The Super-Accelerator: Excelerate is Now TechStars Chicago

Amina Elahi

Today, Chicago joins the ranks of such other illustrious tech cities as Boulder, Boston, New York and Seattle as the newest member of the TechStars family. Instead of starting from scratch, TechStars will set up camp here by bringing local summer accelerator Excelerate Labs into its fold.

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TechStars was founded in 2006 by David Cohen, Brad Feld, David Brown, and Jared Polis and is headquartered in Boulder. Since then, 176 companies have gone through its three-month program, 125 of which have been funded for a total of $275,721,095. In addition to a strong history of active and acquired companies – only about 11 percent of grads have failed – TechStars offers its alumni a network of mentors, investors and other TechStars.

Now, as Excelerate phases out its name and morphs into the latest TechStars location, those involved believe the organization’s track record of success will not only continue but flourish.

“Chicago is an awesome entrepreneurial ecosystem that is growing like crazy,” says Feld, currently the Managing Director of Colorado-based VC firm Foundry Group. “As we thought of cities we wanted to be in, Chicago was always at the top of the list, and the opportunity to work with the entrepreneurs and mentors in Chicago was one we couldn't pass up.”

It turns out TechStars’ connection to Chicago is a long one. In 2009, Excelerate Labs CEO and co-founder Troy Henikoff attended TechStars’ Demo Day and realized that of the 19 companies in TechStars’ Boulder and Boston locations, five were from Chicago. Inspired by the disproportionate representation of companies from his hometown, Henikoff and his compatriots sought to open a chapter in Chicago. At the time, however, the TechStars team said no to a Midwest chapter, offering their mentorship and guidance instead.

Born of a desire to attract and retain startups in Chicago, Excelerate has now run three summerlong accelerators of ten companies each. The program has earned a reputation in its own right, built on the back of its rigorous schedule, team of 136 mentors, investor partners and other resources. According to Henikoff, as Excelerate becomes TechStars, none of this will change.

“It’s the same people who’ve been running Excelerate, it’s the same structure, the same mentors, the same space,” says Henikoff, who will stay on as TechStars Chicago's Managing Director. “For someone that’s inside, it should feel programatically the same.”

By building off of what Excelerate has also created rather than starting from scratch, the new TechStars Chicago will be able to provide more benefits to participating companies right away. This includes scale and reach as a result of the TechStars network, as well as $100,000 in convertible notes for each accepted company, of which there will be 10 each year.

“The additional resources provided by the TechStars Network will allow the core team at TechStars Chicago...more time to focus on how to better leverage the unique set of assets we have in Chicago, and make TechStars Chicago one of the premier destinations for entrepreneurs from around the world,” says Adam Koopersmith, Excelerate Labs board member and New World Ventures partner.

Koopersmith and Henikoff agree that Chicago has come a long way since 2009. Something, it seems, has changed – something that’s drawn TechStars here.

“They’ve seen what’s going on in Chicago and they want to have a presence in Chicago and they’ve seen what Excelerate has built,” Henikoff says.

For TechStars, entering Chicago is a smart move, but it’s even better news for local companies. As part of a nationwide network, TechStars Chicago participants and alumni will have access to incomparable resources as well as even more exposure to the startup world’s elite.

“We now have nine different programs running a year with almost 100 companies going through a Techstars or powered-by TechStars. Our mentor and alumni networks are extraordinary and we are working hard to help every entrepreneur and every mentor who works with TechStars to get the leverage from these networks,” says Feld. “We also love hanging out in Chicago, so we are looking forward to having a lot of fun.”

With an attitude like that, we’d say Feld and his team have come to the right place.

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