Wednesday, October 26, 2016
Interview with Cody Simms, Techstars LA
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
This morning, Techstars (www.techstars.org), the startup accelerator which has had great success in spreading its approach to helping to get startups to the next stage of their life—usually, funding—announced it has opened up its third accelerator in Los Angeles, Techstars LA. We spoke earlier with Cody Simms, Executive Director of Techstars America and who leads the program in LA, to hear more about why the startup accelerator operator is opening up its third accelerator here, why Los Angeles has turned out to be one of the leading sources for startups across its network, as well as Cody's advice to entrepreneurs.
Tell us about this new program you have running in Los Angeles?
Cody Simms: We have two new programs in Los Angeles. About a month ago, we announced Techstars Music, which is a program focused on the music industry here in LA. It will be based here in LA, and we pulled together a number of top partners across the music industry. This week, we are going to be announcing Techstars LA. Together, with Techstars Healthcare, which we run with Cedars Sinai, this will effectively be tripling down on Los Angeles, which we think is the fastest growing and extremely interesting startup ecosystem in the world.
What types of companies will be part of Techstars LA?
Cody Simms: Techstars LA will be horizontally focused. That means, we're really just looking for the best of the next generation of startups, who want to build their network and connections to the ecosystem in Los Angeles. The companies really are at the discretion of the managing director and team on the types and focus areas of the companies who will be included. It's similar to a number of other horizontally focused accelerators in Techstars, such as Techstars New York, Techstars Boulder, Techstars Seattle, and our programs in London and Berline. All of those are horizontally focused programs.
For those not familiar with the benefits of TechStars, can you fill us in on Techstars?
Cody Simms: Ultimately, our mission is to be the best, global ecosystem for bringing new technology to market. The way that manifests itself, is as the startup accelerator programs that we operate around the world. We have around 24 or 25 programs running across the world now. Each one is a three month, intensive boot camp, if you will, where startups come in and connect deeply with the local ecosystem. The focus is on helping the startup. We select ten per class, and help those startups connect with mentors and other people in that local environment who can be helpful to the business. We started in Boulder, Colorado, all the way back in 2007, with just ten companies. That worked well enough, we did another class in 2008 with another 10 companies, and in 2009 we expanded to Boston. Since then, we've replicated the model with a local managing director, local mentors, and have expanded to roughly 25 different programs around the world. Collectively, across all those programs, we've invested in a bit over 900 startups around the world. Those companies have raised more than $2 billion in follow on capital, and have a valuation of over $6.5 billion combined. So, it's been a successful model, and more importantly, we think we're making a real impact on the founders going through these programs. When you go through Techstars, your company just becomes bigger than itself, by an order of magnitude, because of the global network of co-founders, mentors, and investors we have.
As you mention, this is the third (or fourth, if you could the former Walt Disney Accelerator) Techstars accelerator in LA – why the decision to run another one here?
Cody Simms: Obviously, I live here in LA, and I have been since 2005. I have witnessed first hand the amazing growth of the LA startup ecosystem. One could argue that in 2010, 2011, and 2012, that growth was in the video and entertainment area. There is still amazing growth in that sector. Obviously, we've also gone all in with healthcare with Cedars Sinai, and with music. However, we've seen an amazing set of companies across all sectors here. In the past yaer, I think that just about every single Techstars program we run, maybe not every one, but close to every single one, there was at least one LA-based startup represented in those programs. Those startups left LA and went to live in places like Minneapolis, New York, or Detroit, or other cities around our footprint, specifically to experience Techstars. Seeing that, there's obviously a lot of talent in a lot of different verticals in Los Angeles, which is why we are providing a resource for them here in LA.
What are the deadlines and program dates those startups ought to know about?
Cody Simms: Applications will open in January, on January 17th, 2017, and they will close April 9th, 2017. The program itself will start roughly July 17th, 2017, give or take a day or two. The Demo Day will be in October 2017.
What's your biggest advice for startups looking to enter the program?
Cody Simms: The most important thing we look for from startups applying for Techstars is the team. We are investing in companies that are becoming part of our global network and ecosystem. Ultimately, we're look for extremely high powered teams that are going to knock down walls, and do all they have to do when running a startup. Startups are hard. There are so many incredible ups and downs in the course of building your own company from the ground up. We've seen that time and time again. Companies always surprise us. They might not have a business fully baked coming into the program, and they are figuring it out. The key is the team that is going to drive and figure it out and get it done. Ultimately, that's the biggest thing we look for. There are six things we look for in startups. The first three are team. Team, Team, Team. Can you execute? Do you have the right skill sets among the team? Do you have the right interpersonal relationships? These are all things we look at closely with a team. Then, we look at the market: are you in a space that is big and interesting and changing and has a propensity to create new winners, and can you create a new market yourself? Next, we look at progress, from the first time we've met you to the next. Have you shown progress moving forward. Sometimes entrepreneurs ask if we need certain metrics and traction—you don't. However, you need to show progress over the course of when we have gotten to know you. Are you pushing the ball forward, and making progress? Finally, the last thing, is what is the idea and product you are trying to build.
Are there any things you have seen in the companies that have been the most successful out of Techstars?
Cody Simms: It's all back to the team and founder. It's the founders who just don't quit, who are put on earth to build the thing they are trying to build. There's no way to predict it, necessarily, than the feeling that they are exceptional. If you look at the awesome companies and teams here in LA who are part of the Techstars family, you have Realty Mogul, which is now one of the biggest companies in LA, which is a Techstars graduate; Scopely, though they didn't go through the accelerator, we invested through our fund early on in their life cycle; and Two Bit Circus, a new company and fast emerging. We invested in each one of those, because they were led by an incredible, dynamic leader, pushing the industry forward.
Thanks, and good luck!