Rethinking Corporate Innovation at Techstars

At Techstars, we’re building the best global ecosystem for founders to bring new technologies to market. One of the impacts that I think we’ll have a long time is to change the way that corporations engage with startups. We want to help make those engagements effective and efficient for both parties. We do this in a few different ways.

First, we have an internal team of five people that focus on corporate relationships. They’re the folks who do amazing things like BizDevDay at FounderCon, where there were 1500 meetings in a single day between big companies and our portfolio.

They also work on M&A when necessary, and we recently completed our 100th M&A transaction out of the Techstars portfolio. They have deep relationships with most of the important large corporations in our space, and are constantly making connections to Techstars’ companies.

From the large corporations perspective, they might think of this activity as corporate development or “corpdev.” We think of it as leveraging our scale to assist our portfolio of amazing startups.

Second, we partner with large corporations to build accelerators, like Techstars MusicTechstars Mobility or Techstars IoT. In working with so many large corporate partners, we’ve learned that some of them engage with these accelerators with a short term view, and some with a long term view. Let me explain.

When a corporate engages with an accelerator or with startups, their short term view might entail them thinking about which one or two of these companies could “move the needle” for their stock, or fill some current strategic gap. They engage with the accelerator as if their job is to cherrypick. That’s all well and fine and it produces near term results in many cases, but it’s also short term thinking.

Other partners engage with a long term view. They lean in and #givefirst, which may at first feel somewhat alien to them. In this mode, the partner is thinking about how this could impact their business in 5, 10 or 20 years.

They’re thinking about the startup ecosystem they are building around their own company, technology and areas of interest. They’re trying to grow more cherries to pick later. The long term thinkers understand that current opportunities are only a small part of their role in growing an ecosystem around themselves. They lean in long term.

Startups are a long game, not a short one. As our partners actively re-think what corporate innovation means, they’re learning that it’s about both long and short term focus. They’re learning that they need corpdev programs that move the needle now, but they also need to grow the right ecosystems around themselves. And that takes time and patience.

It takes good and helpful behavior around startups with a 20 year view. They are learning to be consistent in their approach to #givefirst. They are learning to leverage startups for innovation. And when they get it, when they start thinking long term in the context of startups… it’s pure magic.


This post was originally published on David’s blog


Are we there yet? (Comic)

#entrepreneurfail Transport
Ahoy! Stormy seas ahead. All hands on deck… 

How are you getting there? You have two options for transportation. One option is the Entrepreneur Ship. But beware, there is no schedule! And as this boat never docks, so you have to leap on!  The ship roams uncharted waters through hurricanes and typhoons, all without a life boat, map or a fixed destination.  It is not for the weak-stomached.

The other option is the Gravy Train.  This steam engine was meant for anyone who can’t or doesn’t want to make it aboard the Entrepreneur Ship.  If you are not familiar with a Gravy Train, it is described as a “cushy situation where little to no work is involved”.  So even though you may have a challenging corporate job, it is nothing compared to the Entrepreneur Ship.  The Gravy Train stays on the track so there aren’t many surprises and the ride is slow and steady – making it great for sightseeing.

So how are you getting there? Let us know in the comments below.


The Truth about Startup Lawyers

#entrepreneurfail The Truth about Startup Lawyers


In your first startup venture you may not think be thinking about the about the legal implications of what you are working on.  Your only aim is go and launch.

However, when startups are large enough to afford an attorney, the good news is that it means the business is large enough to afford an attorney, but also large enough for dire consequences if something goes wrong.  Many small startups work with services like LegalZoom, but others prefer seeking out dedicated legal counsel.

Working with an attorney can sometimes be frustrating, as it seems the default response from him/her is “No! No! Not possible. Not legal. Too risky.”  The wait to go around this is to ask your  attorney the “What is the risk of not obeying their recommendation?”  Then you can make an executive decision on what to do next.

Let us know about your experiences working with startup lawyers. 

This was originally created by Kriti Vichare for #entrepreneurfail: Startup Success.

Moot Parachute: Jumping into a Startup (Comic)

#entrepreneurfail First Day at a Startup Parachute


I went skydiving about 5 years ago.  The experience was not too different from starting a company.

Firstly, the anticipation runs through your system. In advance of skydiving you prepare yourself mentally and physically in the plane, strapping on the harnesses, and wondering how it was going to feel to jump. Similarly the excitement and groundwork at the thought of starting a company is exciting and intimidating all at the same time.

Next is leaving the plane. Whether you close your eyes and jump, or quit your corporate job and start your company the next day, the only way to do it is to GO.  When a skydiver leaves the plane, the force on him is his own weight, and soon thereafter other forces completely out of the skydiver’s control.
And then it is a blur. Your stomach churns, and you realize you can’t focus on anything.  The drag force of the air resistance increases as you go faster and faster.
After the initial moments of free fall, your velocity is now constant and you feel you are in a wind tunnel. As the impact and the pressure keeps building, you anticipate the pull of your parachute. Make sure you have one! In a startup, sometimes there is nothing to stop the free fall to the finish.
And finally, the parachute opens and you can finally see the horizon. You are on a giant swing and able to revel in your experiences as you gently land.
Have you ever been skydiving? How does it match your startup experience? Let us know in the comments below?


So about our product… (Comic)

#entrepreneurfail Marketing

“With no marketing budget I resorted to techniques I would have never considered – cold calling, cold emailing, cold presentations, and crashing networking events, amongst others.”

To spread the word to customers in a big company, the marketing department gets the big bucks to make sure the sales team is out there busting down doors to grow the business. And since chances are the brand or product already has recognition, the marketing helps reiterate and boost the brand in the market. The huge marketing budget pales in comparison to the return on the investment.

In a startup on the other hand, every employee – from founder to developer to gopher needs to be a marketer and a salesperson. The thick skin each employee will develop after hearing constant rejections will only make the value proposition stronger. This article by Anita Newton goes deeper into the comparison! It’s a good read especially if you are making the transition from big company to small, or vice versa.

Key Startup Lesson: Use inexpensive methods of marketing and PR that all team members can use help grow the business.

Tell us about your experiences marketing in your startup in the comments below. 

This comic and post is from the book: Cheating on Your Corporate Job: A Comic Look at the Startup Dream. Read the review on You can get the book on Amazon Kindle or PDF. Use the code “fifty” to get a 50% discount on the PDF.

Strategic Backlash: Why can't you focus on a strategy? (Comic)

#entrepreneurfail Too Many Strategists

What is the vision for your organization?

In any business, the key stakeholders are always trying to anticipate the key decisions and turns. But, who is it that really influences and decides the overarching next steps?

In a large organization, you’ve got your CEO / President / Managing Dictator (misspelling intended) that sets the strategy for the organization – the long term growth plan, the key priorities, the budgets.

And in your own venture, your strategy is constantly adapted. You may attempt to set your own strategy based on your vision and experience. However, as you start, it seems like every new customer sets your strategy, your vision and influences your day-to-day activities! As the key decision maker in your own organization, you soon realize that the influencers pulling you in different directions are your existing customers and potential leads.  The best way to focus on a strategy is to develop key relationships and understand what drives your customers and constantly test and validate with the market.

How did you decide your first strategy? Let us know more in the comments below.

(Learn how this cartoon was made! Check out the stroke-by-stroke playback here)

Laugh a little and enjoy the blips on the road to startup success. This comic and post were originally created for 
#entrepreneurfail: Startup Success.

The Grass is Always Brown: Does Entrepreneurship Guarantee Job Satisfaction? (Comic)

#entrepreneurfail Job Satisfaction
Whenever I speak to entrepreneurs who have left the corporate rat race to pursue their own ventures, their experiences always echo my own. Sure, new small business owners expect additional flexibility, less bureaucracy and longer hours. However, those who leave the corporate world in search of greener pastures in a startup will realize that the job satisfaction trajectory between the two is very different, neither being a clear winner.

At the beginning of a corporate job, or a role within any large organization, there is a sense of pride that comes from the brand, the paycheck, and the responsibility. With time (and, of course, there are exceptions) the satisfaction decreases a bit, and plateaus out. The probability of this happening is consistently high because soon enough the reality of red tape and repetition sets in.  This is when some try to make the leap to a startup.

At the beginning of an entrepreneurial venture, the sentiment and satisfaction is uncertain and riddled with fear and budgetary constraints. The level of job satisfaction is consistently changing: variable but often in a positive trajectory. The stress often can result in more confusion and change in direction. With time there is potential to reach a high level of success and job satisfaction, but the probability of that is extremely low.

This quest for extreme job satisfaction is an #entrepreneurfail.  We all hear about the success stories and the glamour of starting a venture and the shackles of a corporate role but the irony is that neither is fully true.

The most recent count of failed startups is too high to rationally think about. However, we’re a risky bunch, so we think it’s worth the leap!

Did you leave a corporate role to job a startup? How did your job satisfaction change? Which factors affected you the most: salary, time, interesting work or colleagues? Let us know in the comments below.

This comic is from the book Cheating on Your Corporate Job: A Comic Look at the Startup Dream.  It is available for free on February 26th and 27th.

Clerical Clarity: Admin Work In the First Month of Entrepreneurship (Comic)

Clerical Clarity Updated for Book

“Days of filling out forms and reading about tax implications of small businesses and figuring out the best computer for my business – I realized how I was just delaying the actual work that had to be done.”

You thought you could just dive right into your new venture? The first month of entrepreneurship is punctuated with administrative overheads like paperwork, forms, writing checks, balancing projects and accounts, with a little bit of actual work sprinkled on top. To make things worse, these administrative tasks create an #entrepreneurfail: a perfect storm of procrastination. In contrast, in a new corporate job, there are a few clerical details to take care of… benefits & tax forms, and then you are off and running!

Of course you cannot skip these administrative overheads. However, be mindful of how they may take over as you embark on your journey. If you can delegate to a virtual assistant or find a vendor, this could help you make some quicker progress.  We used ODesk and Elance to scope out helpful and experienced talent so that we can actually work on our business. Our only mistake is that we didn’t do it sooner!

Key Startup Lesson: Focus on your end goal: sales and building a sustainable business and don’t get bogged down by the administrative details.

How was your first month starting a new business? Let us know in the comments below.

Enjoyed this comic? You’ll find this one and many more in the book Cheating on your Corporate Job: A Comic Look at the Startup Dream available on Amazon for download.


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