Expanding My Investment Thesis to Run the MetLife Digital Accelerator powered by Techstars

Today, I start my next adventure in startup investing – I’m the new Managing Director of the MetLife Digital Accelerator powered by Techstars. The program will run this summer on MetLife’s Global Technology Campus outside of Raleigh-Durham, NC.

My objective is to give the startups I invest in tremendous support in acquiring customers and fundraising from investors. If you’re a founder that wants to work with me and gain inside access to the leaders at MetLife, then this is the program for you. Read on to learn more about my investment thesis or skip to the bottom to watch the AMA to learn more.

My Mental Model for Investing in Startups

I’m excited to expand my network to the emerging startup market of Raleigh-Durham while keeping my roots in my hometown of Detroit. I’ve learned a lot over the past 10 years operating in San Francisco and Detroit, and I’m excited to bring these learnings to North Carolina with me — and see what new things I can learn, too.

I’ve been a Managing Director at Techstars for over 5 years. During this time, I’ve talked to over 1000 startups around the globe. These conversations have led me to make 54 investments in founders from 11 different countries. I’ve witnessed founders’ perception of doing business in an emerging market, like Detroit, change from negative to positive. I’m excited to bring this mentality with me to Raleigh-Durham.

Early-stage startup investing is my 生き甲斐 (Ikigai), a Japanese concept for the reason for being. I have 5 guiding principles that shape my mental framework for startup investing. Ultimately, for me, this all comes down to my 1:1 relationship with each founder.

      1. Transparency builds trust
      2. Empathy creates authentic human connections
      3. Synergy leads to better results when the sum is greater than the parts
      4. Networks grow exponentially exposing hidden opportunities
      5. Curiosity leads to improvement and breakthroughs

 Here’s how I’m using these 5 guiding principles in my next chapter of startup investing with the team at MetLife.

01: Transparency—Expanding My Investment Thesis

I’m obsessed with venture funds that have a clear investment focus. They show conviction, clarity of thought, and don’t waste founders’ time when there isn’t a fit.

Throughout my tenure as a Managing Director at Techstars I’ve been investing in technologies that impact how people and goods move around, across industries. Historically, I was all about “make and move” — but something was missing for me. Over a recent conversation with one of my personal mentors, I found the clarity I was seeking. The missing piece was centered around the impact those technologies have in our lives. So, I’ve updated my thesis to “make, move, and manifest” — technologies that make life better. It’s about  how things are made, how they move and move humans, and how they manifest in our daily lives.

What we’re looking to invest in for the 2020 Class of the MetLife Digital Accelerator powered by Techstars

For this program, I’ll be focusing on the “manifest” component of my thesis. For me, “manifest” is any startup building solutions that improve quality of life, with a holistic view on how everything is interconnected. Working closely with MetLife, a few of the sub-themes of this thesis include (but are certainly not limited to):

    • Employee Engagement: Solutions to create on-going and personalized touchpoints, content, and interactions with employees through employee benefits and financial wellness
    • Expertise On-demand: Flexible and scalable solutions that provide on-demand, localized or virtual human expertise/guidance/aid to consumers
    • Financial Personalization: Solutions that capture significant information about an employee to understand financial behavior and/or provide personalized education and recommendations related to financial decisions, management, and benefits
    • Life Stage Product Packages: Solutions for different life stages delivered through the employer/worksite around benefits, financial planning and management (i.e. student loan repayment, early wage access, retirement products, new parent solutions)
    • Behavioral Health: Workplace solutions to aid the employer in managing employee behavioral health (i.e. prevention, education, support, retention, claims management, return-to-work) with an emphasis on mental health

02: Empathy—I’m Relocating Too

The MetLife Digital Accelerator powered by Techstars runs in Cary, North Carolina from July 13 to October 8. As a founder, committing to take part in a 90-day program can be grueling. There’s a clear start and end date, and everything in the middle seems like a race to the end. Compounding this fact, many founders often relocate from around the world to participate. It’s a lot to ask a founding team to commit to a relocation for 90 days to work on their business. This can be very hard on founders, especially ones that are parents (I’m a dad with 4 kids under the age of 5, I can relate 😃)

Putting the human first, above their startup, and above the program, is my approach. For this program, I’m taking it one step further. I too, like many founders, will be relocating for the duration of the program. I’m taking my family and 4 kids with me to a place I’ve never lived. While I’m still passionate about my hometown of Detroit, I’m excited to explore the emerging startup market of Raleigh-Durham, immerse myself in a new area and build deep bonds and new relationships with founders and members of this thriving community. New environments unhinge old habits and thought patterns as our brain neurons rush to build new connections. I look forward to the mental upgrade.

03: Synergy—MetLife Supporting Startups to Succeed

This is my favorite principle. It ties into my personal strengths of “strategy” and “futurism” according to my ‘StrengthFinders’ test. I invest in founders building synergistic relationships that drive 1+1=3 results. With the MetLife Digital Accelerator powered by Techstars, there is an entirely new level to this.

10 startups from around the world will have deep access across MetLife. MetLife’s goal is to establish relationships with startups that leads to real results. John Geyer, MetLife’s Chief Innovation Officer, describes this process for startups as akin to a “Pilot E-ZPass” to start pilots and POCs with MetLife. Internal access to corporate knowledge + an optimized process to have MetLife as a customer = a path to success. This type of relationship can transform a startup’s trajectory. While not guaranteed for any startup in the program, the intent is to create as much synergy as possible. And that synergy gives the startups in the MetLife Digital Accelerator opportunities to enhance their fundraising and succeed in the market against competitors.

04: Networks—Connecting the Dots to Uncover Opportunities

Metcalfe’s law states the value of a network exponentially grows with each addition.

For me, this applies in two areas:

      1. People—Expanding my personal network of startups, investors, industry execs, and mentors
      2. Ideas—Expanding my investment focus into an entirely new area

I previously had a successful exit as CTO and cofounder of a startup. During this time, I built up my network in San Francisco. When I moved to Detroit, I saw my network grow exponentially. Driving this growth was the combination of my networks: San Francisco + Detroit. Important regional networks that attracted people from all around the world. This combination turned into a differentiator: uniqueness. I was embedded in an emerging market with a defined thesis aligned with corporate industry insight. This led to global exposure that drove (and continues to drive) a range of opportunities.

This uniqueness led to me to uncover my own personal mission: to change entrepreneurs’ perspective of doing business in emerging and underserved markets. As we go out to source startups for the 2020 year of the accelerator, we are leveraging networks as an advantage. To support this effort, I’ve brought on two amazing individuals to bring diversity and their networks to help us find the best startups in the world.

    • John Emery (Founder-in-Residence) has been working with founders to untangle the byzantine world of insurance since 2013 when he started AAA’s venture capital group (now Avanta Ventures). He invests in relationships vs. companies and his superpower is bridging the startup-corporate gap, helping founders uncover opportunities to build differentiated and durable businesses. John is based in San Francisco.
    • Tapan “Tops” Kataria (Associate/EIR) has been working with founders across 3 Techstars programs. He has served as Director of Backstage Capital investing in 24 diverse founding teams across 4 cities (Los Angeles, London, Philadelphia, and Detroit). He runs an angel investment group and is a Venture Partner at Venture Catalysts, a non-profit focused on building inclusive startup ecosystems in emerging markets. He splits his time between New York City and Detroit and you can learn more at iamtops.com.

05: Curiosity—Time to Breakthrough

If you’re a startup that has read this far—or maybe an investor or mentor—then keep following your curiosity. It’s time to find that breakthrough and this program might be exactly what you’re looking for. To learn more and apply to be in the 2020 MetLife Digital Accelerator powered by Techstars:

I love talking to founders and learning about them and their businesses. I let my curiosity lead me and I’m always surprised at what I find. Perhaps your startup will be next!


Massive thanks to Gretchen Knoell, Jake Sigal, Brad Johnson, and Ali Donnermeyer for providing valuable feedback to this blog post. Feedback make life better!

Announcing the 2019 Techstars Detroit Class

The Techstars Detroit Class of 2019 is the fifth mentorship-driven accelerator program to run in Detroit. 

This is our first program to run with the new name of Techstars Detroit. The name change reflects Techstars’ long term commitment to the region, along with an acknowledgment of the expanding mobility landscape. The word “mobility” no longer fully encompasses all of the businesses transforming how people and goods move around— it has become a label that is too limiting to encompass the future we see unfolding. We have refined our thesis to encompass this future:

    • We are investing in startups transforming the intersection of the physical and digital worlds. 
    • We are investing in founders building businesses that can leverage the strengths of Detroit to succeed.

Supporting this program in 2019 are a diverse set of corporate partners including Lear Innovation Ventures, Ford X, AAA, Avanta Ventures, USAA, Nationwide, Honda Innovations, and PlanetM.

This year’s class represents this broad change through a diversity of teams and technologies. 40% of the teams have female founders and 60% are international companies. Business models are a mix of consumer, enterprise, and governmental spanning industries that intersect with automotive and Detroit. 

As we head to Demo Day on October 1st, our mission is to change founders’ perception of doing business in Detroit. We plan to bring hundreds of mentors from leading automotive, mobility, transportation, and venture capital firms to the program. We will be evolving our Demo Day format to meet the needs of an industry craving deeper relationships with startups. Our new format will focus on driving more meaningful relationships between industry and startups.

With that, today we are excited to introduce the Techstars Detroit Class of 2019.

Airspace Link (Detroit, MI)

Providing highways in the sky for safer drone operations


Alpha Drive (New York, NY) 

Platform for the validation of autonomous vehicle AI. 


Le Car (Novi, MI)

An AI-powered personal car concierge that matches you to your perfect vehicle fit


Octane (Fremont, CA) 

Octane is a mobile app that connects car enthusiasts to automotive events and to each other out on the road


PPAP Manager (Chihuahua, Mexico) 

A platform to streamline the approval of packets of documents required in the automotive industry, known as PPAP, to validate production parts


Ruksack (Toronto, Canada)

Connecting travellers with local travel experts to help them plan a perfect trip



Soundtrack AI (Tel Aviv, Israel)

Acoustics based & AI enabled Predictive Maintenance Platform


Teporto (Tel Aviv, Israel)

Teporto is enabling a new commute modality with its one-click smart platform for transportation companies that seamlessly adapts commuter service to commuters’ needs



Unlimited Engineering (Barcelona, Spain)

Unlimited develops modular Light Electric Vehicles as a fun, cheap and convenient solution to last mile trips that are overserved by cars and public transportation


Zown (Toronto, Canada)

Open up your real estate property to the new mobility marketplace

Techstars Detroit: Growing the “Comeback City’s” Startup Ecosystem

Detroit has recently earned a new nickname: Comeback City.

Just four years ago, Detroit came out of bankruptcy. We remember that day vividly because it was the same day we announced the first Techstars mentorship-driven accelerator program in Detroit: Techstars Mobility. We saw potential in Detroit, that it could take deep industry knowledge and become a hotbed of innovation for both corporations and startups.

Over the past four years, we’ve partnered with local corporations to gain their expertise and help them grow their innovation muscles. We’ve activated the Detroit startup ecosystem through the Techstars mentor network, facilitating over 10,000 meetings between startups and successful entrepreneurs, investors, corporations, and government organizations. We’ve brought 44 startups to Detroit from eight different countries, spanning industries including automotive, transportation, city infrastructure, travel, manufacturing, and materials, who have raised over $80 million and are valued at over $215 million. The Demo Days for these accelerator classes have become huge events for the community, attracting over a thousand attendees each year. Techstars Startup Week Detroit attracts thousands more to its annual celebration of entrepreneurship. And, just last October, Detroit joined in the 2nd annual national Techstars Startup Weekend Latinx in Tech.

Our next step: Techstars is investing even more in Detroit, and transforming Techstars Mobility to Techstars Detroit.

We started with mobility—the industry that everyone knew Detroit could do and that Detroit itself knew it could do. That was four years ago: today, Detroit does that and so much more. “The word Mobility was becoming too limiting,” says Ted Serbinski, Managing Director of Techstars Detroit (and MD of Techstars Mobility for all four years). “We knew we needed to reach a broader audience of entrepreneurs who may not label themselves as mobility but are great candidates for the program.” Techstars Detroit is still looking for startups who identify as mobility innovations, but is also looking for startups that associate with industries such as manufacturing, IoT, and more. They’ll benefit enormously from working with Techstars corporate partners for the 2019 program: Ford, Honda, AAA, USAA, Nationwide, PlanetM, and, new for 2019, Lear. These partners know just how crucial it is to partner with startups and keep innovation top of mind. Detroit has seen what happens when you don’t.

Techstars Detroit is the natural evolution of all the work we’ve done previously, from Techstars Startup Weekends, to Techstars Startup Weeks, to a mobility accelerator, and now a broader accelerator—this is the arc of a successfully maturing startup ecosystem. Startup ecosystems have natural biorhythms; they evolve. What Detroit needed four years ago is different from what it needs today. Every community has a vertical or an industry that they excel in, but to move beyond that is a sign of maturation. Detroit can now support a wider version of entrepreneurship.

Chris Heivly, Techstars Entrepreneur in Residence and serial entrepreneur (MapQuest cofounder), is obsessed with the hows and whys of entrepreneurial ecosystem development. “Startup ecosystem development is all based on success through a thousand nudges,” Chris says. “Growing a startup ecosystem takes a long series of positive nudges—and Techstars Detroit is another really positive nudge.”

After four great years, we’re so glad to provide yet another nudge to the startup ecosystem of the Comeback City. Four years in, our engines are revving and we’re just getting started. 

Applications for Techstars Detroit are open! Apply today. 

Introducing the Techstars Mobility Class of 2018

Today I’m excited to introduce the 11 companies part of Techstars Class 141 – the Techstars Mobility Accelerator Class of 2018. Every company part of the 2018 Class has a diverse founding team and the businesses span a wide range of mobility solutions.

100% Diverse Founding Teams

The 2018 class is our most diverse class of founders to date. Of the 11 startups, all 11 have diverse founding teams in regards to gender, ethnicity, or age. I’m incredibly excited to bring such a talented and diverse set of founders to Detroit for the summer.

The teams come from all around the world including Hong Kong, London, and across the United States. None of the teams come from Michigan.

With the diversity of teams comes the diversity of ideas. I define mobility as the movement of people and goods, spanning industries like automotive, transportation, supply chain & logistics, travel, healthcare, agriculture, and more.

The incoming teams have a range of business spanning autonomous single rotor drones to applying machine learning to pedestrian intent to a connected bicycle helmet now available in Apple stores.

To see these companies in action, join us on October 9 at the Detroit Institute of Arts, where will host our fourth annual Techstars Mobility Demo Day. We’re expecting 1000+ attendees from around the world again this year. To join in on the fun (it’s free!), signup here to be notified when invites open up.

The 2018 Class of Techstars Mobility

Aerotronic (Indianapolis, IN): Autonomous inspection of the energy grid with drones.

Autobon AI (Chicago, IL): Eliminating many problems truckers and fleet owners face by retrofitting a connected sensing platform for existing commercial vehicles.

DeepHow (New York City, NY): An enterprise solution that transforms static technical manuals into interactive workflow guidance powered by AI.

Driver Technologies (Brooklyn, NY): A hardware-free mobile app enabling drivers to video-record their trip while warning them of dangers on the road and monitoring their alertness.

Humanising Autonomy (London, UK): Helping autonomous vehicles understand pedestrian behavior across cultures.

IntelliTire (San Francisco, CA): Making tires intelligent to improve the safety and performance of vehicles on the road.

LaneSpotter (Pittsburgh, PA): Mapping and navigation for cyclists by cyclists, with a focus on safety.

Lumos (Hong Kong, China): The next generation of bike helmets.

Priva (Chicago, IL): Inventing a new way to travel in luxury while skipping the hassles of flying.

SkyHi (San Francisco, CA): Claim last minute seats on planes for a low monthly subscription fee.

Zohr (Kansas City, MO): New tires delivered and installed for your vehicle.

Techstars Mobility Announces New Office & Corporate Partners for 2018

Three years ago, Techstars Mobility opened its office in downtown Detroit at Ford Field. We began our mission investing and mentoring entrepreneurs from around the world building the future of mobility.

Since then, we’ve invested in 33 startups from 6 different countries, who have raised $45 million valued at over $200 million. This summer, we’ll announce 11 additional startups that we’ve invested in that will be part of our fourth class. We’ve built a burgeoning mobility community, with 359 active mentors spanning 143 organizations. We’ve facilitated 7,500 meetings between founders, investors, corporations, and government organizations. We’ve hosted over 3000 attendees across our Mobility Demo Day, held annually in the fall. Two of our investments have been acquired as well–Bosch acquiring SPLT and Hagerty acquiring Classics&Exoctics.

Techstars Mobility Moves to WeWork and Announces 9 Corporate Partners for 2018

Today, I’m excited to announce we’re moving to the 7th floor of WeWork Merchant’s Row, centrally located in downtown Detroit. We will continue to run our program out of this space, foster the growing mobility community, and plug into the increasing density of companies along the Woodward corridor. In partnership with WeWork and PlanetM, we’re designing a community and space where the future of mobility will converge. We’ve also teamed up with Oblong Industries to offer their visual collaboration technology, Mezzanine, in two of our new meeting rooms.

In addition to the new office, we’re also welcoming back several returning corporate partners and a few new ones for our fourth program. Techstars Mobility’s corporate partners work closely mentoring and supporting the founders going through our Mobility program.

Thank you to our 2018-2019 Techstars Mobility corporate partners:

  • Bosch
  • CSAA Insurance Group, an AAA insurer
  • Ford Motor Company
  • Honda
  • Nationwide
  • PlanetM
  • Siemens
  • USAA
  • Volvo Car Group

And if you’re looking for ways to get involved in Detroit, visit the startup community website #StartupDetroit and join the Slack room for the latest events, job listings and conversations happening in the city right now.

Corporate Partners Share Why They Partnered with Techstars Mobility

Here’s a quick look at why our outstanding mobility partners chose to work with Techstars Mobility to drive global innovation in the future of mobility.

“We look at innovation as a necessity to serve the evolving needs of AAA members and society at large. Partnering with Techstars Mobility offers us the ability to understand better how mobility is shifting and support the entrepreneurs that are driving disruptive change. Ultimately, our work is centered around being there for people when they need us, and there is no better way to serve them than to understand what they will need in the future.” – Sanjiv Parikh, managing partner of venture capital, CSAA Insurance Group

“Identifying meaningful ways to engage startup ecosystems across the world is a growing priority for Nationwide, as it ensures we’re keeping up with the pace of innovation within and beyond our business, directly translating to improved services for our members. We’ve been following Techstars Mobility closely, and it’s become clear that their graduating companies are leading the future of mobility. We want to be on the ground floor with these startups and couldn’t imagine a better place to be than in Detroit, with Techstars.” – Erik Ross, AVP, Nationwide’s venture capital arm

“At next47, we not only invest in external startups, but we also help Siemens, our parent company, identify and nurture the best entrepreneur teams from within, and help them carve out their ideas into successful startups. We chose Techstars to partner with in this endeavor for two reasons: 1. Their proven expertise in selecting the best early-stage teams, and 2. The access they provide to expert advice, mentorship and investors is invaluable to the long-term success of the start-up.” – Susana Quintana-Plaza, partner, next47

“PlanetM is excited to enter into a partnership with Techstars Mobility and include their accelerator companies in the PlanetM Landing Zone, located at WeWork Merchants Row in downtown Detroit. This new partnership will allow the PlanetM team and Techstar the opportunity to work collaboratively on programming, events, recruiting and matchmaking efforts as well as provide increased access to Techstars worldwide network. The presence of Techstars Mobility in the PlanetM Landing Zone will be a valuable resource for current Landing Zone member companies as we work together to strengthen Michigan’s growing global mobility startup community.” – Trevor Pawl, group VP, PlanetM

“At USAA, we’re always looking for ways to cultivate our culture of innovation while searching for ways to improve the financial well-being of our members whether through added services, products or advice. Keeping a pulse on the latest innovations coming from startups helps our teams evolve our offerings while enabling us to give back to the entrepreneurial community that helped found our business nearly 100 years ago. We chose to partner with Techstars Mobility because the companies coming out of each program are some of the most promising innovations we’ve seen on the market.” – Randy Termeer, senior vice president, USAA

“In addition to our internal product development efforts, Volvo Car Group is partnering with leading startup entrepreneurs both in the US and globally to co-create the future of mobility and transportation. Techstars is a leading platform to engage with innovative startups, and our partnership enhances our ability to guide, mentor and nurture companies that can add value to Volvo’s future offering. Some of the most important things for the survival of a young startup are establishing product-market fit and having the necessary funding runway to achieve it. By engaging with Volvo Cars, promising startups can gain access to our leading global R&D network to validate their product as well as our newly launched investment fund for strategic capital.”  – Zaki Fasihuddin, CEO, Volvo Car Technology Fund AB

“We’re thrilled to welcome Techstars Mobility and the 2018 accelerator companies to the WeWork Detroit community. When we launched the Planet M Landing Zone last year, we envisioned WeWork to as the home of the next generation of mobility companies in Michigan. With the addition of Techstars, that vision is one step closer to becoming a reality.” – Megan Dodds, Midwest general manager, WeWork

“We’re delighted to support Techstars with next-gen workplace technology as they develop next-gen mobility talent working to transform the industry. “Mezzanine is our flagship technology for meeting spaces, and executives from NIO automotive to NASA aeronautics are using it to move forward on projects that demand multiple streams of data and visual information from multiple stakeholders in multiple locations.” – Mike Brown, chief revenue officer, Oblong Industries

Asking for Help, We Need More Women to Help Drive the Mobility Industry Forward

Today is International Women’s Day. A celebration of the amazing women in our lives that make the world a better place (shout to my wife and my 18- month-old daughter). Today is also the recognition of the struggles and biases women face that create pain and suffering. Today is a call to action to accelerate gender parity.

I want to ask for your help. I want to welcome more women into mobility, both as founders changing the future, and as mentors, supporting the growing and changing ecosystem around automotive mobility.

As Brené Brown puts it, “Courage is contagious. Every time we choose courage, we make everyone around us a little better and the world a little braver.”

The automotive industry has a stigma of being a guy’s thing. Guys are into cars and women are not. Guys are more engineering focused and women are not.

This is all a stereotype. A bias. A woefully wrong one. For example, look at Mary Barra, the CEO of GM, both a car enthusiast and an engineer, who is taking charge to lead GM through the automotive industry change to the mobility industry. Kate Schox put together a list of emerging females investing in the future of transportation that make up this future mobility industry.

We need more of the this. We need the courage to take a hard look at the gaps in diversity and work together to improve it.

Building a mobility innovation community welcoming women

The future of automotive and transportation is mobility. Mobility is the fusion of manufactured steel with software and services. It’s the automotive industry adding a layer of software and services to enable new ways to get around, like a car that drives itself or transportation on demand.

As the industry changes, so will the workforce and skills needed to survive and win in this new environment. And you know what, diversity of ideas and people will be a key component in this new era.

Today, women makeup half the workforce in the U.S., and only represent 25% of the workforce in the automotive/mobility industry. When you look at women in automotive executive positions, that number drops to 17%. Yet, just as automobile ownership declines, autonomous vehicles take over and shared mobility services grow, so will women become prominent in an industry once dominated by men. Source: Catalyst

At Techstars Mobility, we’re on a mission to connect the automotive industry to emerging startups around the world. We’ve built a network of over 143 organizations spanning OEMs, suppliers, service companies, venture capital funds, and more.

We have invested in 33 startups from 6 different countries. We have over 300+ mentors supporting entrepreneurs that go through our program.

When I analyzed our breakdown of women-led startups and female mentors, I almost fell out of my seat. While we make a conscious effort to be more inclusive, our numbers are still barely above the automotive industry average:

  • 19% of our mentors are women
  • 18% of our startups have women co-founders

So this blog post is my call for help to improve significantly this percentage.

Techstars Mobility is looking to engage with more women in the mobility and automotive industry. We are looking to invest in more female-led startups. We are looking for women to be involved as mentors. If you know of anyone or are interested yourself, please send them my way.

Investing in amazing women changing the future of transportation

Through Techstars Mobility, I’ve had the pleasure to invest and support some amazing women changing the future of transportation. I’d like to invest in even more. Here’s what they shared with ways to improve the gender gap in the automotive mobility industry.

Anya started SPLT which Bosch acquired

SPLT founder and CEO, Anya Babbitt, shares her thoughts about why she started her company and what we can do to make the industry more welcoming to women.

Bosch recently acquired SPLT, check out the backstory in this post.

Why did you decide to start a company in the automotive mobility space?

It all started with a personal mobility challenge. Several years ago I was working in Los Angeles on a project and traveling from the hotel and the work site every day taking the hotel shuttle. One day it was completely booked, and I was stuck without a ride to a meeting halfway across town. Luckily two other guests were going in the same direction and we shared the ride in their car. That led to sharing the ride, splitting the cost, plus a networking opportunity. I returned home to New York where organic sharing of taxi rides became an emergent phenomenon as more and more people took to sharing transportation during peak hours. I soon realized there needed to be an app for this, where people working together or living near one another could share the ride and connect.

What do you think we can do to make the industry more welcoming to female founders and innovators shaping the future of transportation?

The future of transportation is happening now and there are already more women in the field than ever. The end goal is to improve the lives of all people through innovations in transportation. As women have attained higher academic achievement over the past few decades, the demand for more convenience, accessibility, and assistance will continue to grow. We still bear the greatest burden in child-rearing and taking care of our elderly parents, work that many female-led transportation startups are addressing in this space. Saving time, saving the environment, they all converge when convenience is as important as conservation. The culture and conversations are already changing.

Diane started SEEVA and raised $2.1M in venture funding

SEEVA founder and CEO, Diane Lansinger, shares her thoughts about why she started her company and what we can do to make the industry more welcoming to women.

Why did you decide to start a company in the automotive mobility space?

When I realized my kids would be getting their driver’s licenses at about the same L5 semi-trucks would be hitting the road, I was all in.

What do you think we can do to make the industry more welcoming to female founders and innovators shaping the future of transportation?

I’d love to start a monthly roundtable with female mobility founders and/or C-suite startup leaders where we meet, share experiences and peer-mentor each other. I know a simple format I’ve experienced in other “she-EO” startup groups that works well even with dispersed groups. Happy to share and can moderate for the first few months (having a moderator is good, in my experience, just to keep focus). This isn’t a social group format, though we do get to know each other better and build our networks in the process. Who’s in? Note: I’m happy to connect you to Diane if you’d like to be part of this group.

Lisa supports founders building the future of transportation

Techstars Mobility Director, Lisa Seymour, shares her thoughts about why she started her company and what we can do to make the industry more welcoming to women.

Why did you decide to start a company in the automotive mobility space?

I didn’t start a company in the mobility space, but I did spin up the Techstars Mobility program with Ted because I wanted to help entrepreneurs build their businesses in Detroit. With all of the automotive and mobility expertise, we have in Southeast Michigan starting a program for mobility entrepreneurs seemed like the perfect fit.

What do you think we can do to make the industry more welcoming to female founders and innovators shaping the future of transportation?

We have an amazing network of founders and mentors in the mobility program though most are men. That being said — be our allies! Help women in the industry strengthen their voice and be more visible. Diversity makes us all better.

Are you a founder that wants to grow your network, secure capital for your startup, and scale your business? Do you want to grow as a leader and be more successful? Subscribed to Ted’s blog and apply for the 2018 Techstars Mobility program (be sure to select Mobility 2018 as your first choice in the application).

19 Techstars Alumni Expoing at the North American International Auto Show

Techstars Mobility has partnered with the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) for the second year in a row to bring over 50 global startups to Detroit in January 2018 to showcase their innovative mobility technologies as part of AutoMobili-D, a dedicated startup expo. This partnership is part of Techstars Mobility’s ongoing mission to connect the automotive and startup worlds by breaking down silos and forming partnerships.

Due to the success of last year’s AutoMobili-D expo, and Detroit’s continuous transformation, we were able to increase the amount of startups in attendance.

Last year, we had startups travel to Detroit for this event from across North America, as well as Dubai, London and Portugal. This year we will have an even greater international presence, with startups coming from 11 different countries. Out of the 57 participating startups, 19 are Techstars alumni.

This year’s showcase will also represent a wider-range of technologies, including:

  • Autonomous
  • Connected Car
  • Electrification
  • Fleet Management
  • Hardware / Sensors
  • Logistics
  • Manufacturing
  • Mapping / Journey Planning / Multi-Modal
  • Personal Mobility / Last Mile Vehicles
  • Security
  • Services / On-demand / Ride Sharing
  • Smart City and Infrastructure

Applications for Techstars Mobility 2018 program will be opening January 8th. Startups can apply here.

Here is a list of the Techstars companies that will be attending:

Program Momentum Continues with Largest Single-Day Event Focused on Mobility Startups in the World

I finished my third Techstars Mobility Accelerator program this month. It was an incredible experience, and I’m grateful to Lisa Seymour, my colleague and partner in running this program, for the terrific associates and volunteers that joined us this year, and of course, the incredible founders that came from all around the world to Detroit for 13 weeks.

Since June 2015, we’ve been super busy. We’ve invested in 33 startups from six different countries — only two came from Michigan. Of these startups, 21 have founders with diverse backgrounds. As a portfolio, they have gone on to raise $45M and are valued at $200M, with one exit (Hagerty acquired Classics&Exotics from our 2015 program). I expect these numbers to go up quite a bit as we head into 2018.

On Oct 18, 2017, our third program wrapped up with a multi-event demo day. Over the course of the day, we hosted over 1200+ individuals from 113+ different automotive OEMs, suppliers, transportation companies, and leading mobility venture capital funds. Our 2017 Techstars Mobility demo day was the largest single-day event focused on mobility startups in the world. This was also the third year we’ve had over 1000+ individuals at our demo day, continuing its recognition as the largest single-day startup event in Michigan.

Watch the full recording of the 2017 Techstars Mobility Demo Day

Featured media outlets covering our demo day include Xconomy, Benzinga, dBusiness, and Autoblog.

The Most International Class to go through the Mobility Program

  • Axle Travel (New York City) — Watch their demo day pitch here
    Axle Travel is the next evolution in ground-based, long-distance travel. We offer door-to-door transportation by combining on-demand ride-sharing services with our own pop-up intercity bus service.
  • Carma (Washington D.C.)— Watch their demo day pitch here
    Carma offers month-to-month subscriptions to your own car with insurance, maintenance and road assistance included. Like WeWork, for cars.
  • cycuro (Tel Aviv, Israel) — Watch their demo day pitch here
    cycuro is the world’s first data validation platform built specifically for mobility. We deliver data integrity to mobility operators and services providers via a cloud SaaS.
  • Damon X Labs (Vancouver, Canada) — Watch their demo day pitch here
    Using AI and edge computing, Damon’s sensor-driven platform unlocks the full potential of collision avoidance systems, making motorcycling safer by alerting riders to threats they can’t see.
  • Derq (Dubai, UAE) — Watch their demo day pitch here
    Derq is an MIT spin-off developing AI-based V2X software applications for connected and autonomous vehicles to eliminate road accidents and save lives.
  • EcoG (Munich, Germany) — Watch their demo day pitch here
    EcoG is the monetization engine of sustainable electric vehicle charging.
  • Fathom (Grand Rapids, MI) — Watch their demo day pitch here
    Fathom is modernizing and simplifying the recreational rental industry starting with its flagship product, the Fathom One, an underwater drone built for adventure.
  • Gridwise (Pittsburgh, PA) — Watch their demo day pitch here
    Gridwise is a mobile platform for rideshare drivers which increases their earnings 39% by leveraging data analytics and community to help them better understand when and where to drive.
  • SEEVA (Seattle, WA) — Watch their demo day pitch here
    SEEVA Technologies designs visibility systems for mobility. Our technologies quickly clean windshields, cameras, LIDAR and other sensors to help vehicles see.
  • Vartega (Golden, CO) — Watch their demo day pitch here
    Vartega creates low-cost recycled carbon fiber for vehicle lightweighting to enable mobility solutions such as battery technology, connectivity, and autonomy.
  • Wheeli (New York City) — Watch their demo day pitch here
    Wheeli is the carpooling app for college students — the Airbnb for the empty car seats on the road.

Forcing Serendipity by Connecting Amazing People Together

During the 2017 Techstars Mobility Accelerator program, over 2,500 meetings were scheduled between the 11 startups and hundreds of mentors representing OEMs, suppliers, transportation companies, and leading mobility venture capital funds.

I like to call this “forced serendipity” — when you pair up a bunch of amazingly smart people, the collisions of ideas and momentum of network lead to incredible results.

Ultimately that is the secret to why this program works so well. Through these encounters, founders received a lot of different viewpoints. Data gathered from these meetings is distilled down into wisdom that the founders use to grow their business, and the results always amaze me.

Thank you to all the great mentors that have supported the last three programs. And an extra special thank you to these 32 mentors as rated “most helpful” by the founders that have gone through Techstars Mobility.

What’s Next?

With our third program behind us, we aren’t slowing down.

We’ve partnered with the 2018 North American International Show (aka the Detroit Auto Show) again this year to bring over 50 mobility startups from around the world to Detroit.

During the week of January 14th, we’ll be unveiling our 2018 program with our supporting corporate partners and application link for startups to apply.

Look for more updates as we get closer to 2018.

If you’d like to talk with any of these mobility startups, let me know I’d be happy to connect you. Shoot me a note here.

Originally published at tedserbinski.com.

Startup Applications Now Open for 2018 AutoMobili-D Mobility Startup Expo in Detroit

AutoMobili-D is the perfect entry point for early-stage mobility startups to build up their networks with key influencers and decision-makers in the automotive mobility industry. The mobility startup expo at AutoMobili-D runs January 14-18, 2018 in downtown Detroit.

For the second year in a row, Techstars Mobility has partnered with the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) to bring over 50 global startups to Detroit in January 2018 to showcase their innovative mobility technologies as part of AutoMobili-D, a dedicated mobility technology expo. This partnership is part of Techstars Mobility’s ongoing mission to connect the automotive mobility and startup worlds by breaking down silos and building partnerships.

Startup applications for the 2018 AutoMobili-D showcase are now open. If you’re a startup, apply here by Oct 31st to secure your spot and a discount of $499 (price goes up to $999 November 1st). Be part of NAIAS 2018 (aka the “Detroit Auto Show”), among the most prestigious automotive shows in the world and one of the largest media events in North America.

Improvements in 2018

The inaugural year for AutoMobili-D attracted 40,000 automotive and tech industry executives, designers, developers and analysts from 2,274 companies and 27 countries.

AutoMobili-D has expanded to 150,000 sq. ft. in 2018 to accommodate increased demand. This year startups can be found in the center of AutoMobili-D.

New in 2018, startups featured in the expo at AutoMobili-D will be eligible for matchmaking business-to-business meetings with automakers, suppliers, venture capitalists, and other organizations.

AutoMobili-D Mobility Advisory Board

Also new in 2018 is the formation of the Mobility Advisory Board for AutoMobili-D. This advisory board will be helping to curate startups at AutoMobili-D, speaking on panels and giving talks, and lending support to continue to build the innovation bridge between Detroit and Silicon Valley.

Mobility Investors:

  • Reilly Brennan, General Partner, Trucks Venture Capital
  • Ernestine Fu, Partner, Alsop Louie Partners
  • Amy Gu, Managing Partner, Hemi Ventures
  • Mar Hershenson, Managing Partner, Pear VC
  • Mark Platshon, Managing Director, Icebreaker Ventures
  • Jim Scheinman, Founding Managing Partner, Maven Ventures
  • Ted Serbinski, Managing Director, Techstars Mobility
  • Chris Thomas, Founder and Partner, Fontinalis Partners
  • Marc Weiser, Managing Director, RPM Ventures

Mobility Founders:

  • Greta Cutulenco, CEO and Co-Founder, Acerta
  • Eric Gunderson, CEO, Mapbox
  • Josh Hartung, CEO and Co-Founder, PolySync
  • Diane Lansinger, CEO and Co-Founder, SEEVA
  • Daryn Nakhuda, CEO and Co-Founder, Mighty AI
  • Jake Sigal, CEO, Tome Software

Mobility Ecosystem:

  • Sven Beiker, Managing Director and Founder, Silicon Valley Mobility
  • Harry Campbell, CEO and Founder, The Rideshare Guy
  • Mark de la Vergne, Chief of Mobility Innovation, City of Detroit
  • Liz Keen, Head of Brand and Communications, Sherpa Capital
  • Trevor Pawl, Group Vice President, Planet M, Michigan Economic Development Corporation
  • Gary Silberg, Partner, National Sector Lead Partner for Automotive Industry, KPMG
  • Glenn Stevens, Executive Director, MICHauto and Vice President of Automotive and Mobility Initiatives, Detroit Regional Chamber

Startup Success Stories from 2017

Last year, during the inaugural AutoMobili-D, 50 startups participated from all around the globe, including the U.S., Canada, Dubai, London, and Portugal. The technologies included artificial intelligence and machine learning, to autonomous and connected platforms, to infrastructure communications and security applications.

One of those startups was Acerta, which offers an artificial intelligence platform for machine analytics, which provides OEMs and Tier-1 manufacturers with automatic and real-time malfunction detection and failure prediction. At AutoMobili-D, founder Greta Cutulenco met ZF Group, one of the largest global Tier-1 manufactures. ZF Group soon became a key customer, which helped Acerta raise a $2M investment seed round.

Nearly every other startup at AutoMobili-D told us they also received great customer leads and biz dev opportunities. Here’s some of the feedback we received from the founders of startups:

“It was an amazing way for our company to not only get access to top players in the automotive industry but to actually talk with the top-level decision makers.” — Jordan Warzecha, CEO & Co-Founder, Backstitch

“Amazing opportunity to engage with leading automotive executives. We were amazed by the quality of the meetings.” — Stefanie Lemke, CEO & Co-Founder, GoKid

“The show was really valuable for us because of the relationships we were able to foster. The BizDevDay meetings alone made the trip worthwhile.”  — Jon Harmer, COO & Co-Founder, LaaSer

“It was a cream of the crop event. You can network more in four days at AutoMobili-D than in four years through other channels.” — John Mohyi, CEO & Co-Founder, Mohyi Labs

“It was exactly what we needed.” — Shiva Bhardwaj, CEO & Founder, Pitstop

“Automobili-D is a great place to get attention and build relationships with OEMs, tier 1 suppliers, investors & other autotech founders.” — James Bellefeuille, Vugo

“Without a doubt one of the most important events to be a part of.” — Evan Saunders, URB-E

“It was simply amazing. Being surrounded by other startups and tech companies in the Auto Mobility space gave us a thorough understanding of what the future of the auto industry will look like.” — Mohsen Mohsenpour, ShiftRide

More About AutoMobili-D

Now in its 30th year as an international event, the NAIAS is among the most prestigious automotive shows in the world, providing unparalleled access to the automotive products, technologies, people and ideas that matter most – up close and in one place. The event is hosted in downtown Detroit, the heart of the automotive industry.

The inaugural launch of AutoMobili-D in 2017 featured more than 180 brands, ranging from automakers to suppliers, to tech startups as well as universities and government organizations.

From John Krafcik debuting the fully autonomous Chrysler Pacifica, to Carlos Ghosn providing insights into Nissan’s plans for a connected future, to Julia Steyn on Maven’s outlook on urban mobility as a service, these great industry leaders and many others took the stage and delivered more than 40 hours of mobility-focused discussions and announcements.

110 speakers representing 100 different companies spoke on a variety of talks and panels. For a list of this content, check out this post which details the talks, panels, and discussions.

Featured automotive mobility exhibitors included:

  • Continental Corporation
  • Covisint
  • Delphi
  • Flex
  • General Motors
  • Hitachi Automotive Systems
  • Hyundai Motor America
  • IBM
  • Karma Automotive
  • Magna International
  • Nexteer Automotive
  • Nissan
  • Siemens
  • Toyota Motor North America
  • Visteon
  • Wind River by Intel
  • ZF Group

Key Dates Startups Need to Know

Application & Selection:

  • Nov 15, 2017: Application deadline – Startups can apply here
  • Dec 1, 2017: Startups notified of acceptance into AutoMobili-D


  • Jan 14 – 18, 2018: Startup Expo at AutoMobili-D
  • Jan 14 – 16, 2018: Press Days
  • Jan 15 – 17, 2018: business development matchmaking days
  • Jan 17 – 18, 2018: industry preview days, expecting over 40,000 industry executives and decision makers

This is a pivotal time for the automotive industry, as technology and mobility services are becoming integrated with manufactured steel. We’re witnessing the convergence of Detroit and Silicon Valley. Through the AutoMobili-D showcase, this will be the second-year an auto show has a dedicated startup expo showcasing the future of automotive mobility from downtown Detroit.

Hagerty Acquires Techstars Mobility Graduate Classics&Exotics

I’m excited to announce that Hagerty has acquired Classics&Exotics. Classics&Exotics went through the 2015 Techstars Mobility Accelerator program. Hagerty is the world’s largest network for people who love cars and collectible vehicles. Peter Zawadzki’s vision to build the best peer-to-peer online marketplace for classic cars takes another huge step forward.

Hagerty is relaunching Classics&Exotics as DriveShare by Hagerty and is available nationwide today. If you’ve ever wanted to drive a 1966 Ford Mustang GT or a 1984 Ferrari 308 but couldn’t afford one, now is your chance.

The Opportunity in Classic Cars

When most people think about “mobility startups” they think about self-driving cars, LIDAR sensors, and ridesharing services like Uber. The focus is on disruption and the inevitable decline of automotive vehicles in the future. Who needs to drive if the car can drive itself?

I believe the future of automotive mobility includes both cars that can drive themselves and cars that people still drive and want to drive.

That last point is part of my thesis on the future of transportation and how the automotive shift to mobility is much more than self-driving cars. Startups like Classics&Exotics, now DriveShare by Hagerty, are part of this future where people still want to drive cars themselves.

To understand the future, we need to understand the past. Over a 100 years ago, when Ford introduced the Model T, the demise of horses seemed imminent. Today’s Equestrian industry is a $39 billion industry (twice the size of golf, which is only $18 billion). Cars are ubiquitous today, but horses are still a booming industry in America.

In the future, your car could drive you to work. But on the weekends, you could drive a car that brings you joy, an experience powered by Hagerty’s DriveShare. And where would you drive that car? Highways are too regulated and could be off limits due to future government rules around self-driving vehicles. But north of downtown Detroit, you could drive your car on the M1 Concourse, a private garage, and track, for automotive enthusiasts. My guess is we’ll see a lot more of these pop up around the world in the coming decade, as we saw private horse farms and eventing areas.

New experiences will drive the future of automotive mobility. Trading boring commutes for productive time. Being able to drive cars that were once out of reach.

It’s wonderful to see Hagerty betting on this future experience.

How Techstars Mobility helped Peter, founder of Classics&Exotics

On April 22, 2015, at 2p ET, I called Peter Zawadzki to let him know that Classics&Exotics was accepted into the 2015 Techstars Mobility class. Going into the call, I had a gut feeling this was going to be a great opportunity. Peter was almost in tears—tears of joy, having applied in Jan 2015 and waiting four months for the final notice of acceptance. It was a surreal moment for us both and one I still remember vividly.

In 2015, Techstars Mobility had eight corporate partners, including Magna and Munich Re. During the 2015 Woodward Dream Cruise, Magna helped Peter with free space along Woodward to showcase a classic Ferrari and vintage Cobra.

A second partner, Munich Re, soon became a key contact, underwriting the insurance policy for Classics&Exotics to rent vehicles on their platform.

The hundreds of mentors for Techstars Mobility provided Peter and his team with tons of guidance, including one essential introduction: McKeel Hagerty, CEO of Hagerty, headquartered in Traverse City, located four hours north of Detroit.

It’s amazing to see what Peter built with Classics&Exotics. I’m humbled that Techstars Mobility could play a role in helping him turn that idea into a great success story. Peter is #TechstarsforLife and is sharing his story and insight through #GiveFirst as a mentor for the 2017 Techstars Mobility Accelerator class.

Originally published on TedSerbinski.com