How Techstars Chicago Selects Its Teams

Troy Henikoff, executive director of Techstars Chicago, says it’s the little incremental things, added together, that create a top-notch tech accelerator. And, he’s looking for a few good teams to join his.

It’s that time of year when entrepreneurs apply and compete for a coveted spot with Techstars Chicago — one of the nation’s top accelerators. Despite an acceptance rate tighter than that of an East Coast ivy-league university — around one-percent (1%) — Henikoff expects the number of 2014 applications to surge well past what they received in 2013, the year that the former Excelerate Labs took on the Techstars brand.

In 2012, when we were Excelerate Labs, we had just 400 applications. In 2013, we had 904 applications, so twice as many applications. We interviewed exactly 100; of those 100 we brought 24 back for final interviews, and accepted ten (10).

Henikoff attributes the increase in applicants not only to the Techstars brand but, also, to a number of changes such as a larger mentor base from which to draw, more investor capital, and the addition of a group of in-house experts, known as ‘hackstars’. In 2013, Techstars Chicago hired its first four hackstars — a graphic design and CSS instructor from the Starter League, an award-winning UI/UX designer from Orbitz, a businessperson from Deloite, and a developer, to provide the entrepreneurs with expertise and resources lacking within their own teams.

“Having the hackstars added to the mix was an incremental benefit we got,” he says. “At the end of the day, I think that we were able to be more selective, and take those highly curated group of ten, and make more progress with them. Because of the incremental improvements our program resulted in a better finished product.”

Techstars Mentor Board

A dry erase board signed by investors, mentors, and friends of Techstars Chicago.

What’s the best way to ensure that your application a gets second look? Make sure that your venture is up-and-running. Companies most likely to be considered are those which already have products, customers, and revenue, or a good potential for revenue.

Henikoff says they won’t change their selection methods for the 2014 batch. “The piece that changed [last year] was that we were able to select from a larger pool which allowed us to be even more selective in who we choose, but not how we choose them,” he says. “We’re still looking for those same core elements. We’re looking for great entrepreneurs who are tackling a big problem, some differentiation, some product market fit, and traction.”

In his interview, Henikoff reveals the ideal traits of a Techstars entrepreneur. ❒

[Cover photo: Troy Henikoff, executive director of Techstars Chicago at Community Day. ©2014 Blackline Review.]

1 Comment

  • Dabney L. says:

    Just FYI, Ms. Tech is hosting a lunch with Troy Hennikoff on March 5th on the theme ‘is Techstarts Right for Me’, in case you’re interested in applying.

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