Two Accelerator Programs Open in Austin as Texas Bolsters Ecosystem

Austin—Two new startup programs have launched in Austin in the last week: One is a Boston-based program that doesn’t take an equity stake in the startups it helps accelerate, while the second is a new branch of Techstars that’s focused on social and environmental businesses.

Austin is the newest city in a growing list in which MassChallenge, a nonprofit founded in 2009, will operate an accelerator program. Besides Boston, the group also operates in the UK, Israel, Switzerland, and Mexico. The new Austin program expects to receive more than 1,000 applications for the accelerator, which will start in 2018, and will select 100 startups from that group, says managing director Mike Millard.

Meanwhile, Boulder, CO-based Techstars announced this morning a new Austin-based program called Techstars Impact Accelerator that focuses on businesses trying to solve social and environmental problems. Techstars, which was founded a decade ago, has invested in similar companies through its venture capital arm, including California-based drone-delivery service Zipline and Austin-based Aunt Bertha. But this is Techstars’ first accelerator focused solely on those types of companies, managing director Zoe Schlag wrote in a blog post.

The news of the additions to Austin comes as leaders across Texas have been pushing to further the startup ecosystem throughout the state. As Xconomy’s Angela Shah has previously reported, part of that can be done by expanding the reach of programs, such as Austin-based Capital Factory’s decision to work more closely in Dallas with the Dallas Entrepreneur Center. Houston is developing its own innovation district. And San Antonio has sprouted up groups like VelocityTX, a self-proclaimed hub for startups and entrepreneurs that is now managing the operations for a group of Texas angel networks.

The launch of two new accelerators in Austin will only further that effort to achieve a critical mass in the Texas startup ecosystem, says Millard, a startup founder (Pitch-a-Kid) and the former director of research at venture capital firm Austin Ventures. Millard has also worked for companies such as AT&T, Dell, and HP, among others.

“As a whole, Texas is just ripe to get a huge push on the global stage to be an innovation ecosystem player,” Millard said in a telephone interview. “I think it’s great that folks are thinking of it as a Texas innovation trend.”

The MassChallenge Austin branch will award $500,000 to a small group—possibly as many as 10, Millard says—of the 100 companies that participate in the program. In addition to advising the startups that are selected, mentors help judge and pick the winners, and Millard is embarking on a tour of Texas to round up a couple hundred executives, entrepreneurs, and other experts to work with MassChallenge on the first Austin program, he says. Millard expects to begin selecting companies in December.

Many notable companies have worked through MassChallenge’s other accelerators. Two of the most notable, according to Millard, are New York-based on-demand services business Handy and Ginkgo Bioworks, a Boston-based company that designs and builds microorganisms for customers that can use them to produce things such as flavors, fragrances, cosmetics, and nutritional ingredients.

Techstars’ new Austin program for social- and environmental-focused businesses is beginning to accept applications in December, and it plans to start in June.

“Companies participating in the program will focus on developing transformative technologies and innovative business models to solve our most pressing challenges across financial services, healthcare, education, agriculture, energy, and more,” Schlag, the managing director, wrote in a blog post released to Xconomy before it was published this morning.

Techstars plans to continue operating its other Austin accelerator program, which it started in 2013. The next group participating in that program will begin work in January, according to a Techstars spokesman.

David Holley is Xconomy's national correspondent based in Austin, TX. You can reach him at dholley@xconomy.com Follow @xconholley

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