On February 12th 2015, we started our first visit in Seattle with Techstars, a start-up accelerator. We had the pleasure to meet Chris Devore, the Managing Director of Techstars Seattle.
Seattle’s area is a great ecosystem of companies, including very famous ones as Microsoft, Amazon or Boeing, and investors trying to support them. In that context, a lot of entrepreneurs try to develop their ideas creating their own business. When they need help, they sometimes try to connect with start-up accelerators as Techstars Seattle. Created in 2010, it is part of Techstars, a global network of start-up accelerators based in Boulder (CO).
Techstars Seattle has a special program dedicated to help software start-ups. The first step to be one of these is to apply, generally in March. Mr. Devore explained us that each year, they receive more than 600 applications. In June, they start the selection process: out of all the applicants, only 10 will be part of the program. After that, during three months (from July to October), the entrepreneurs and their teams have $20,000 to develop their idea, and for that they are provided with a large range of experts and mentors who volunteer to help them around their business. This process is really selective, and that huge number of start-ups that failed to be incubated in Techstars caught our attention: on which criteria do they choose among all the applicants?
Chris Devore highlighted the point that for Techstars, the fundamental thing is not if the project is a good or bad idea, but the personality of the entrepreneur. First, he has to be able to run a company, or at least, to manage a project. They look for people who have already created something before, or who have already managed projects in their private life. Then, they have to be able to work with a team and to manage people around an idea, this is fundamental. They want to invest in teams, and not in a single entrepreneur. They also have to be able to sell they project, which is important especially when they have to raise funds. Usually, the entrepreneurs that are part of this program already have professional experience, who have already tried to create things and who sometimes have failed.
Then we wanted to know what are the characteristics of an entrepreneur according to him. Chris considers that they have both confidence and insecurity. They also use to think that the world doesn’t recognize their excellence. They have an internal motivation that doesn’t turn off no matter how much success they have or how much their feel they are underestimated by the others. For Chris, the most important as an entrepreneur is to have an idea of what kind of person you want to be and never let anyone stop you from becoming that person.
At Techstars, they look for people who have the start-up spirit: if your project is a success, you create value and that’s great. But if it fails, it’s not that big deal and it doesn’t matter because you will try something new! Chris admitted that for him, if you never fail, it’s because you don’t take enough risks.
We enjoyed this visit because we learned a lot about what is the journey of a start-up that has the chance to be part of the program of a start-up accelerator, and we had the point of view of a mentor that has successful experience and who loves to share his knowledge with entrepreneurs.
Written by Aldiana JAKUPOVIC & Antoine GRIBAUDO