TechStars thriving as Boulder’s tech connection

BOULDER — The sign on the door said TechStars, but the crowd of more than 100 people packed into its downtown Boulder office looked a bit different from the tech entrepreneurs who normally buzz around the city’s unofficial startup hub.

The 20- and 30-somethings in jeans and T-shirts printed with their tech companies’ logos were there, but on an evening in early January they might have been outnumbered by somewhat older men and women wearing sport coats, slacks or “business casual” dress.

Despite the difference in ages and attire, they came for the same reasons: to find a job or employees.

TechStars, together with Denver-based consultants TriWorth, had quickly put together the event to respond to recent layoffs in Boulder’s tech community, said Luke Beatty, co-managing director of TechStars Boulder. The specific catalyst was the recent announcement by Tendril Networks Inc. that it was laying off 59 people, he said.

“There are a lot of people looking for their next gig, and there are a lot of people looking for the next great person for their company,” Beatty said.

Beatty knows a lot about jobs created by TechStars companies, including the exact number they’ve created – 1,258. Those jobs have been created by the 199 startups TechStars has helped connect with mentors and investors since its 2007 launch.

Beatty has worked with some of those companies as a regular mentor for the Boulder program. TechStars was launched in Boulder and has spread to New York City, Boston and Seattle. TechStars also “powers” independent accelerators for Microsoft in Seattle, Nike in Portland, Oregon, and a cloud-focused program in San Antonio.

Beatty became a member of TechStars’ leadership team late last year, when he joined Nicole Glaros as co-managing director in Boulder. He is taking over day-to-day operations in Boulder while Glaros works in New York City as the interim director of that program. Eventually he will become the only director as Glaros takes on a new position with TechStars.

Beatty’s career has followed the path many entrepreneurs would like to follow. He founded a company named Associated Content in 2005 and sold it to Yahoo! Inc. (Nasdaq: YHOO) in 2010. According to media reports, the price tag was $90 million, but Beatty declined to confirm that, citing a nondisclosure agreement.

Beatty became a vice president at Yahoo! after the deal.

“It’s good experience, because it existed at all the right levels, from literally starting it in my basement with a couple of people to raising a round (of venture capital) to selling it,” he said.

Beatty is one of three hires TechStars made in the closing months of 2012 to fill major positions. Mark Solon, a Boise, Idaho-based venture capitalist, and Ari Newman, a serial entrepreneur and founder of Filtrbox Inc., also joined the accelerator’s staff.

The new hires will help TechStars with its core mission of helping entrepreneurs launch companies by connecting them with mentors and investors, cofounder and chief executive David Cohen said.

They also will help TechStars raise money and deal with new opportunities and challenges as it evolves, much like the companies it mentors.

“TechStars in its first seven years has evolved in a really magical way, but I don’t think anyone at TechStars is content with the way it is,” Beatty said.

“We’re moving out of the startup phase, for lack of a better description,” Glaros said.

Growing companies need money, and that will be Solon’s focus. Solon, a managing director of Highway 12 Ventures, has become a general partner and will focus on managing TechStars’ investments and fundraising. TechStars has raised $70 million to invest, and that amount will grow in the future.

“We don’t have any specific plans to get to $100 million, but we think we’re approaching that as time goes by,” Cohen said.

Solon also will help TechStars companies develop their capital-formation strategies, something he has done for a number of years as a mentor. Although he lives and will remain in Idaho, he knows Boulder and TechStars well.

“I was taken with TechStars from the very first time I stepped in the bunker,” Solon said. “It’s probably the most innovative thing I’ve seen to help entrepreneurs in my career.”

Solon and Highway 12 Ventures have invested heavily in Boulder startups and TechStars companies such as SendGrid and Orbotix.

“We’ve put more money to work in Boulder than any other town,” Solon said. “It’s like fishing in a stocked pond.”

Newman is TechStars’ new “network catalyst,” which means he is working with alumni to ensure their TechStars connections remain “resources they can always tap into that give them an unfair advantage” well after they’ve left, he said.

As more companies went through TechStars, it became clear the far-flung alumni network was a major asset that could use more attention to maximize its benefit.

“As TechStars has grown and scaled, now is the time where we really need a resource like this and a little more focus on investing in and developing the alumni platform,” Newman said.

Newman has first-hand knowledge of being an entrepreneur going through TechStars. He founded Filtrbox, which was part of TechStar’s first class in 2007.

“The whole thing was an experiment, a well-thought out and well-organized experiment, but it was brand new,” Newman said.

Back then, Cohen expected the experiment to be a success. He didn’t know how big it would become.

“It’s fundamentally what I envisioned for Boulder. I did not imagine the impact it could have for other cities,” Cohen said. “The scope of it is not what I anticipated, and the impact we’ve had with other accelerators (through the TechStars network) were not things that were envisioned.”

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