TechStars and Tequila: Thoughts from our Summer in Boulder

TechStars Boulder 2011, the #1 Startup Accelerator in the World, wrapped up 1 month ago. At the final session, filled with plenty of Tequila shots and aptly named “Good Bye, Good Luck, Don’t F@#! it Up!” David Cohen and Nicole Glaros encouraged us to share our TechStars experiences.

After watching Brad Feld and David Cohen kick it in Tuscany and thinking about this for awhile, I’ve concluded that the TechStars experience can be summed up with one word: Empowerment.

TechStars empowers entrepreneurs in many ways, but I’m going to specifically focus on five areas: mentorship, failure, access to capital, self assurance and the network.


When you launch a startup, you have doubts and insecurities. Lots of them. If you’re not careful, these thoughts can fester and ultimately paralyze your startup’s progress.

TechStars helps vanquish these doubts and insecurities through mentorship.

In TechStars, we were exposed to some of the best and brightest minds in the tech industry on a daily basis. Mentors ask tough questions, provide guidance and often validate or invalidate assumptions.

This process is not for the faint of heart. But surviving this crucible will only make you, your founders and your company empowered to face life after TechStars.

Failure Is OK

One of the first things we learned at TechStars is that failure is OK — even a good thing. Failure means that you are making decisions. The key is to fail fast at something, correct it, learn from it and move on.

In most parts of the business world (with the exception of the Valley and certain tech communities) failure is viewed as a bad thing: something to avoid at all costs. In TechStars and in Boulder in general, it’s OK to fail.

This prevailing attitude towards failure permeates throughout TechStars and it has an unbelievably positive effect. Founders have no fear. They can focus on the business without worrying about the social implications of a “failure.”

Ultimately, the “failure is good” mantra empowers entrepreneurs to make choices, take risks, make mistakes and learn from those mistakes.

Access to Capital

TechStars stresses the importance of demo day. At demo day, there are hundreds of VCs, Angel Investors and journalists gathered in one place to see YOU pitch your company for 8 minutes. These investors already know that you are a quality company – getting into TechStars is harder than getting into Harvard – so all you’ve got to do is absolutely nail your pitch (and follow up).

Raising capital is a long road. Unless you’ve sold a company for hundreds of millions of dollars, it’s a longer road than you think.

When we started raising capital in December of 2010, we got a few “NOs”, a few “YES’s”, several “Maybes” and a large number of investors that seemed interested but then went deathly silent.

As we approached the May 2011 start date of TechStars, the “Maybes” turned to “YES’s.” Then, we had the unbelievably good fortune of High Country Venture agreeing to participate in our seed round as lead investor.

Setting up meetings with investors is challenging and time consuming. Through its extensive network and the power of its brand, TechStars empowers entrepreneurs with access to capital in a relatively frictionless way.


TechStars gives you an improved sense of self-confidence. Many founders already have confidence in themselves (they’re entrepreneurs, after all) – but going through TechStars reinforces it.

After TechStars, you’re no longer just another startup out there — you’re a TechStars company! You’ve been through the mentorship. You’ve been through the countless pitch practices and late nights. Your team has been through the crucible, all while building your business. After demo day (or shortly thereafter), you’ve probably raised some capital.

Building a real, meaningful business that’s actually worth something is no small task. But, after successfully navigating TechStars, you are empowered with the knowledge and self assurance that you can pull it off.

The Network

Once a TechStar, always a TechStar. There’s a natural kinship and bond between the ever growing network of TechStars alumni. Most founders keep in touch with mentors, advisors and other founders long after the summer program is over.

These are not summer flings. Lifelong relationships are formed.

In the early stages of a company, you can sometimes feel like you are alone (because you are). With the strength of the entire TechStars community rooting for your success, you are not alone.

From a practical perspective, the network has huge benefits. For example, with one or two emails sent to the TechStars network, you can usually reach anybody at any other tech company. That’s an extraordinarily valuable and empowering thing.

In summary, TechStars is an awesome experience — it empowered the inner entrepreneur inside each of us. Now, the hard part — we just have to not F@#! it up :-)

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