How TechStars came to Seattle?

Below is the somewhat long story behind TechStars Seattle. I usually don't write long blog posts but I'm super excited about TechStars and applications for the Seattle program open today. A number of people have asked me the story behind TechStars coming to Seattle -- so here it is in its full detail.  You can apply for TechStars Seattle here and theschedule of important dates for the program are here.

I first contacted David Cohen in January 2008. At the time, I had just started working on Founder’s Co-op and wanted to speak with David about his experience with TechStars. I thought that TechStars was onto something and I wanted to learn from what David was doing and consider doing something similar in Seattle.

Chris DeVore, my partner at Founder's Co-op and I decided we didn't want to mimic a 3 month incubator in Seattle – in our opinion, TechStars and Y-combinator were both occupying that market space pretty well.  I opted to start Founder’s Co-op, a mentor driven seed fund.  When I spoke to David on the phone, he was kind enough to share some legal documents with me. Shortly after that call, I became a mentor of TechStars Boulder.

In January 2009, I learned that TechStars was expanding to Boston. I emailed David Cohen and Brad Feld and said that if they ever considered expanding to Seattle I would be interested in working with them.   David and Brad both encouraged me to spend more time in the summer at TechStars to get to know the program. They said that they were interested in exploring the possibility of working together.

In May 2009, I went to my 20th college reunion at Brown University in Providence RI. While I was back east, I stopped by at the Boston TechStars 2009 orientation. Turns out that Shawn Broderick, an old friend of mine from the 1990’s Boston technology scene, was the executive director.  Shawn asked me to speak to the incoming class of TechStar companies.  I did – and I’m not sure exactly what I said – but as I spoke I choked with emotion.  The weekend had already been a trip down memory lane for me – walking the campus at Brown already pre-disposed me to feeling nostalgic. But I wasn’t prepared for the raw energy emanating from the founders of the 10 Boston TechStars companies. I spoke to the founders of the 10 companies. I told them what it was like for me to start abuzz in 1996. I shed a few tears. I got into my car and called Brad Feld and Jerry Colonna – the venture capitalists who invest and bet on me in, abuzz technologies, my first company.  I decided then – that Seattle needed a program like this and that I wanted to run TechStars Seattle. Now, I just needed David Cohen to be willing to open TechStars in Seattle.

In the summer of 2009, I made another two trips to Boulder in an effort to get to know the TechStars program and David Cohen better. After the second trip, David said that he was very interested in opening TechStars Seattle but didn’t want to make a decision until October 2009.   He also wanted to get to know the early stage technology scene in Seattle better.  He went about meeting entrepreneurs and investors in Seattle and even came to a Founder's Co-op LP meeting.

By September 2009, David told me that he had pretty much decided to expand to Seattle but he wanted the community of entrepreneurs to drive the expansion of the program.

In early November 2009, there were a series of dinners in Seattle between Matt McIlwain, Greg Gottesman, Brad Feld, David Cohen, and myself. 

The next thing I knew --  in a 24 hour period Greg Gottesman and David Cohen both called and asked me if I’d be willing to run TechStars in Seattle alongside Founder’s Co-op, the seed stage fund I run with Chris DeVore… and I agreed. 

With the help of Greg Gottesman, I then approached the entrepreneur and venture capital community in Seattle and asked them to collaborate with us in supporting the launch of TechStars Seattle in August 2010. What happened was amazing! We received huge support from an amazing list of experienced entrepreneurs willing to act as mentors. In addition, nearly all the venture capitalists in the city elected to materially support Techstars Seattle !

The list of investors includes:

  • Jeff Bezos Investment Group
  • Divergent Venture Partners
  • Draper Associates
  • Founders Co-op
  • Foundry Group
  • Ignition Partners
  • Linden Rhoads (UW, center for technology commercialization
  • Madrona Venture Fund
  • Maveron Venture Capital
  • Montlake Capital
  • OVP
  • Rolling Bay Ventures (Geoff Entress)
  • Second Ave Partners
  • TechStars Central
  • Trilogy Equity Partners, LLC
  • Voyager Capital, LLC
  • Vulcan Capital(Paul Allen's group)
  • WRF Capital

Turns out, the Seattle startup scene has totally embraced TechStars….and I think that Seattle entrepreneur community is the big winner.  

That’s how TechStars came to Seattle.

Applications open for TechStars Seattle today :  March 23, 2010 and the program starts in Aug 2010. 

If you’re an early stage entrepreneur, you should consider applying here.