can say, ‘it was worth my time to apply it because I got this feedback that makes me better’.”

The deadline to apply for the fall 2023 cohort is June 7th.

Entrepreneurial ecosystem feeds on connections at Raleigh-Durham Startup Week