TechStars Raises $24M More, Offers Each Startup $100K; Founder David Cohen Talks “Quality Over Quantity”

9/21/11Follow @gthuang

The early-stage tech accelerator business just got even more competitive.

Boulder, CO-based TechStars, which runs seed-stage mentorship programs for startups in Boulder, Boston, Seattle, and New York, announced today it has raised a new $24 million fund from a long list of investors that includes Foundry Group, IA Ventures, Avalon Ventures, DFJ Mercury, SoftBank Capital, SVB Financial Group, RRE Ventures, and Right Side Capital Management. The new money brings TechStars’ total funding to roughly $34 million (from over 75 venture capital firms and angel investors).

Here’s what’s more interesting. The new money will be used to offer each new company accepted into TechStars an additional $100,000 in the form of a convertible note. That will be effective for all 2012 programs, and is on top of the $6,000 per founder that TechStars provides in its 12-week boot camps in exchange for a 6 percent equity stake in each startup.

The $100K will help teams worry less about early fundraising and should “entice a broader spectrum of would-be entrepreneurs to consider” the program, says TechStars founder and CEO David Cohen.

I asked Cohen via e-mail about how the extra money would help TechStars compete against other incubator programs—most notably, Silicon Valley-based Y Combinator, which started offering $150K to each of its startups earlier this year.

“I don’t think the best companies really pick an accelerator based on a small amount of funding like this,” Cohen says. “I think they pick on results and reputation. Results matter. The average TechStars company raises over $1M. Seven of the first 20 have been acquired. We have some great historical data which we are transparent about and I think this matters.”

Cohen went on to stress some of his program’s merits for entrepreneurs—the focus on a small number of teams, and the wide backing from investors. “Hopefully they pick TechStars also because of our focus on quality over quantity, and based on the quality of our mentorship,” he says. “I also hope they pick TechStars because we are so widely supported, and are backed by more than 75 VCs and angels. This makes a real difference for our companies, and I don’t think anybody else offers such breadth of mentorship and investment backing. This $100k per startup offer comes from a wide variety of venture funds nationally, and we think that’s different too. Imagine having the support of so many, right out of the gate.”

So will TechStars be expanding its programs or moving into new cities anytime soon? Cohen didn’t give any specifics, but he said much of the new funding would be used “for future operations and financings.”

Lastly, I asked him about the challenge of maintaining the TechStars culture and quality of mentorship as the program continues to grow—and as the noise and redundancy among early-stage tech companies, ideas, and incubators seems to keeps growing too.

“We fund about ten companies at once, and put the full focus of our organization on them,” Cohen says. “We bring the best mentors available to the table and get them to deeply engage with these companies. We want every company we fund to be successful. We haven’t changed our focus on quality over quantity as we’ve carefully and slowly expanded. We’re the same TechStars as we’ve always been, and we just keep piling on the unfair advantages that we give the startups we fund.”

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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