The deadline for applying to Techstars New York for the next program is 11:59:59pm PST on 12/31/13.
I’m extremely excited about the upcoming Techstars New York program. Alex Iskold is the new managing director. I was an angel investor in Alex’s previous company (AdaptiveBlue – also known as GetGlue) and have known and worked with Alex since 2006. Alex has been a Techstars mentor for a while and was extremely active with the most recent New York program. He got totally hooked on Techstars and everyone at Techstars got totally hooked on Alex.
We’ve talked a bunch about the new things that he’ll be doing this year. He’s bringing energy and vision to Techstars New York that is rapidly flowing over all the other Techstars programs. And he’s an incredible learning machine, picking up all the best practices from our ever expanding number of programs – in different cities and with major corporations like Kaplan, Sprint, and Barclays.
It’s time to apply to Techstars New York. But don’t wait until the very last second – Alex and Techstars is going to extend an offer to one team on New Years Eve for the program.
Last week Fred and Joanne Wilson announced that they are helping create a $5m seed fund to invest in computer science education in the NYC public school system.
A few weeks ago Fred sent me a note and asked if Amy and I would make a contribution from our foundation. We’d previously contributed to another project Fred and Joanne spearheaded for the Academy of Software Engineering last year. It was easy to say yes for two reasons.
– The Warren Buffett / Bill Gates Rule: Remember that Warren Buffett gave all of his money to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation because Buffett trusted Gates judgment and ability to allocate his massive philanthropic gift wisely and intelligently? We completely trust Fred and Joanne’s judgment and easily support whatever they do in areas Amy and I are interested in.
– Computer Science Education: This is one of the areas Amy and I support significantly. Two weeks ago Wellesley unveiled their new Human-Computer Interaction Lab which we underwrote. I’m chair of the National Center for Women & Information Technology. And we have a few more fun things coming soon. So the Computer Science Education Venture Fund was something that was right up our alley.
Fred and Joanne are doing this with The NYC Foundation For Computer Science Education (the executive director, Evan Korth, is a total star.) If this is interesting to you, they are hosting an event at USV on Monday, November 18, 2013 for 6pm to 8pm for those who can consider making investments of $5,000 and above due to space constraints. Separately, there will be a crowd-funded campaign to allow donations of between $50 and $4,999 for those who can’t participate at these levels.
This is another great example of private philanthropic support to help transform something really important that public funding just isn’t getting done. If this is an important area to you, I encourage you to support Fred, Joanne, Evan, and this effort. If you are willing to consider contributing at the $5,000 or great level and can attend the event at USV on Monday, November 18th, register here.
On Digital Sabbath #5, I read Tech and the City: The Making of New York’s Startup Community. I got through half of it on my flight home from New York on Saturday morning; the balance laying on the couch next to Amy on Saturday evening.
I gave a talk with Alessandro Piol on Tuesday night at the Apple Store on Prince Street that was sponsored by the Women Innovate Mobile accelerator. We had a fun hour long talk with Q&A, a lot of it about Startup Communities. I hadn’t read Alessandro’s book in advance (but I did have it on my Kindle) so I was inspired to gobble it down this weekend.
It was excellent. If you are involved in the New York startup community, this is a must read book. If you are interested in startup communities in general, it’s a substantive history and current explanation of what is going on in New York.
One thing that jumped out at me that Alessandro segmented the New York startup community into six neighborhoods.
If you’ve heard me talk about startup communities, you’ll recognize this as the same approach I take when talking about larger communities like New York, the Bay Area, Los Angeles, and Boston/Cambridge. In these cases, the startup neighborhoods look similar to a startup community like Boulder – there is an incredible density of startup activity in a small geographic area. In a city like New York, rather than having everything in one place, you have a series of neighborhoods that have this entrepreneurial density, but are connected together to form the overall startup community.
I experience this all the time in New York. But I got a new taste of it on Thursday. I went to Brooklyn after an early meeting near Greeley Square Park. I started off at 20 Jay, saw NYU Poly Incubator, went for a long walk around DUMBO with Charlie O’Donnell, had an awesome lunch with Chad Dickerson (Etsy CEO), and then walked to MakerBot and hung out with the team there for a while. I did all of it on foot – including the back and forth from Manhattan.
The last third of the book is forward looking, talking about where things can, and are, going in the New York startup community. Finally, while there are plenty of VCs and government folks involved, it’s very clear that this is an entrepreneur led phenomenon, and Alessandro does a good job of balancing all the players.
Oh – and Digital Sabbath #5 was excellent. Even though I was on a plane for four hours, I woke up Sunday once again feeling refreshed and as though I had a weekend stretching out in front of me.
Over at the TechStars blog today, David Cohen introduced the new Managing Director for TechStars in New York, Eugene Chung.
Thirty-five great candidates were interviewed for this position; the only offer we extended was to Eugene. His background includes NY-area investments BuzzFeed and Bedrocket while he was at New Enterprise Associates. Prior to that, he worked at Warbug Pincus and Morgan Stanley. We were looking for deep competence and culture fit with TechStars and we found it with Eugene.
It’s been amazing to me to see TechStars NY grow since David Cohen and David Tisch launched it in the Winter of 2011. Tisch provided amazing leadership over the three programs, helping launch 36 new companies, of which 1 has been acquired, 2 have failed, and 33 have gone on to raise around $50m and employ over 200 people. The NY startup community has been awesome with engagement from over 75 mentors. And as the NY entrepreneurship scene has exploded during this time, it’s been fun to be part of it with both TechStars and our investments in companies such as MakerBot, Medialets, AdMeld (now Google), CrowdTap, Organic Motion, Jirafe, Next Big Sound (which was part of TechStars Boulder Summer 2009) and SideTour (which was part of the second TechStars Summer 2011 program).
Nicole Glaros is serving as Interim MD and will be based with Eugene in NYC during this year’s program. David Cohen will be present as well, helping get Eugene up to speed. I”m also going to be spending a week at TechStars NY during the program from April 15 to April 19.
Eugene – welcome to TechStars. I’m psyched to have you as part of the team!
This morning I had a gritty, sweating, damp, dirty run down Bowery through Chinatown and back. It was a short run – only 30 minutes and my coach’s note for me was simple and clear: “One of those “throw away” runs that mean a lot to long term fitness improvement.” So I did it.
I’ve never run down Bowery. I’ve done the East River many times and ended up under the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridge, but I don’t recall ever seeing them from the top. The Manhattan Bridge totally surprised me – as I approached it I had a sudden flashback to running in Paris around the Arc de Triomphe.
As I was running, I realized that I’ve learned many cities by running them. I used to be terrified of Paris – now I love it – and I attribute that to running all over the city. Rome fascinates me and I can run through it forever, always discovering new things. I’ve figured out how Manhattan works through all of my runs over the years. San Francisco is less of a mystery to me now that I’ve run all around the city. And I’ll never get lost in Boston or Cambridge because I’ve ran the damn thing so many times.
After my run I had breakfast and then walked from the East Village to Times Square in the rain for a meeting. Muggy, damp, soggy, dirty, grimy, splashy, gritty New York. Lots of construction, lots of noise, lots of people. But something magical about it. The perspective on foot is always powerful, at least to me.
I’m in San Francisco right now and then New York later this week. When I look at my schedule, and where I’m hanging out, I realize that even though I’m in two very big cities, I’m going to spending most of my time in a very small area.
When asked why Boulder is such a vibrant entrepreneurial community, I talk about a concept I call entrepreneurial density. Boulder is a small town – the city itself is only 100,000 people. Yet the number of entrepreneurs in Boulder is significant. And the number of people working for startups is off the charts. Start with the definition:
entrepreneurial density = ((# entrepreneurs + # people working for startups or high growth companies)) / adult population
My guess is that Boulder’s entrepreneurial density is one of the highest in the United States. I don’t have any empirical data to back this up – it’s a qualitative assessment based on my experience traveling around and investing in different parts of the US.
While population is one measure, I’ve also started thinking about geography as another. In the case of Boulder, the core of the entrepreneurial community is in downtown, which is a 10 x 4 block area. Even though downtown Boulder is small, it has different personalities (yes – we have an east side and a west side), yet you can walk from one end to the other in ten minutes. And, inevitably, when I walk across town I always bump into people I know.
The geography index matters even in places like New York. When I stay in New York, I generally stay within walking distance of Union Square. Sure, I end up in midtown or downtown occasionally, but most of my time is spent in a 20 x 8 block area. The bay area splits similarly – I’m in San Francisco within walking distance or a short drive of many of our bay area companies, but I’m on the other end of the planet from Palo Alto.
As I think more about entrepreneurial communities, I’m starting to expand my definition of entrepreneurial density to include by population and geography. This seems to matter a lot, even in very large entrepreneurial communities like New York and San Francisco.
I’m curious about experiences in other parts of the country, especially entrepreneurial communities that are growing or trying to reinvigorate themselves. How does entrepreneurial density (either geo or population) impact you?
I’m back home in Boulder about to head out for a long run in the mountains. As I was catching up on email from last week (not quite done yet) I was reflecting on the awesome week I had in New York. I had a couple of board meetings, spent a bunch of time at TechStars, gave some talks, had a pair of really fun late night dinners, had two strong runs (including one amazing one) along the east river, and stayed up until 1am drinking scotch with my partner Seth one night who was also in New York for a few days this week.
On Thursday night I gave a talk at NYU Startup Week. I followed Nate Westheimer, who runs the incredibly vibrant NY Tech Meetup. Nate led off by asserting that NY was the best place in the world to start a company and hypothesized that in the past year I had probably spent more time in NY than in the bay area. Since I track where I sleep every night (and have since 1/1/09), I was able to quickly answer this question going back 29 months.
And the winner is – New York – by seven days.
In the endless “where is the best place to start a company” argument, I think many of the ones on this list (Boulder, New York, Boston, San Francisco, and Seattle) are amazing places to create a company. They all have different strengths and weaknesses but reinforce my belief that many cities in the US can build long term durable entrepreneurial communities.
On Tuesday, I spent the day at TechStars New York. After spending Monday in Washington DC for the launch of the TechStars Network, it was really fun to spend the day and go deep with the first TechStars NY class.
By the time I got to NY on Monday night I was exhausted. My day started at 5am with email, followed by a run, a few conference calls, and then the big announcement at the White House. Several other meetings followed with a final event at the Case Foundation. David Cohen and I then hopped on a train, cranked on emails and interviews all the way to New York, and then I finished the night (after some more email) with a one hour lecture by Skype to a class of San Diego based students.
I usually have no trouble getting up at 5am, even when I’m tired, but on Tuesday I couldn’t pry my eyes open so after a few tries I just slept until I had to get up for my first call. By 10-ish I was at TechStars. I then spent 20 minutes with each company doing what I call the “top of mind drill.”
Having met with every TechStars company at least once, I’ve found that it’s not terribly useful for me to have the team members spend the 20+ minutes we have in our first meeting introducing themselves. I’m already familiar with the companies through the selection process and I just want to get into the mix with them. It’s week four so by now they’ve had tons of mentor meetings (my understanding is that at least 70 mentors have rolled through the TechStars NY offices at this point – thank you mentors!) So – I look for a quick under five minute introduction (“just explain what your business does and how it works”) and then spent the next fifteen minutes talking about whatever is top of mind.
I love the top of mind drill. It starts off with the simple question from me: “What’s on the top of your mind?” Some of the TechStars founders get it immediately and dive into a very specific issue that they are wrestling with. Others ramble around for a few minutes at which point I stop them and suggest they focus on what they think their biggest current issue is. They almost always get it the second time and we end up with ten solid minutes on one or two things that I can give them actionable feedback on.
I was planning to come back on Friday but I decided to detour to Miami Beach to spend the weekend in the sun with Amy. As a result, we cranked through all 11 companies during the day. I bought a purse on ToVieFor (don’t tell Amy – it’s a surprise), agreed to be an early alpha publisher for OnSwipe, and overall had a great time. I’m super psyched about all the teams I met – it feels like the TechStars New York program is very high quality and off to a great start.
We finished up with me giving a talk and doing some Q&A. Given that I had just been at the White House for the Startup America Partnership, we talked about that some. I gave my view of the overall cadence of the TechStars program now that the first month was coming to an end, and then I finished with a story about one of my biggest failures (Interliant) and some of the lessons that I learned from that experience.
I’m writing this from a plane Thursday night heading to Miami where I’m going to try to catch my breath after four deliciously intense days. You’ll hear about the other two – my whirlwind tour of Upstate New York – in a future post.