The countdown to “Demo Day” — the culminating showcase of three months of do-or-die work for ten handpicked startups — kicked off with a party, cold beers, and an appearance by the founder and CEO of TechStars himself, David Cohen.
Entrepreneurs and supporters of Chicago’s start-up scene filled the group’s workspace at 1871, with the startup teams eager to share their progress, and the funders and mentors chatting about their Techstars teams. While most of the ‘stars’ enjoyed the excuse for downtime, a handful continued to toil away, as Blackline Review caught up with a few of them:
Nexercise co-founders Benjamin Young and Gregory Coleman pin the growing success of their weight loss app to TechStars, agreeing that they have learned more in the last two months about business than in the past year.
“What excites me is that we better understand our users, we better understand how to market to them, and we better understand how our business is going to make more money in the future,” Young said with a smile.
Coleman added that the Techstars experience is like putting “super-charge fuel in your engine.”
A wristband and “PowerPod” for kids ages 8 – 12 helps to keep track of daily exercise. They are physical products that Sqord founders (unlike the digital products easily launched and distributed by their TechStars cohorts), have been hesitant to release.
With tangible products to be shipped, the startup has been careful to make sure they are offering the best quality. That means slow attention to detail. Co-founder, Jeff Wright, is excited about an upcoming county-wide October release of their products north of Seattle where every fifth-grader, in Snohomish County, Washington, will have access to a Sqord “PowerPod.”
“TechStars has been really good about making us think through every little thing we’ve done,” Wright says. “As Troy [Henikoff] likes to say, it’s like telling us [that] our baby is ugly. We come in with a lot of preconceived notions, a lot of high ego… and then we realize [that] the companies that do this really, really, well, have taken it ten steps past where we have.”
Released just last month to the iTunes app store, FindIt ― an iPhone app that helps users find emails and files ― experienced 6,000 downloads in ten days.
Before coming to TechStars, co-founder Levi Belnap says he and his teammates were focused more on a desktop product. However, after joining TechStars, they realized that mobile apps offered more of an opportunity for growth.
“As a young entrepreneur, you can make mistakes because you’ve never been there or done it before, right?” Belnap asks rhetorically. “So, [TechStars] is just kind of showing us the things that we might mess up on, or the mistakes we might make.”
After an hour of mingling, David Cohen jumped on a table to speak. He quickly addressed TechStars’ vision and the importance of merging the accelerator with Excelerate Labs this year.
“Techstars could probably be in a hundred places right now,” Cohen says, looking down at the teams of starters listening to him. “We’ve been really deliberate about quality in the family and who’s in it. I believe, to this day, that if Excelerate [Labs] started first, we probably would have sort of joined them.”
Cohen then, looked at Troy Henikoff, Chicago’s managing director, recalling that he and his team met Henikoff at Demo Day in Boulder four years ago.
“Troy came out and was pissed off that there were a bunch of Chicago companies at TechStars,” he added with a chuckle.
“Five of them in 2009!” Henikoff yelled lightheartedly.
“That was the very passion of why we started in Boulder,” Cohen replied. “I think for us to sort of join forces and work together was an absolute no-brainer because of the idea that we could go anywhere, but coming here and joining forces with Excelerate [Labs], extending our family that way, is a real no-brainer in terms of quality.”
Cohen ended by reminding the teams not to forget the TechStars groups across the globe ― such as those in London, New York, and Boston. “We are building a massive, interconnected network of the best entrepreneurs and the best mentors, and it extends beyond just this one location.”
Out of more than 900 applications, ten companies were selected to become part of TechStars Chicago’s inaugural class. The other teams include CaptureProof, HIPOM, Pathful, Peoplematics, Project Fixup, SimpleRelevance, and SocialCrunch.
TechStars’ invitation-only Demo Day, for prominent investors, is scheduled for August 28. Others will have the chance to hear about the companies at a Community Demo Day, tentatively scheduled for September 9th. ❒