Techstars launches program to assist growing startup

Techstars, the Boulder, Colorado-based organization most well-known for its global accelerator programs, announced today that it is launching a “multi-year ecosystem development program,” starting in Buffalo, New York.

Details on the project so far are slim, but Techstars will be hiring an employee who will be based out of Buffalo to help the startup community host more events, conduct surveys and assessments to measure where it needs to improve, and serve as a resource for local entrepreneurs who want to connect with mentors and alumnus of Techstars accelerators in other parts of the world. A consortium of public and private partners in New York — including the state economic development arm, Empire State Development — are paying an undisclosed amount for Techstars to bring its programming to Buffalo.

Techstars cofounder Brad Feld said in a phone interview with VentureBeat that one of the goals of the program that one of the goals of the program is to allow cities to “be part of a much greater set of activities because of the reach of Techstars, and allowing Techstars to engage more deeply in in cities where we don’t necessarily have an accelerator present.”

Feld, the author of the 2012 book Startup Communities, is known for his thought leadership on how to make cities more entrepreneur-friendly. He also said that the new ecosystem development program is an extension of his thesis that “every city in the world that has at least 100,000 people should have a vibrant startup community, and in fact it’s a requirement [for] cities to stay relevant and fresh, over a long period of time.”

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David Cohen, another Techstars cofounder, told VentureBeat that the most frequent request the organization receives from cities is to launch an accelerator program there. Nearly 1,6000 have gone through one of Techstars’ more than 40 accelerator programs since the organization nearly 12 years ago. Some of the most notable startups to come out of Techstars include SendGrid, which went public and was acquired by Twilio in a $2 billion deal last year, and PillPack, which was acquired by Amazon last year.

“What we’ve figured out is that [an accelerator] is not always the answer,” Cohen told VentureBeat. Rather, he said what Techstars is trying to emphasize with the new ecosystem development program is that what’s really valuable for cities is the investors, entrepreneurs and industry experts that Techstars has access to, and “we really want to leverage this network we’ve built to enable entrepreneurs to be more successful.” That means that a Buffalo-based enterprise software startup could look for new customers within the Techstars network, or an energy tech startup could look among the list of Techstars’ accelerator sponsors for corporate investors.

Cohen also emphasized that Techstars does not seek to be seen as the “leader” of startup community-building efforts in Buffalo, but rather with be partnering with with startup organization 43North, one of the main vehicles through which the city has sought to recruit more entrepreneurs to the city.

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Funded in part by New York’s “Buffalo ” initiative — an ambitious albeit state-backed attempt to supercharge economic growth in the city — 43North awards $5 million in funding annually to startups through a pitch competition. 43North says that it’s invested in 44 startups since 2014, though those startups remain small, having just created more than 350 local jobs between them.

Eric Reich, the chairman of 43North’s board, told VentureBeat that within the past couple years, 43North has shifted its focus towards more mature startups that have revenue of around $1 million, and a handful or two of employees. Compared to the pre-revenue startups that 43North used to invest more in, Reich told VentureBeat that “the future of that company is much easier to see and for the benefits to be obvious,” and they might get more out of connecting with Techstars.

“We also think that there are significant opportunities from the Techstars network of the companies,” Reich told VentureBeat. “[Those] that are not ready for admittance into a Techstars accelerator, …could certainly be candidates or contestants in the 43North process.”

Techstars says that it hopes to launch the startup ecosystem development program in other cities soon, but doesn’t have an exact timeframe.

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