Techstars Boston’s Latest Class Signals Accelerator’s Diversity Push

Six months after Techstars announced a plan to boost the diversity of its accelerator programs around the world, the Boston group seems to be making some progress on that front.

Techstars Boston announced the companies in its latest session today. Of the 14 startups, two are led by women and another four firms have at least one co-founder who is a woman, says managing director Semyon Dukach. That’s not gender parity, but he says it’s moving in the right direction.

“There are way more women in leadership positions than we had” in previous sessions, Dukach says.

Kimberley Bond, co-founder and community director of Grapevine, says she is encouraged by the diversity of the latest Techstars Boston group, which includes her company. Three of her company’s five founders and two-thirds of its overall staff are women, she says.

“I’m surrounded by remarkable and inspiring women every day, and I’m excited there are more likeminded women being represented in one of the tech industry’s most prestigious programs,” Bond says in an e-mail message. “I think Techstars is sending a big message with the current class,” she adds—and not just on gender diversity.

Like with some recent classes, there’s a strong international flavor in the latest batch of Techstars Boston companies. Two hail from Canada, two are from the U.K., and one is from Germany, Dukach says. (The majority of the rest got started in the Boston area.) Some of the startups’ employees grew up in places like South Africa and Brazil, he adds.

And while the broader tech industry struggles with diversity issues, Techstars isn’t the only tech organization in the Boston area trying to boost diversity. The new executive director of the New England Venture Capital Association has made it a priority, and Boston-based startup accelerator MassChallenge has touted improved gender diversity in its local program.

In the latest Techstars Boston session, the 14 companies’ products and services crisscross a bunch of sectors, including wearable technology, payments, marketing, telecommunications, and more. There’s even a high-tech paper notebook startup and an online engagement-ring retailer.

Semyon Dukach

Semyon Dukach

The program is Techstars’ 10th in Boston since the Boulder, CO-based accelerator launched an outpost here seven years ago. As the Boston program has boosted its cachet, it has tended to select more mature companies. That trend continued with this group, Dukach says.

“We have more companies that have significant revenues already,” he says. “We still take some early-stage companies”—but at this point, he adds, not as many as during the early years of the local program.

The new session kicked off Monday and will culminate with a pitch event in late May.

Here’s the full list of companies accepted into the current class:

AirFox is trying to lower the cost of mobile phone service for carriers and consumers around the world, such as by allowing users to earn airtime by viewing advertisements on their phone’s lock screen.

Daily Pnut (pronounced “peanut”) is a daily e-mail of international news meant to educate and entertain.

Danger!Awesome is a “retail makerspace” that allows consumers to walk into the store, describe a product or gift, and then have it made by the company’s designers and technicians within several days.

Grapevine helps connect brands and advertisers with popular YouTube creators seeking sponsorships.

Heddoko makes a compression suit that tracks body movement in 3D and provides users with immediate feedback.

Navut helps people who are moving to a new city scout neighborhoods and connect with real estate agents and other local service providers.

Polis’s software helps political campaigns and other organizations manage their door-to-door outreach.

Rare Pink is an online seller of bespoke engagement rings.

Rocketbook has developed special notebooks and pens that allow users to erase their notes in the microwave—the pens use “thermochromic” ink that turns invisible when exposed to heat. Before clearing the notes, users can store them online with the company’s mobile app that can snap a photo, enhance the image, and send it to services like Dropbox or an e-mail account.

Seed&Spark is a crowdfunding and distribution platform for independent films.

Spoiler Alert is an online marketplace that allows businesses to donate or sell surplus food so that it doesn’t go to waste.

Strobe provides event management software for venues and promoters.

Tapglue helps mobile app developers build and maintain a community of users.

YayPay’s software manages the collection of invoices and other accounts receivable tasks.

Jeff Engel is a senior editor at Xconomy. Email: jengel@xconomy.com Follow @JeffEngelXcon

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