TechStars Network Will Expand Entrepreneur Mentorship

It is no secret that many people in the U.S. are looking to small business as a bellwether for the economic recovery, and President Barack Obama is no exception. In January, he unveiled the White House’s Startup America Partnership, a coordinated public/private effort to increase the prevalence and success of America’s entrepreneurs.

A key element of that effort is the TechStars Network, a membership organization that shares resources and best practices between independently owned-and-operated mentorship-driven seed acceleration programs.

“Over the next three years, the TechStars Network will ensure that 5,000 successful and experienced entrepreneurs and investors will mentor and support 6,000 promising young entrepreneurs, increasing their success rate tenfold and creating 25,000 new jobs by 2015 and a sustained engine for growing these figures over time,” said David Cohen co-founder and chief executive officer of TechStars, which serves as the model for the TechStars Network. Together with TechStars co-founder Brad Feld, Cohen is also the author of Do More Faster: TechStars Lessons to Accelerate Your Startup.

“Entrepreneurs embody the promise of America: The idea that if you have a good idea and are willing to work hard and see it through, you can succeed in this country. And in fulfilling this promise, entrepreneurs also play a critical role in expanding our economy and creating jobs,” President Obama said at the launch of the Startup America Partnership on January 31.

Mentoring Small Business Entrepreneurs

The TechStars Network, launched concurrently with Startup America, is an attempt to take the lessons and best practices learned from the highly successful TechStars seed investment program and share them with other seed investment programs. TechStars, founded in 2006 by David Cohen, Brad Feld, David Brown and Jared Polis, operates a three-month long mentorship program for entrepreneurs in Boston, Boulder, New York City and Seattle once a year.

“We’ve had tremendous success with the program,” Cohen said. “We focus on just 10 companies at a time, and we’re super, super selective. It’s harder to get into than Harvard.”

While the program does provide seed funding, its real focus is mentorship.

“While the seed funding is nice, the real value is the advice, mentoring and connections provided by TechStars,” TechStars co-founder Brad Feld wrote. “When I started my first company –Feld Technologies — in 1987, I had a few mentors, which I’ve written about in the past. However, the notion of having three months full of concentrated mentors, surrounded by 20-plus other entrepreneurs starting up their own companies, in one of the best and fun cities on the planet, blows my mind.”

Nineteen seed accelerator programs from the U.S. and around the world were part of the TechStars Network as charter members at launch.

“If people can learn from TechStars and have the same sort of success that we’ve had, they’ll have a huge impact on their local entrepreneurial network,” Cohen said. “It’s happening all over the place anyway. Some leaders in Chicago created a program they call Excelerate. They reached out to us, and we were helpful in getting them going. Excelerate is now a member of the network.”

Many of the programs focus on different technologies. For instance, TechStars focuses on mentoring entrepreneurs with software and Internet businesses, while Blueprint Health, based in New York City, focuses on mentoring entrepreneurs with healthcare services businesses.

Tracking Seed Accelerator Programs

One of TechStar Networks’ first goals is to create a unified application processing and tracking system for seed accelerator programs, which would allow entrepreneurs to fill out and submit a single application form and share it with any seed accelerator program that utilizes the system.

The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation has provided TechStars with $200,000 in funding to create the system for the TechStars Network. Kauffman and other researchers will be able to use the system to track and analyze aggregate data relating to the demand for the programs as well as funding and business performance.

“Entrepreneurs are arguably the most important actors in our economy — the creators of new wealth and new jobs, the inventors of new products and services, and the revolutionizers of society and the economy,” said Lesa Mitchell, vice president of advancing innovation at the Kauffman Foundation. “Our commitment to the TechStars Network is to ensure that entrepreneurs gain awareness and easier access to these valuable acceleration programs, and equally important, to allow us to study the impact of accelerators and share those lessons with others.”

Cohen explained that while the TechStars Network will certainly use the unified application processing and tracking system, other seed accelerator programs, even those who don’t join the TechStars Network, will be able to use it if they choose.

“The Kauffman Foundation has provided the funding to us to build that software, manage and deploy it. But it’s not available just to TechStars Network members. It’s available to anyone that wants to use it.”

Cohen explained that entrepreneurs who use the system will get feedback from every program to which they apply, even if they are not accepted.

Cohen also had some advice for entrepreneurs aspiring to join a program in the TechStars Network: “Most of the programs are very focused on the team. The common error people make is “my idea is amazing,” and they don’t think about anything else. The most important thing is to build a great team around it. It’s very rare that an idea is exactly right.”

Thor Olavsrud is a contributor to and a former senior editor at He covers operating systems, standards and security, among other technologies.

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