Techstars Chicago 2016 applications are open: Here's what you need to know

by Sam Dewey
January 25, 2016

Mark your calendars, techies. Applications for this summer’s Techstars Chicago class officially opened today, and you’ve got until March 20 to get your ducks (and decks) in line in time for consideration.

Anticipation for this year’s class is already high, thanks in large part to the successes of years past.

“Each year, the classes have gotten better and better,” said Troy Henikoff, managing director of Techstars Chicago. “The bar has been raised, and we want to do even better this year.”

Last year’s class established a new standard for what Techstars companies are capable of. By October (the last month of the program), the class of 2015 was collectively generating $250,000 in monthly revenue. 90 days out of their Demo Day, he said they’ve already roped in more than $6 million in funding.

Henikoff said Techstars receives anywhere from 800 to 900 applicants each year, of which just 10 are accepted to the illustrious accelerator program. At just over one percent, that’s an acceptance rate markedly more selective than Harvard or Yale or Stanford.

Techstars’ hyper-competitive acceptance rates bespeak just what’s at stake for the companies vying for a spot. Of the 30 Chicago Techstars graduates, 25 are still active and four have been acquired. And while they’re in the program, companies enjoy more than 300 sundry perks, including free office space, $360,000 worth of free hosting credits from Microsoft, another $120,000 from AWS, and about $120,000 in capital from Techstars.

In total, it’s a package worth about a million bucks.

Still, Henikoff said the most valuable feature of being a Techstars company has little to do with money and more to do with connections. Companies lucky enough to fly Techstars’ signature green-and-white banner are invited into a worldwide network of thousands of entrepreneurs, mentors, and investors.

One of the most successful alumni to emerge from the Techstars family, Chicago-based SpotHero, has raised near $30 million in funding thanks in large part to relationships made capable because of the accelerator, Henikoff said.

“Young entrepreneurs don't always see that coming in,” he said. “They don’t understand how valuable that network is — how valuable the people and connections are.”

As it stands, there are about 160 mentors for Techstars Chicago, including Sam Yagan, who’s founded household tech companies brands like SparkNotes and OKCupid.

Applications for Techstars’ other summer programs (Atlanta, London, NYC, Mobility, and Techstars Retail) also opened today.

As for insider tips, Henikoff said you’ve got to be clear about what it is you’re building and ready to show early signs of traction. Only about half of companies are actually generating revenue when they’re accepted, so demonstrating customer engagement metrics or product/market fit is just as important.

But there aren’t any secret, last-minute hacks you can use to stand out any more than your competitors. You should be focusing on how to grow your company rather than how to get into Techstars.

“Build a better company,” he said, “and you’ll have a much better chance at getting into Techstars.”

Know of a Chicago startup we should be covering? Send us an email via [email protected].

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