Nov 3 2017

Techstars and The Nature Conservancy

The Nature Conservancy and Techstars just announced a partnership to create the Techstars Sustainability Accelerator. Amy and I were part of the public announcement this week in Denver. Both organizations are important to us so it’s a joy to be involved in having them work together.

Amy and I have been supporters of The Nature Conservancy (TNC) since we started our relationship in 1990. So has my partner Seth and his wife Greeley, who is currently a trustee on the TNC Colorado board. A key shared value of ours is protecting our planet and we are huge fans of TNC’s science-based approach.

Over the years, we’ve been personally involved in a number of projects, such as protecting the Anchor River in Anchor Point, Alaska (the town Amy grew up in until she was eight.) Amy went to Tanzania and Kenya in 2009 with TNC to increase capacity of TNC non-profit partners. We supported an Anchor Point Fellow at TNC’s Berlin office and an internship in Australia through Wellesley College. Heather Tallis, TNC’s Global Managing Director and Lead Scientist for Strategy Innovation, generously participated in our August 2017 Anchor Point Fellowship in Global Leadership Conference. Amy is currently on the TNC Global Campaign Committee and on the TNC Africa Affinity Group for Women and Girls. We also support TNC’s work with indigenous women environmental community leaders in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. TNC’s global reach makes it a very exciting organization to support.

At a TNC event at our house in June 2016, I had a conversation with Mark Tercek, TNC’s CEO, around innovation. Mark joined TNC nine years ago after a long and successful career at Goldman Sachs. One of my favorite ideas of his is that we can ensure more financial resources go toward conservation by getting the world to fully appreciate the opportunity to invest in nature. We had a good exchange about a number of creative approaches TNC taking to conservation and sustainability and I started referring to Mark as Nature’s Investment Banker.

Earlier this year, Amy encouraged me to get together with Brian McPeek, TNC’s Chief Conservation Officer, who is based in Denver. She described the conversation around technology and innovation she’d had with Brian, and suggested that I should talk to him about Techstars.

Brian and I got together with the goal of batting around a bunch of ideas around what he was trying to accomplish. Without realizing it, he was describing the domain of things that Techstars has addressed for many of our corporate partners. We left the meeting feeling like the idea of a Techstars TNC collaboration could be powerful.

Brian and his team went deep on things very quickly, understanding Techstars and how a Sustainability Accelerator would work. Even though Techstars has expanded around the world, we’ve never expanded in Colorado beyond our Techstars Boulder program, which was the very first location in which we ran an accelerator. We’ve talked about doing an accelerator in Denver, but never had a compelling reason to do it. But with Brian and TNC’s involvement, doing an accelerator in Denver became exciting to us – especially given the focus on sustainability that clearly differentiated it from what we were working on in the Boulder accelerator. It’s now a reality and Mark does a great job talking about our goals and approach in his post about The First Tech Accelerator For Sustainability.

In the tech world, founders (and investors) are always talking about changing the world, with an implication that what they want to be doing is something important, meaningful, and long lasting. In the past few years, there has been increasing dissonance between these words and what results from so-called disruptive innovations, where what we are really creating are companies that improve online ad-targeted by 1%, or create yet another mobile app that distracts our attention from the physical world. This isn’t a denigration of those companies, but rather a comment on the disconnect between the desire to change the world against the reality of working on things that time and humanity will likely forget quickly.

There’s an obvious question:“Are there opportunities to not just do good, but to have big outcomes?” I have a deeply held belief that large and successful companies can be built while solving global challenges. It’s not just a feel good thing, but a powerful approach to creating companies. And, if you take it to its natural conclusion, we ultimately are looking for for-profit companies that can be themselves sustainable and important.

For any entrepreneur interested in working on things that improve our planet, there’s now a Techstars accelerator to add to the mix of things people are doing in the world. And I’m excited to be involved in the collaboration to do this between two organizations that are extremely important to me.


Also published on Medium.