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Techstars Managing Director On “How to be a Human in a Startup”


Founded in Boulder, Colorado in 2006, Techstars now claims to be the “#1 startup accelerator in the world”. With offices in six U.S. cities and London, Techstars runs three month long, mentor-driven accelerator programs. Those who are interested in a spot, however, will have to compete with a large applicant pool. According to Katie Rae, the Managing Director of Techstars in Boston, for every 10 slots available, Techstars gets over 1,500 startup applicants.

We sat down with Katie to learn more about the Techstars startup philosophy and ask her about her new project Startup Institute to help startup job seekers in Berlin.

What do you select your Techstars startups based on?

We always say team, team, team, market idea. So if you have a great team and you are able to learn very quickly, and you are able to actually create something, that is a really good sign. If you are in a big market and you can actually show us how you are going to make your idea, that is also a big plus.

What is the most important piece of advice that you give to startups?

I’d say, the first thing is, be really clear on what change you expect to make in the world. Be really clear on that. If you can prove in some way other people will want what you create, you will start to gain momentum around your idea. I try to get people really focused and for them to ask: why are we doing this, what change do we expect to make in the world for others and what is their reaction to it? We try to keep people right in that zone for as long as possible, since that is how you build a very strong beginning to a company.

What is one common mistake that you see startups making?

They get a lot of bad legal advice, and they don’t vest after shares.

How would you assess the potential of Berlin for startups?

I think a lot of great things are happening there, and there are a good entrepreneurs and good ideas. I think there is probably not enough capital there to support the ideas, but I think that will grow over time.

Does Techstars have a plan to expand to Berlin?

No comment on that, but we think Europe is really interesting.

Tell us about your new project Startup Institute in Berlin.

Startup Institute is meant to train people to work in high-growth startups. One thing we learned is that, after you helped the startups get funding, they need people who actually know how to work at early stage startups. We are designed to help people start training for that. Our first class in Berlin will start in May.

What skills will the first class teach?

The class is all about how to work in a startup - how to work in a team, how to be effective in high-growth companies. It is not geared towards founders, but for people who want to work in high-growth companies.

How did you get the idea for Startup Institute?

I helped all of these tech startups get off the ground and as soon as they closed their seed funding they came back to me and said, “Hey, we need people who understand how to work in startups.” They need to be retrained to think that way rather than working for big companies. We kicked it off in Boston and said we are going to create a curriculum around the four key areas of high-growth startups: business development and sales, marketing, product design and product development.

We created something that we call “cross track” which is about how to be a human in a startup - how to work with other people, how to be effective in your role. We just started teaching it. We have now had over 450 students go through the programs, and we are in Boston, NYC, Chicago and now Berlin.

Thank you for the interview, Katie.

Katie will be a keynote speaker at the HEUREKA Conference on May 6th. Her talk will give more insights on the topic “Accelerate Your Startup”.

Image Credit: Techstars

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