By guest authors Irina Patterson and Candice Arnold
Irina: Could you compare TechStars to Y Combinator?
Brad: They are similar types of programs. Y Combinator was the first, TechStars was the second. The historical difference between the two programs has been that when TechStars was started, it was very much mentor driven. So, if you look at each of the cities, there are forty or fifty mentors who actively engage with the companies from the very beginning. It’s more than just a famous entrepreneur showing up giving a speech; instead, it’s real, deep engagement.
Each company tends to have somewhere between two and five mentors who meet with them on a weekly or even more frequent basis. The companies also collocate with each other. At TechStars they spend the whole program with each other in the same facility, so you have a lot of interaction between the companies. That’s not just their coming together a couple times a week for events and meals and things like that, but they are always together. Those are some of the differences. I think that the biggest distinction between the two programs is the mentorship orientation at TechStars.
Irina: How do exactly the mentors work with them?
Brad: It varies, but I would say that the mentors tend to engage with the companies and actually look like extensions of the companies. For the first couple of weeks of the program, a lot of it is getting to know the mentors and the mentors deciding which companies they want to go deep with.
Once they start to develop an affinity for the companies, some mentors meet once a week with the companies and give them very specific feedback on the progress they are making.
Other mentors meet with them a couple of times a week. There’s continual e-mail traffic. The specific things the mentors do range from product advice, market advice, and helping with all the issues that come up early in life of these companies.
They help with figuring out how to put together financing, a lot of networking and business development activity. A lot of the strategies for these companies because they’re so early, they tend to move around a lot, mentors are very involved in helping shape the strategies and shape what the companies are actually doing.
Irina: You’re one of the mentors, right?
Irina: How many companies does each mentor usually have?
Brad: Usually one or two.
Irina: What do you think seed investors could do to better support the entrepreneurship?
Brad: I think what seed investors can do is to make more investments faster. I think there are some angel investors and some early-stage VCs who are very good at making decisions quickly. But I think a lot of angels, who are very slow to make a lot of decisions, put the entrepreneurs through a lot of paces at the very early stages versus just jumping in and getting engaged. If there’s anything I would change, I would encourage people to make decisions faster and make more of them.
Irina: Thank you, Brad. Fantastic insights.