Community Leader Highlight: Meet Heather Tsavaris

Meet Heather Tsavaris, from Mansfield, OH. 

Hi! I am Heather, I design user experiences for Idea Works— a new co-working space in Mansfield, Ohio that supports entrepreneurs to reimagine what is possible. I think entrepreneurship is the key to unlocking personal and community empowerment. About me– I grew up in Mansfield and left after school for DC, London, The Hague, New York City, and Istanbul. I decided to bring my family — my husband and two girls– back home to use my business and creative problem solving skills in the community that provided me the launchpad necessary to experience the world.

Why I do what I do? 

My background is a bit untraditional– I spent a decade working for the U.S. Department of State on counterterrorism. I became an expert of sorts on why young people became interested in joining these groups. The passion of these young people always shocked me because they cared deeply about causes and yet saw violence as the only way to contribute. I became inspired by a group of entrepreneurs who I was working in the Netherlands at the time, who came from similar backgrounds as the teenagers, and who had passion and cared deeply for causes, but used their skills and abilities to solve problems for others and and make a living do so. These entrepreneurs prompted me to attend business school in New York to learn entrepreneurial and business principles with the hope of teaching others this empowerment tool. Many years later, I have had the pleasure of teaching hundreds of urban and rural young people the power and practicality of entrepreneurship in transforming their lives.

What’s new for Mansfield?

Mansfield is undergoing a renaissance. A quintessential Rust Belt town filled with creative, impassioned and determined folks who are truly reimagining who we can be. From the 15 amazing community leaders who just traveled to South by Southwest as part of a community foundation-sponsored project to cede new ways of doing things in Mansfield– to a online local news startup who is winning national attention for its solutions based journalism approach. In a place people once counted out, things are changing and people are beginning to believe more greatness is possible. Techstars Startup Weekend provides us an amazing opportunity to let our neighbors experience the energy and possibilities of building, reimagining and solving problems that matter through entrepreneurship– all while lifting ourselves, each other and our community up.

I love asking “What’s right about your town?” instead of “What’s wrong with it?” I deeply believe that amazing things can come from any place– quintessentially rust belt, large, small, rural, urban and everything in between. It is about having the mindset and willingness to do the work that enables a place and its people to embrace the possibilities.

Community Leader Highlight: Byeonghun Kim (known as BK)

Meet Byeonghun Kim from Purdue, USA!

I’m a sophomore in Electrical Engineering at Purdue University and also am a co-founder of Wasta, a non-profit organization that connects entrepreneurs in third-world countries to students as consultants in classroom settings. I have a big passion for social innovation, and my interest lies in redefining the energy industry, electrifying and digitalizing automotive and manufacturing systems, and alleviating global poverty. I also work on a research team to advance the smart grid technology, and I hope to start a company soon in such field!

Why do you do what you do?

I’m a first-generation immigrant, and I haven’t seen my parents in South Korea since the junior year of high school. Since they left the U.S., several families from my church, who have never met my family, have taken me in as their own and pointed me in the right direction. I know that I would not be where I am now without their constant love and support, and I’ve learned to have compassion for people without expecting anything in return. My goal is to go to bed every night thinking that I used my gifts and talents to make a positive impact in people’s lives though social innovation and cutting-edge technology.

What’s new for West Lafayette?

Purdue Startups! There’s a lot going on here with endless innovation that happens on campus, and there’s numerous opportunities for students to start something new. Many of them stay nearby and base their companies in the area.

What’s new at Purdue?

Techstars Startup Weekend and Purdue’s Co-Ed Entrepreneurship Fraternity! Our organization just started last year, and we bring many new entrepreneurial events to Purdue (including Startup Weekend) with a mission to foster the innovative spirit on and off campus. There are endless opportunities for student startups, with a huge center for entrepreneurship and other organizations to support student innovators in all sorts of ways!

Final remarks?

I’m a young, student entrepreneur, so I have a lot to learn! If you have specific ways to guide me to become a better startup founder and builder of Purdue’s startup ecosystem, please feel free to reach out to me! I’d love to talk!

Community Leader Highlight: Meet Heather Fisher (West Plains, MO)

Meet Heather Fisher from West Plains, Missouri:

I am the director of OzSBI (Ozarks Small Business Incubator), which is where the event will be held. I mentor our small businesses, run our business development programs, assist with our microloan program, and am on a mission to get new ideas launched in our community. About me–I live on a 200 acre farm, have 2 sons, 1 husband, 3 cats, 1 dog and a pet pig. I love the outdoors, was in the Peace Corp in Thailand, had my own grant writing business for 10 years, and have always worked for nonprofits.

Why do you do what you do?

I live in a rural Ozarks of southern Missouri. Ever since I moved here 20 years ago I’ve been working to help the economy grow. Rural areas need to stay viable and through the small business incubator I help start local businesses and create jobs for the community. My goal is to use economic means to improve the social conditions for individuals, families, and communities.

What’s new for West Plains?

Techstars Startup Weekend! I was tasked by the governor of the state to spur technology businesses in Missouri. How does a rural community compete? If startups can be everywhere, why not here? We work with a lot of service communities that circulate local dollars. We’re hoping that an influx of tech businesses will tip the balance of trade and bring new dollars into our community.  Techstars Startup Weekend seems to be the right program to help us get our start.

Anything else you’d like to share?

Rural communities are great places to live and work.  I’ve traveled all around the world and always come back to rural parts of the country. We may be a flyover state, but there’s bright, creative people here that just need a bit of a confidence boost to move forward with new ideas in order to start new companies.

Community Leader Spotlight: Maciej Jankowski

From Startup Weekend organiser… to Community Leader… to Techstars Associate. How Maciej Jankowski from Poland has truly embarked on the Entrepreneur’s Journey.

Maciej Jankowski first became involved in developing the local startup/tech community in his hometown Szczecin (Poland) in 2007, when he started organising Netcamp meetups. Events grew quickly and 3 years later became a base to launch Netcamp Foundation, a local NGO supporting development of startup ecosystem and tech education.

It wasn’t until April 2011 when Maciej met Jarek Białek who took part in Startup Weekend Eindhoven a few months before when he was inspired to organize SW in Poland. He was very impressed about the benefits it gave to entrepreneurs.

After Startup Weekend Warsaw, Maciej in Szczecin in October 2011, he decided to co-organised the 3rd Startup Weekend in Poland. He decided to organise the first Polish-German event, in order to start a cooperation with the Berlin startup community. This way a great way to show that the nationality of founders is not important when solving technological problems and creating new companies. The winner of that event–Scatchup– won all 3 categories, then raised around €200k seed investment from HackFwd after just 6 months moved to Berlin.

Maciej was already hooked to the wonderful world of Startup Weekend. It was after his second event, that he realised the most important thing to him was the impact the events had in fostering local startup ecosystems. It is a fact that most of the teams after a Startup Weekend event split up. However, many participants stay involved in the community and often get involved in other projects with people they worked with during the event.  In the 2nd edition of Startup Weekend Szczecin, a young team from Wroclaw received a special award from some of the mentors, and were invited to an acceleration program in Gdansk.

Despite the first event’s success, the next Startup Weekend event in Szczecin took 4 years to happen. The problem was building a new organising team, as Jarek, one of the lead organisers, had moved to another city. The next event therefore took place in 2015, and in the meantime, Maciej organized Nethack and other city focused hackathons, whilst also focusing on building the TEDx community in his city.

In September 2016, Maciej got accepted as Techstars Associate in the METRO Berlin Program, he travelled to Spain to speak at a conference there, went on to Warsaw to attend the Techstars Europe Unsummit, and ended up starting his exciting new journey in Berlin a few days later.

“It’s a really intensive program, especially for founders,” he said. For Maciej in particular it was also intense as he was participating in three Techstars programs in parallel–coordinating Startup Weekend Szczecin – Smart City/IoT back home, working as an associate in Berlin and becoming a volunteer for the pilot of the Startup Next mobility edition with Ford. Those 2 months were very busy for him –working 15 hours per day both helping founders and also leading his Startup Weekend team, making the two hour drive back to Szczecin each weekend to meet with them.

During the METRO program in Berlin, Maciej was very surprised because half of the associates team were from the US. They had moved just to join the program. A really important take away was to see how entrepreneurs from different countries build startups and the sort of problems they want to solve based on their local communities. It really doesn’t matter if you live in Canada or Australia when it comes to the way you build your startup.

An interesting part for him was being involved in the mentor madness sessions–2 full weeks with mentors talking with founders to give their advice and feedback. Maciej loved the vibrant feeling of Berlin, the startup ecosystem and many startup events gave him a global perspective on Startups and what’s going on in the startup world.

One of Maciej’s favourite moments was one of his first successes in the program. Every Thursday there was ‘social thursday’– in the METRO program each associate had to organise one of them. When it was his turn, he organised it based on the feedback of the participants and it turned out to be one of the best social thursdays, playing pool and integrating in one of Berlin’s awesome clubs. Another highlight was standing on stage during demo day in a big cinema room full of 600 people: founders & associates were invited to go on stage being recognised for their work.

When asked what advice Maciej would give to anyone wanting to become a Techstars Associate, he said that if you are an expert on something or simply love working with startups and are open to learn then this is a great starting point. “I was involved for many years in the Startup ecosystem so I think I got some extra points for my Startup Weekend initiatives and other things I had been doing for startups, which showed the managing team that I had the passion and some work experience to support them.”

For Maciej the biggest take-away from the experience was extending his network, meeting many cool people in Berlin, and seeing how a Techstars accelerator works from the inside. “You can of course read a book like Do More Faster’, but a much better way is to get a real life experience and participate as an associate. For me it was also kind of a hack –how to get accepted into a TS accelerator without being a startup that has to build a really strong team, a great product, have a traction, and compete with hundreds of other great founders all around the world. I got a very similar experience as an associate, so that was a good choice for me.”

When comparing the difference between Berlin and Poland in terms of startup activity, Maciej noted important differences on how talent is accessed in tech. In Poland we have some of the best developers in the world but most of our founders have mediocre sales/marketing skills and not enough experience on how to scale startups globally. In Germany or the UK the situation is the opposite. There is also a lot more money raised by Berlin startups –with bigger rounds than in Central and Eastern Europe.

Number of accelerators, many corporate-backed and access to seed funding was another main difference, which was more international in Berlin. Germany still has a lot more success stories than Poland does, and when talking about the whole ecosystem there is a culture problem –not just for Poland but for the whole Central and Eastern Europe region. There is still a lack of openness and trust to talk about what you are doing, your ideas with other people, whereas in Berlin people are much more open and willing to talk and network.

Maciej has now moved back to Szczecin and as a co-founder of Startup Poland is working on a new startup support program with the local government. His goal is to attract more VC money to the region. He is considering opening a local pre-acceleration program that could be a good link to cooperation with the Berlin startup ecosystem.

When he was asked what comes to mind when someone says the word Techstars, he said “I think it’s all about community/network of open-minded people that believe in this #GiveFirst attitude of helping each other. Even if the founders are doing something similar,they are not competing against each other, if they see they can share knowledge and help others. That’s a big differentiator of Techstars. The Give First mentality which is what I love the most.”

To connect with Maciej personally, reach him out on linkedin or email or better give him a high five during next Startup Weekend Unsummit 24-26 March in Valencia.

Apply to a Techstars Accelerator Program now.