Sydney-based startups were buzzing earlier this year with the news that global accelerator Techstars would be launching a local program.
Techstars TechCentral, powered by the NSW Government, will welcome its first class of companies in July, led by Kirstin Hunter and Lauren Fong.
We asked Kirstin and Lauren to talk to each other about Techstars, what it will bring to the startup ecosystem and share a little more about each other.
Here’s what they said:
Lauren: Kirstin, let’s start with you – you’ve worked in corporate as well as startups, what perspectives do you bring to the accelerator?
Kirstin: That’s right – I spent 10 years in professional services (mostly at Bain & Co) before moving to the entrepreneurial side as a co-founder at Future Super and later an executive at Brighte. I’ve also been on the board of Startmate and Ocean Impact Organisation, so have quite a bit of experience with accelerators even before joining Techstars.
Having gone through the journey of building and scaling successful startups, I have firsthand experience in the challenges that entrepreneurs face at every stage, whether that be finding the right product-market fit through to optimising operations for growth.
This is incredibly valuable when combined with my experience working with massive companies in my corporate days as it means I’m pretty good at spotting a pathway through any stage of a company’s growing pains.
KH: Lauren, your background as an investor brings something totally different to my experience – tell us more about how you see it benefiting the founders participating in our accelerator?
LF: As an investor with a focus on early-stage startups, I’ve had the privilege of working with very experienced investment leaders identifying and nurturing businesses with tremendous growth potential.
My experience in the investment landscape has provided me with a deep understanding of what investors seek in emerging companies.
I look forward to bringing my knowledge and experience to the founders of our cohort, as I can offer insights on building scalable and sustainable startups, all things raising capital, and connecting them with a robust network of contacts in the ecosystem.
Over the years of being a VC investor, I think I’ve probably reviewed more than 2000 pitch decks and spoken to hundreds of founders, so I have a pretty good feel of what makes a company stand out!
LF: While Techstars is new to Sydney there are already several established accelerators – how do you see us fitting in and adding to this ecosystem?
KH: Startups in Australia and New Zealand are incredibly lucky to have access to a number of world class accelerators. Startmate and Antler are definitely the best known, but there are also more sector-focused accelerators (like Ocean Impact Organisation or Energy Labs) as well as technology or industry specific programs that support companies from incubation through to commercialisation. We certainly have a thriving ecosystem!
One of the most common questions I get from founders is “what makes you different to Startmate or Antler?” and my answer is always that if you as a founder are lucky enough to get an offer from any one of these accelerators you should be super proud! Each of these accelerators is amazing, but they are also each slightly different which may impact where you want to focus your energy in applying.
As for how Techstars compares: similar to Antler we are a global accelerator – this means we have access to alumni founders and mentors from across the world! At current tally we have just under 3,500 alumni companies (including 20 unicorns) and over 5,000 active mentors, which gives us incredible depth and breadth of expertise to call on to support our founders.
But similar to Startmate, we also offer a small class size for our mentor-driven accelerator – we are selecting only 12 companies – which means we can really customise the experience to the companies and founders who are part of that class.
Another difference is that our program is delivered face-to-face in Sydney – our expectation is that for the duration of our program the Techstars company founders will co-locate with us and our experts-in-residence at our office at Tank Stream Labs in Haymarket. This feels like a bit of a novelty in a post-covid world (and it may not appeal to everyone) – but there are certainly benefits in connection and learning that come from sharing the same space.
If I can mention one last thing – I think that you and I also bring a new perspective to accelerator leadership – its rare to see two women leading an accelerator, not to mention that we have such relevant hands-on experience in founding, operating and investing in successful tech businesses. Talk about a dream team!
KH: Lauren, one of the most impressive things about your career so far is your focus on diversity, particularly in finding ways to empower female founders. How do you see this playing out at Techstars?
I am incredibly passionate about promoting diversity in the industry!
I spent the last 3 years in a role focused on supporting and investing in Kiwi women founders. I raised New Zealand’s first fund [ArcAngels Fund] that exclusively invests in women entrepreneurs. I also managed an angel network that had the same mission.
I’ve collectively raised $13 million for women in New Zealand. I loved every minute of that journey!
One of the things that attracted me to Techstars is the mission of democratising access to capital. This isn’t just a nice to have for Techstars, it’s part of our investment thesis: We truly believe that talent is evenly distributed but access to funding is not, so outsized returns are most likely to come from investing in founders who don’t match the archetype of the typical tech founder.
So far I’ve been so proud of the way that we’ve been able to integrate our commitment to diversity in the way that we have sourced and selected for our first accelerator class.
We’ve gone from hundreds of applications to around 100 first round interviews, 40 second round interviews, and then invited the top 20 to present to our screening committee. A
t each stage we’ve been conscious of the geographic, gender, racial and cultural diversity of the founders who we have invited to participate. Not only that, our screening committee was made up predominantly of women, but also had a mix of ages, cultural backgrounds and skills. It’s that commitment to diversity at every step that really makes the difference.
We’re actually in the process of finalising offers to our first class of 12 companies and – spoiler alert – I’m confident that it is going to be one of the most diverse and interesting accelerator classes that our local ecosystem has produced! Stay tuned!
LF: Which is actually a great segue: Kirstin can you share what’s coming next for this accelerator class?
Great segue! As you’ve shared, we are in the late stages of finalising offers to the 12 companies who will form the first Techstars accelerator class in Sydney.
The class will formally commence on 10 July, with the 13-week mentor-driven accelerator culminating in our demo day on October 5, where we will celebrate these founders and their progress with a room full of investors and mentors.
I’m already excited!
To get more information about Techstars TechCentral accelerator or get in touch with the team, click here.