Mentorship-driven or Why I applied to TechStars

It was about this time last year that I started to think in earnest about TechStars.  I had the original (612 iterations and now one pivot old) idea for TempMine and thought that maybe that nice, stable job I had wasn’t really what I wanted.  So I started digging into TechStars.  I followed everyone TechStars related on Twitter (heck, I *joined* Twitter as a research tool for my application).  I listened to interviews with David Cohen and Brad Feld.  I read blog posts.  Oh my, did I read blog posts!  I devoured all I could find that had anything to do with TechStars.

Through all of that content, there was one recurring theme that rose above all others – “mentorship-driven.”  Everywhere I turned, when I saw TechStars, those two words were not far behind.  And you know what?  They are why I applied to TechStars.  It wasn’t the seed funding (though that did help nudge my wife to agree to the insane idea of my leaving a perfectly good job).  It wasn’t the fact that such a high percentage of past companies had raised seed rounds and gone on to create very cool companies – and sometimes sell them!  It was the people who helped the teams.  It was their bios.  It was what they had done.

You see, it’s not even the intros to these folks (but trust me, those are crazy valuable on their own – especially here in chilly Boston).  It’s also not really the sessions that they give (though there are a ton of those and they are freakin’ amazing, you’ll be shocked afterward at how much you didn’t know).  It’s their availability.   When you meet these mentors, you’ve already crested a threshold that many, many others haven’t.  Where many of these folks are also investors, they are constantly pitched, yet when you’re a TechStar, they are voluntarily lowering their guard for the most basic of reasons – they want to help you.  They all had help along the way.   They know the value of being helped.   They know that we, as a startup community – whether we’re in Boston, Boulder, Seattle, Valley or wherever, will all do better when the more experienced help the less experienced.

So look at those lists of mentors (Boulder, Boston, and now Seattle).  Look at what those men and woman have done.  Look at what they do now.  Are you seeing the value I saw before applying?  Here’s the best part.  As much as I thought I got “the TechStars way”, this mentorship-driven thing, and I did, conceptually -  I was off by an order of magnitude.  It’s way, way better.

The mentors have been there (where you want to go) and done that (what you want to do).  Your mentors will ask you smarter and far tougher questions about your plan, your assumptions, your direction than anyone else.   They will challenge you and sometimes tear your idea apart.  Don’t worry, that’s a good thing.  Better they do it during TechStars, than the market afterwards.

The mentors know everyone.  They knew people who you never knew even existed.  They bypass gatekeepers, email filters, and all the other stuff that was designed keep you out.  They will make intros to folks who just don’t have time to talk to startups, but for your mentor, for you, will.

The mentors care.  They carve out real time, often a crazy amount of real time, in their schedule to help you and your little startup.   It’s amazing how much you can get done in a 30 minute meeting, with an insanely sharp, outrageously experienced { VC | serial entrepreneur | angel | lawyer … } who’s there to ask questions, to push you, to help.

This is starting to sound like an infomercial “but wait, there’s more!”

There is more and if you don’t screw it up, there’s a lot more.  Here’s the real special sauce that I don’t see mentioned enough (so I might get in trouble for letting this slip – oops).  TechStars is not a 3 month program.  Sure, the main program lasts for three months, but being a TechStar does not end with the last pitch on investor day, or when you move out of the penthouse, bunker, or where ever they shack you all up in Seattle.   Your relationships with your mentors don’t end.  Your access to great help, to people who are invested in you (personally as well as in some cases, financially), does not end.  If you do it right, you’ll exit your three months in TechStars with friends who just happen to have IPO’d a company or two, angel invest, and know pretty much everyone – and man, those are great friends to have.

If you’re working on a great startup, something that keeps you up at night and gets you out of bed in the morning, something you’re excited about and you realize the value of great mentors – apply to TechStars.  But hurry up – applications for this Spring’s Boston session close on the January 11th.

5 thoughts on “Mentorship-driven or Why I applied to TechStars

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  4. Marie Powers

    What a wonderful, well written tribute to TechStars. Your humility and gratitude shine through…two fundamental characteristics for lasting success in business AND life in my opinion.

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