TechStars “Entrepreneurship Boot Camp” Comes to Boston: An Interview with Co-founder David Cohen

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built and sold his early companies there. It’s where he started investing, and so he’s funded many successful companies around town.

Regarding Y Combinator’s departure—I am unsure of the mood or the effects of it. All I can say is that we believe our model is a substantially different approach—one of extensive community involvement. I hope that this model is welcomed in Boston the way it has been in Boulder.

X: Most incubators of this type (Dreamit, Y Combo) have a bias or preference for Web-based teams or companies, either because that’s the background of the funders or because those types of companies are easier to start fast. Is that also the pattern at TechStars, and why or why not?

DC: We think TechStars is different from “incubators” because of the mentorship-driven community involvement approach that we take. The top entrepreneurs and investors from the community get very involved from day one, and this is what makes TechStars work vs an “incubator.” To date, we’ve funded various software companies. Because of the applications we get, you will see that most of them are Web companies as you suggest. We do expect that most of the businesses we are going to fund in Boston and in Boulder are going to have a heavy software component—it’s what we know and we focus on. However, I suspect we’ll see a more diverse set of applications and I think that’s a good thing.

X: Are you confident there’s still time to get the Boston session organized and attract strong applications, with the application deadline just over a month away?

DC: Yes. Last year we received nearly 400 applications to the program. Remember, this is not a local draw. In Boulder, only four of 20 companies we’ve funded have been from Colorado. So this is going to bring exciting new companies to Boston, and our mentorship-driven approach has proven to cause a high percentage to want to stay after the program. While we don’t require that, it’s sort of our “evil plan”—TechStars wants to make the community we’re in better. It happens naturally because we’ve been effective at building enormous and useful networks for the founders who participate, and have a great track record at getting seed funding done for our companies. This tends to cause them to want to stick around.

Back to the application flow. Typically, more than half the applications come in during the last 10 days. Our network of mentors and publications interested in the region will help get the word out fast. This is a great opportunity and good news travels quickly. In fact, thanks for being a part of that!

X: When Paul Graham announced that Y Combinator would be leaving Cambridge, he made it clear that the main reason was that he and his wife wanted their kids to attend schools in the Silicon Valley area rather than Cambridge. But he also said that the gap between Boston and the Valley was “huge,” in terms of the opportunities available to startups, and that it was probably a net disadvantage for the participants in the summer sessions to be located in Cambridge. So my last question for you is this: Why choose Boston over Palo Alto or Mountain View? Do you see something in this area that Graham doesn’t?

DC: Regardless of the endless debate about Silicon Valley being better or, for extremists, even the “only place to do a startup,” we all know that Boston and the East Coast in general is obviously rich with opportunity. The reason we picked Boston is because of existing deep ties there, coupled with enthusiastic interest from the community in the form of investors, mentors, etc. TechStars is very much about the communities that it exists in because it employs a mentorship-driven model that is unique and has been extremely effective in Boulder.

Regardless of the “noise”, it’s painfully obvious that Boston is one of many great places in the country for startups. TechStars simply hopes to help make it even better, and our community-oriented mentorship-driven model, we hope, will help get the early stage community involved and integrated in the process.

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Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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