Why come to Jacksonville?
Jacksonville is my hometown. It’s exciting to come back and do what I love doing: finding and investing in early stage startups. Beyond that, I think Jacksonville isn’t the hottest place on the map in tech, but I’ve seen an increasing amount of good things happening in this market. It’s only made better by organizations like Techstars getting involved early and providing potential funding for companies doing well. As to why I’m coming right now, Techstars has been around for 10 years, but we just came to Atlanta in 2016. We wrapped up our first class in NOvember and we’re now recruiting for our second. My partner, Michael [Cohn] and I learned a lot last year that we will take into 2017. We’re looking to find 10 really amazing companies.
Will you be visiting elsewhere in Florida to recruit?
Jacksonville is our only stop in Florida, but we’re traveling to a number of cities throughout the Southeast, as well as places like Nigeria, Israel and Canada. We have a busy and global schedule. But we are looking to attract interest from companies throughout the state — Miami or Tampa or Tallahassee, for example — and spend time identifying promising startups in those cities. It’s important to play to your strengths and the way you create opportunities in venture investing in leveraging your network, and my network is Jacksonville, so that’s the right place for us.
Being that you’re based in Atlanta, what opportunities do you have to showcase the Southeast?
We have a huge opportunity. One of the things that is important to us is to ensure our classes are diverse. We’re bringing great companies not just from the Southeast but around the world. We recognize the need of a thriving startup ecosystem that’s not just built on input of the city or town but on the talents of people who move there or are drawn there. We’re doing our part to go around the world. Last year’s class had four international companies and three from throughout the United States; and three of last year’s companies move here, which was a huge win for the Atlanta ecosystem. Atlanta has a natural place as a leading city in the South.
What should companies expect from your visit to Jacksonville?
The startup community here has done well with many successes, and we want to continue in that tradition and create the next big win. Wouldn’t it be great if the next Uber or Facebook came from the Southeast?
During my visit to Jacksonville, the purpose in coming is to identify companies that might be a great fit for our program, but the other is to see where I can give back to the local startup community. I plan to do that in a couple ways. I will be hosting office hours, open to any startup that applies to it, and I’m spending a half hour with that company to get to know them, starting with the founders. Techstars is a founder-first organization. Then, I will host an informal happy hour event to share more about the Techstars story and how we operate. Hopefully, as a result from this, we’ll end up with a couple great companies from Jacksonville or Florida in our class for 2017.
For those companies that are accepted or applying, what should they expect from your accelerator?
Expect an intense three months. The Techstars program is unlike any other. It is a three month hyper-intense accelerator. You’re surrounded by world-class mentors who themselves are founders of companies or domain experts in areas relevant to these companies. There is also investment, including a few million in perks. And you have the mentorship and guidance of the managing directors, myself and my partner Michael. Both of us have lots of experience doing what we do. It will be a very intense and emotional time. The founders have a lot on their mind and shoulders, and we’re there to help them get through that and help them through the journey to build a world-class company.
What advice would you give to those companies interested in Techstars?
My advice is one simple thing and one hard thing.
The simple advice is to just apply, whether you think you’re too big or too small, and let us work with you to figure that out.
My second advice is, once you apply, continue to move as fast as you can. There is no victory in applying or even getting into Techstars. Victory comes with success and there is only one way to measure that. If you succeed, you need to move quickly and never stop pushing. One thing we look at closely is the amount of progress a company makes between applying and when we make our offers, which can be four months. So push hard from beginning to end. We’re most impressed when we see a company made lots of progress in that time.