In fact, the very idea for the 54-hour Startup Weekend bootcamps — one of the hallmark programs from UP Global — originally started in the Techstars basement in Boulder, Colorado in 2007. Today, the two organizations even share office space in Seattle at the Startup Hall building on the University of Washington campus.
“There’s not even a wall between us,” said UP Global CEO Marc Nager, describing the physical space in the old law school building.
That coziness now extends even further.
Today, Techstars is announcing that it is acquiring UP Global in a deal that they say will help “grow the worldwide entrepreneurial ecosystem” and “accelerate the pace of innovation.”
“I think this really fulfills something that we set out to do when we founded Techstars eight or nine years ago, which was to help entrepreneurs on every stage of their journey,” said Techstars co-founder and managing director David Brown. “It is all part of this idea of helping entrepreneurs go from idea to IPO. It just fills in some gaps we’ve had in that respect.”
In addition to Startup Weekend and Startup Week events, UP Global operates the Startup Next and Startup Digest programs. Bringing UP Global into the mix adds a layer of infrastructure around the entrepreneurs in the earliest stages of development. It also helps Techstars expand its footprint overseas where UP Global is especially strong.
The two organizations have talked in the past about aligning, but discussions about an acquisition really did not heat up until earlier this year. In addition to their historical roots, the two organizations share some common brain power as Techstars co-founder Brad Feld sits on the board of UP Global. Given those close ties, Nager said there’s always been a strong “brotherhood” between Techstars and UP Global.
“The values and the culture are so aligned,” said Nager, adding that a formal alliance just became obvious as they discussed the possibility.
Nearly all of UP Global’s staff of 43 people will join Techstars, bringing the total size of the organization to about 125. UP will continue to be headquartered in Seattle.
The deal does come with a bit of complexity. UP Global operates as a non-profit, while Techstars is a for-profit.
As part of the deal, UP Global and its programs will be folded into the for-profit business of Techstars.
Nager, for one, doesn’t think that will change much. The self-described social entrepreneur said there are some minor technicalities around not being able to receive grants, but for the most part UP Global will operate as it did before the acquisition. He said many of the organization’s large donors are supportive of the move.
“All of our partners have been extremely excited,” he said. “The nature of our engagements has always been much more about how do we support entrepreneurs.”
As part of that effort, Google for Entrepreneurs will continue to support the Startup Week and Startup Next programs. In fact, UP Global has decided to drop the fee on Startup Next, a pre-accelerator entrepreneurial mentorship program.
The acquisition will also help UP Global focus on its core mission, rather than burning cycles on sponsorship drives. UP Global laid off 33 percent of its staff earlier this year after a key sponsorship deal fell apart.
“Sustainability has been tough with a non-profit model that relies on sponsorships,” said Nager, adding that they had been discussing for years how they could keep the UP Global mission humming. UP Global will continue to seek out corporate partners that share its mission, but the reliance on those funds to keep the organization alive is no longer critical.
With the support from Techstars, UP Global can now focus on simply encouraging more startups globally, which Nager said should benefit the entire entrepreneurial ecosystem and Techstars as a part of that.
“This will ensure 10 years from now that there are more Startup Weekends and more programs like it, helping support the early-stage,” said Nager.
The UP Global board of directors will continue to operate, allocating the remaining funds to charitable activities over the next few years. Nager said that he and other staffers at UP Global are not making any money on the acquisition.
“There is no economics being changed hands as part of the transaction, other than a continued guarantee that we have the ability to continue our jobs and continue creating an impact,” he said.
Nager, who will take on the role of Chief of Community at Techstars, said he’s excited about the next chapter.
“I truly believe that this is really aligned with the evolution of the startup community and that startup world in general,” he said. “I also can rest a little more assured that the longevity of what we have been doing and what we have built is only going to continue to be amplified. Because that is a concern as a non-profit relying on sponsorships. Being attached to a much more robust and sustainable business model is something that allows us to continue our mission with a little more confidence.”