They are doing something right over at Techstars Seattle.
The 3-month accelerator, part of the Techstars network, graduated its most recent class in May. I came away from Demo Day impressed with the pitches, and thought it may have been the best group out of the program yet.
Based on what has happened over the past few months, that seems to be the case.
Validated, another startup from the class, was recently accepted into Jaguar Land Rover’s incubator in Portland.
And just today, GeekWire reported that Beam, another Techstars Seattle company, was acquired by Microsoft.
“It’s super fun, obviously,” Techstars Seattle Managing Director Chris Devore told GeekWire today.
Devore, also a general partner at Founder’s Co-op, said “probably the right answer is we just got lucky” when asked what made this class so special.
But he also noted that the success of this year’s class is due in part to the “systems now humming.”
Devore took over as managing director in early 2015 after veteran entrepreneur Andy Sack, who brought Techstars to Seattle in 2009, passed the leadership baton to his partner at Founder’s Co-op, the Seattle-based seed-stage investment fund that the veteran entrepreneurs helped start eight years ago.
Devore then raised a fresh $2.7 million fund in early 2015 to bankroll four classes of startup companies through 2019. Investors included firms like Madrona, Maveron, Vulcan Capital, Trilogy and Bezos Expeditions. But DeVore also broadened the pool by inviting some of the organization’s key mentors to participate as investors as well, allowing them to put more “skin in the game” and more closely align with the mission of TechStars Seattle.
Backers include Seattle entrepreneurs such as Whitepages founder Alex Algard, Porch CEO Matt Ehrlichman, Dwellable co-founder Adam Doppelt. Moz CEO Rand Fishkin, Tune CEO Peter Hamilton and many others.
The fresh funds allowed DeVore to boost the annual budget going forward from $515,000 to $675,000, reducing its dependence on outside sponsors and bolstering the programming. It also offered flexibility to expand the class size to 11 or 12 companies, versus the 10 startups Techstars Seattle was traditionally limited to.
DeVore also reshaped the structure of the organization, hiring University of Washington grad and former GatheredTable director Jaren Schwartz to lead the program management. He said today that Schwartz has been “incredible,” and that the program is now “humming in the way I wanted it to when I took over.”
“I am optimistic that this is not an anomaly, but an indication of the quality of the program in respect to the leadership team, the mentors, and investor support,” he said of the most recent class.
Devore added that it is “super gratifying” to see top-tier local investors from firms like Madrona and DFJ not only mentor Techstars Seattle companies, but invest in them, too.
“The whole purpose of Techstars Seattle is to develop great venture-backed companies that build their businesses in Seattle,” said Devore, who is a big proponent of Seattle growing as a global tech innovation hub. “It’s incredibly exciting to see that come to pass.”
Here’s more from Devore from our interview with him just after he took over as managing director:
“We are looking at Techstars as less of a school where people apply, and are admitted, and more like an elite sports team where we have a network of recruiters — mentors and investors and the community more broadly — and we really want them to think that this is a chance to build a dream team once a year in Seattle with the best local startups and really pushing the best of the geography, from Vancouver down to Portland, into the program.”
Located in the University of Washington’s Startup Hall, Techstars Seattle is still awaiting a big breakout success. GSeattle-area startups and graduates such as Remitly, Apptentive, Bizible and Shippable have raised money and grown, but the program has yet to produce a blockbuster exit that really could catapult the organization to new heights.
Based on the early success of the most recent class, though, that could change soon.
If you are not familiar with TechStars, here’s how it works. Entrepreneurs who are accepted into the program — which operates more than 20 other accelerators in cities like Boston, Boulder and New York — get up to $20,000 in seed funding in exchange for 6 percent common stock and the chance to participate in a three-month immersive startup experience. That includes extensive mentoring by a group of experienced entrepreneurs and venture capitalists.