Found In The Rockies

Elle Bruno (TechStars Boulder) \\ From founder to funder to TechStars Managing Director

December 21, 2022 Les Craig Season 3 Episode 8
Found In The Rockies
Elle Bruno (TechStars Boulder) \\ From founder to funder to TechStars Managing Director
Show Notes Transcript

In today’s episode, we have someone who has done it all founder, funder, and now contributor to our startup ecosystem. Excited to have Elle Bruno who is the managing director of TechStars Boulder.

Here’s a closer look at the episode:

  • Elle’s early days as an entrepreneur
  • Why Elle focuses her angel investing on female founders.
  • What’s changed in the world of investing in female founders.
  • Elle’s advice to founders that are struggling with challenges/disadvantages.
  • Eliminate emotion and use data.
  • The importance of the founder/VC relationship
  • The quintessential element of investment is spending time with the founders.
  • Power dynamic shift with founders and funders.
  • Why investors and founders both need to do diligence.
  • What brought Elle to TechStars and the imposter syndrome.
  • The difficulty in choosing the companies for the cohorts.
  • How TechStars has grown. 
  • What the TechStars Boulder program entails.
  • Advice to founders thinking about applying to TechStars.
  • What’s unique about being a founder in Colorado
  • Why do TechStars as a founder.
  • What are you looking forward to on the personal front?


TechStars Boulder Website: 

Elle Linkedin: 

Techstars LinkedIn: 

Techstars Twitter: 

Techstars Instagram: 

Techstars Facebook: 

Techstars YouTube: 

Elle  00:00

You know, I always say like, I don't have the courage to be a founder again. And so I get to live vicariously through the courage of all the founders I get to work with.

Les  00:15

This is Found in the Rockies, a podcast about the startup ecosystem in the Rocky Mountain region, featuring the founders, funders and contributors, and most importantly, the stories of what they're building. I'm Les Craig from Next Frontier Capital. And on today's episode, we have someone who has done it all founder, funder, and now contributor to our startup ecosystem. Excited to have Elle Bruno who is the managing director of TechStars Boulder. Welcome to the show Elle. How are you today?

Elle  00:48

I'm great. Last thanks for having me. Excited to be here.

Les  00:52

Yeah, well, we're excited to have you and I have to tell you, probably more so than any, somebody's probably going to count these up. And like, tell me I'm wrong. But more so than any other I'd say the sort of proper noun spoken on found in the Rockies is TechStars, everybody talks about it. I feel like on almost every episode, so you know, ring the bell again, TechStars, we said it again. But I'm so excited to for you to give us the full story on that today. And that's what we're gonna get into. And I know our audience is excited to hear all about that. But before we do, as we always start every show, we'd love to hear your story. Just who you are, where you grew up, and how you got to where you are today.

Elle  01:35

Sure, absolutely. Well, I'm definitely an imposter into the mountains. Born and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota, undergrad in Boston, and then spent most of my adult life in Chicago, actually finally figured out what I was doing and made my way out here about three and a half years ago, don't know why it didn't happen sooner.

Les  01:56

So many, so many people say that as well, it just calls you on the mountains call you home.

Elle  02:01

They really do. I'm never looking back. So a little bit about my background. I actually have started my own company, and then also helped build three venture backed companies on top of that. So I spent most of my career as an founder operator started my first company back in 2004, when the eBay world was super hot, built an eBay startup company and ancillary business, where we sold overstock, for high end retailers and liquidated their product, and then moved into three more venture backed startups all very early stage kind of joined at the zero at the one to 10 range. So help build a couple of those companies hypergrowth, all in the consumer space, I would say most notably is a company by the name of Trunk Club, and we were fortunate enough to have an excellent exit in 2014. We were acquired by Nordstrom. At the time, it was the second largest e-commerce acquisition of all time. And with that, I started angel investing, and became an angel investor in 2015. So personally, I only invest in female founded and co-founded startups. I've led a couple syndicates, including a local company here by the name of Soona. And then in 2019, my husband and I came up to Denver, said this place is amazing. What are we doing with our lives, although Chicago was wonderful to us for many years, and kind of decided really quickly to move here overnight with our three kids. And it was the best decision we ever made. And with that, decided to really focus on professionalizing my investing, I've been a part of so much fundraising on the founder operator side, you know, really had sea legs there was excited about being able to make change in the VC community, from the perspective of being able to invest in underrepresented founders and make an impact there and so decided to shift full time to the investment side, and joined TechStars in August of 2020. And it's just been the most wonderful, rewarding journey ever since.

Les  04:09

What a great story leading up to TechStars. And what a what a really fascinating time, I'm sure to be joining TechStars right, August 2020. Just kind of on the on the back end of that first year of COVID.

Elle  04:22

I didn't, yeah, I didn't meet anyone in person that I worked with for almost a year.

Les  04:29

Wow, amazing. Well, we're gonna dive I want to dive into some some great detail there. But before before we go there, I'd love to just kind of peel back a little bit more about you know, your, you know, your initiatives to back female founded startups and, and, and, specifically, I think it's interesting, I'm always surprised with our guests and the serendipity of guests that we have the show, because actually Liz Giorgi is a former guest the founder of Soona she's been on the show before So that's a great episode. And if our listeners if you haven't listened to that one, Liz Giorgi, from Soona, right after you listen to this one, you got to

Elle  05:09

Yeah, I absolutely agree. I learned a lot from her all the time.

Les  05:14

Yeah. Awesome. Well, what so tell us tell us more about that. That's kind of personal passion. And, and what you've seen how you've seen that evolve, you know, as, as you became interested as an angel investor and, and started starting back back starting to back female founded companies.

Elle  05:30

Yeah, you know, honestly, the passion came from just experiencing so much inequity myself, as a founder and as a fundraiser. And so, you know, I always joke that, you know, I'm going to write a book, an anonymous book on this one day, because I have a lot, and I'm laughing, it's not funny, but a lot of stories to share around the challenges, you know, I faced on the fundraising front and things VCs said to us that, you know, would just blow your mind along the way, and this was back in, you know, 2015. And I do feel really confident that the environment has changed a ton. For the better, it was kind of back in, I'd say like, the 2013 to 2016 range is when all this was happening. And we've made a change for the better. So it really started with a passion based off of the experiences I had had that were were quite negative. And so you know, started making just writing a couple Angel checks. And then, you know, realized after doing the actual research, and on the science side of it, that investing in female founders is a really strong bet that there's a lot of data behind the outcomes and investing in those types of founders. And, you know, I have a lot of hypothesis around the why there, but it's all hypothesis. So that's what drove me to get involved in investing in female founders.

Les  06:45

That's awesome. What are some of the things that you've seen change? Or what? Or maybe also, so what are some of the things that, you know, what are some of the ways that we can continue to make progress in the right direction? 

Elle  06:58

Yeah, so you know, to be honest, it hasn't changed a ton. And it's changed very slowly. You know, we've seen kind of growth in investment in female founders. And then we saw another decrease with COVID. And then 2021, I believe, was flat to 2020. So it's just been a really slow progress on the investment side. And that's unfortunate to see. But I think there's a very strong awareness and acknowledgement of it, that didn't exist before. So that's definitely where we are improving as people and investors. You know, as far as like, what we can continue to do better. I would just say, you know, set set priorities and goals as venture capitalists around, you know, your investment in underrepresented founders. And like I said, the proof is in the pudding, like the tie goes to the runner, I would so much rather invest in somebody with a ton of grit than somebody who's been easily handed things and as underrepresented folks, meaning females, black, brown, folks, we have to just work harder to get to where we are, and so that grit is innate in us being an underrepresented person. And so I'm kind of going off on something here, but I just think it's, it's a smart, it's a smart way to look at investing. So I just think it's about all of us holding ourselves accountable. I think in our industry, we tend to get blinded by, you know, things on paper, like pedigree, or XUber, XGoogle, that sort of thing. And so, you know, sometimes it's easy to fall back on that stuff when it comes to diligence. And so it's really holding ourselves accountable, again, to doing deep, deep diligence, and all of these companies that we're talking to, and getting past the paper.

Les  08:52

Yeah, yeah, for sure. I, you know, it's interesting, too, that you you mentioned this, this element of grit, and as well as getting past the paper. Because what I have found we've we featured a number of underrepresented founders on the podcast. And you know, if you looked at, you know, maybe their backgrounds on paper, you may say like, I don't know, if this is really a founder story, I'd really even be interested in hearing like, and I mean that in a very just kind of vanilla way. But But if when you hear the stories, and the perseverance, when you get to meet these people, and who they are, it, they're incredible, and the grit and the perseverance that they have, I totally agree with you like there is something special about that. And it's, it's, it's persistent across almost every diverse founder that I've ever met. So I'm glad that you highlighted that. Yeah, that’s a cool observation.

Elle  09:47

It's definitely something I've experienced as well as an investor. 

Les  09:54

What advice would you give, you know, if there are founders out there that have struggle that have faced challenges, you know, whether whether they're a diverse founder that faced challenges or whether they just don't have the pedigree? You know, they didn't graduate from Stanford or something or, like, what what advice would you give to founders that are, are struggling and faced with some of that sort of that disadvantage?

Elle  10:17

Yeah, you know, we are so lucky in this day and age, it's like, almost everything can be found on something we call the World Wide Web today, versus 10 years ago, but just the resources are limitless today, as far as learning goes. Now, as far as network goes, that's still a little bit, I'll talk about that next. But as far as the learning goes, it's just immerse yourself in everything you can find, because there's really, really good stuff out there. You know, there is Venture Deals by Brad Feld, which is a very well known book, of course, you know, there's, there's so many books out there, and so many podcasts you can listen to, on how to learn how to build a business. So I would say, you know, start as an academic in the space. And then when it comes to networking, which is, you know, still, for better or for worse, really, really important in building a company. It's just about putting yourself out there. And it's about that cold outreach, right. And it's a numbers game when it comes to cold outreach. But, you know, I can tell you, for example, a company that actually was in my last cohort did a cold outreach to me on LinkedIn, you know, that's very rare for that to come through and ultimately be a company that comes in your cohort, but you know, they didn't have a network, and they've, um, you know, afterward, you know, one of the co-founders told me, he was doing 100 LinkedIn outreaches per day. And so it's just about really putting in the reps in order to build that network.

Les  11:37

Yeah, that's great advice. And I always wondered, so that's how you get into TechStars, just cold outreach Elle!

Elle 11:43

This episode is going to air and I'm gonna have 1000 emails in my LinkedIn.

Les  11:49

Too funny, n, but that's great. I mean, it's, it's a simple example of like, and that's, that's just another skill and like, determination and perseverance. So let's, let's go back speaking of kind of, like learning and, and the sort of the journey of founders like, I'd like to kind of go back maybe to your, your journey a little bit and where it started. And like some of the things that you learn, and sort of some of the skills that you develop that sort of led to this current opportunity that you have to have just this massive, you know, kind of national and global impact with founders, like, what are some of the things you learned as a founder along your journey, you know, through and not just a founder, but you know, as an early stage employee in in tech startups?

Elle  12:32

Yeah. Oh, my gosh, well, I learned most of the stuff the hard way. So let me start there. You learn more from the mistakes than you do from the great outcomes. So you know, I would say, just to kind of touch on maybe one or two, one thing that I learned was that don't let emotion get into the equation of making smart decisions in business. And the example I'll share with you there is, you know, as founders, we're so passionate about what we're building that sometimes we get really close to the so close to the problem that we can't even actually look at what the problem is, it becomes really blurry. And it's about kind of eliminating that passion and using data to make decisions. So I guess that would be kind of the first thing I would say is like, eliminate emotion use data. When I was at a company called luxury garage sale, we were testing out a new product on the market. And I was super passionate about it. What I didn't do well as I was bringing this product to market was set really stringent timelines and KPIs around it, of what our measures of success were and what our measures of, you know, not being successful were where we would shut down the beta call it and so it turned into a total nightmare. By the way, can people swear on this?

Les  13:52

Oh, yes, yes, swear away. Yeah, we're not governed by the FCC. 

Elle  13:58

All right, cool. It was a total absolute shit show. And it was 100% my fault. And I was like, No, this is gonna work. We're just doing it the wrong way. We're gonna test it this way. Six weeks later, no, I swear, we just didn't test it this way. I ended up losing a ton of money for the business in the process, because I was so emotionally attached to making that decision be the right one. And if I would have set those parameters, and then you know, really stringent about the timelines and the KPIs ahead of time, that never would have happened. So that's a really big lesson that I learned along the way. And then you know, there's just so many don't, don't raise from VCs that you don't feel like you would want to go out to dinner with with your families. That's a no.

Les  14:43

I'm glad it was funny. I was I was thinking that was where the sentence ended, don’t raise from VCs and I was like Wow! what advice that is! …that you wouldn't go out to dinner with, important caveat.

Elle  14:53

Yes. Raise from VCs you like because it is a very, very important relationship and there's so much trust. It's all about trust with VCs and founders. And I have made that mistake where you know, and I say that that comes from a place of privilege, right? Like, sometimes you're going to be desperate for money, you're going to have to take whatever money comes your way. So I totally recognize that. But really, you know, if you have the opportunity to choose who your investors are, make sure you really get to know them and make sure that you know that is a relationship that can stand the test of time, because you're going to hit so many bumps in the road together. And it's like, Look, do you want to go to war with that person? Do you want to go to dinner with that person and their family? And those are your that's your litmus test. Right?

Les  15:37

Yeah. You know, I'm so glad you said that. That's a concept that has never surfaced on, you know, the 50 Plus episodes we've recorded. And I think it's so important, because a lot of times, you know, I think, you know, whether it's like you watch Shark Tank on TV, and that's your impression of what VCs do, or something, but it's like, it's like, you meet them, it's transactional, they write a check like that. But it's you're so right. Like, the way you build trust is through a relationship is by having dinner with people is by spending time with people. And that's the quintessential element of and investment is trust. Right? 

Elle  16:14

It’s humans investing in humans at the end of the day.

Les  16:17

Yeah. Such a great such a great takeaway. So So you had, you know, kind of a great career and great progression from, you know, operator, as you said, from operator and founder to angel investor, how was that transition? And that's kind of a first micro transition, I guess, or actually pretty macro transition, but like, how did you shift your skills? And what sort of things did you learn about yourself and maybe also about investing when you shifted into more of an investor an angel investor type role?

Elle  16:49

Um, I think I'd say kind of the biggest thing I've learned as I've gotten a lot of reps in the last few years investing is that it's much more about the founders and the founding team than it is about the idea. I think I would get really excited about a great idea early on, and not get to know the founder as well as I could. And that is ultimately not the right way to invest. Because if you find a great founder, that's a lot harder to find. You can help them mold to their idea. You can help them pivot, you can help them evolve. As long as there's something there. You can't do the opposite.

Les  17:28

Yeah, boy. Boy, I wish I would have heard that 5 years. Yeah, yeah. It's funny. We had Natty Zola on the show last season. And he said something, it was like, what are the top five criteria for making an investment decision? He was like, team, team, team team. And then something else. I don't remember whether something else was but yeah, it's the same kind of it's the same thing. It's like, the team is everything. What about any anything you're willing to share? Like, you know, mistakes that you made, as an angel investor are things that you like, overlooked, and look back on now and say, Wow, did I did I miss that? Or did I think this was going somewhere else that it totally had no chance at like any, any unique kind of investment decisions to share there? Or?

Elle  18:18

I wish I had a really excellent articulate answer for you there. But it actually just goes back to that exact thing. Like I bet on an idea and not a founder. And you know, to remain nameless, I'm fortunate that my, you know, entire portfolio is still in business as of now, but some are doing better than much better, and some are doing much worse. So yeah, I think I just wish I would have spent more time getting to know the founders, and I feel like, you know, I, when I look at, like my first angel investment to my last, the difference in my behavior, there's so, so obvious, like, the first one was just, oh, I'm excited about what you're doing. Let's meet once or write you a check. You know, I had some liquidity in my life for the first time ever with our Trunk Club outcome. And so I kind of just went for it. And you know, I was like, oh, and I'm like, oh, and so and so is investing in it, I'm gonna do you know, I trust that person. Right, that whole that whole epidemic and so I did that. Whereas then, you know, my last? Well, even with Soona, actually Liz will tell you that was a more recent investment and I led a very small syndicate and that nothing nothing super impactful in the business. And I was on her like you would not believe I'm having her on the phone making her walk me through her financial model digging into like very specific details when she's probably like, what the hell like this is the tiniest check. But you know, was really leaning in on not just taking other people's words for it. Like even though investors I respected were in on the deal. I wanted to come to that conclusion myself. So I would say kind of that's how my behaviors have changed over the years.

Les  20:00

Yeah, you know, I think I'm glad you brought up that point about like this, even the small check and doing the homework and doing the diligence, because I, I actually think one of the things I've grown to appreciate is the investors that do the work. Investors that do the homework, whether it's I noticed it on a follow-on investment in our portfolio, or whether it's kind of how I approach a new investment, it's like doing the work isn't necessarily always about just getting conviction in the deal, that's important. And getting to a thesis that holds water. But it's also the way that you prepare to be value-add to the company, right? Like, that's how you learn how to be a board member. That's how you learn the intricacies and the ins and outs of the company. So I think about it, like, I think that persistence is great. And if I were, I'm sure I'm sure Liz thought it was great for the same reason, I'm sure she, she understands that kind of stuff. She's have that level of maturity. But I think that's something that I was, you know, founders need to realize, too, it's like, no matter how small the check an interested investor is an engaged investor for the long haul. 

Elle  21:01

And there's also like, something really interesting about the power dynamic of investors and founders that we have seen shift dramatically over the last few years, right with, you know, such a frothy market late 2020 and 2021. That like, actually shifted the power a bit more to founders. And then now it's kind of shifting back to funders. And what's interesting, though, with that as like, you know, with the founders being like, Well, I'm not gonna let your diligence my company like I'm oversubscribed, you just come in or you don't. Right. And that was a really new, a new part of the industry in 2021. But I think it was actually for the best because it just needs to be balanced out. Like everyone needs to recognize we need to do due diligence on each other, and that it isn't one sided.

Les  21:51

Yeah, for sure. Cool. What so so kind of moving moving forward towards TechStars, because I really want to I really want to, you know, talk talk about that a bunch, because I think our listeners are excited to hear. Your first experience, you were was it, you were an EIR was it the Trans Union program?

Elle  22:12

At Western Union? Yeah. 

Les  22:15

Western Union. Yeah. So you was that your that was your? Was that your first experience with the TechStars as an EIR? Tell us about that? And tell us about how that led to kind of, I guess, I would assume your conviction in this current opportunity eventually, right.

Elle  22:28

Yeah. So you know, like I mentioned, I moved to Denver in I actually moved in August of 2019 was still working as an operator with a startup in Chicago called Interior Define, and as a chief revenue officer there, and then slowly transitioned out of that with my move. And really what was like, I want to professionalize this investing, I started talking to a bunch of funds that was, you know, my initial thought, actually was like, so amazed at the market here in Colorado, and also the willingness of everyone in this market to talk to each other and share deal flow and that sort of thing. And so I had this initial investors initial, sorry, professional thesis that I would work for a fund on one of the coasts, and bring them all the deal flow, you know, in the mountain region. As I was having those conversations, I came across TechStars. And

Les 23:20

Oh, sorry. Yeah, our listeners can't see me smiling. I'm like, I'm like, Oh, that would be the exact opposite strategy of Next Frontier Capital, which is let's find the best deals and do them here. Well, anyway, I'll forgive you. I forgive Oh, that's how you didn't do it. Okay. Thank you. Yes, thank you, 

Elle  23:41

No one hired me. What happened was, I stopped that process when I came across TechStars. Because I just thought it was the most brilliant concept, you know, I wasn't actually super, super familiar with TechStars. I knew the brand. Well, I didn't fully understand the guts of it, before pursuing this opportunity. And, you know, for me, as an investor, it was an opportunity to really get my investment chops going, but to also continue to wear my operating hat, which as they say, once an operator I was an operator, right? And so it's a chance for me to roll up my sleeves and work very directly with founders and solve very specific problems on a day to day basis, while investing in companies. And so that's what ultimately brought me there. And at Western Union, they were like, do you want to be an EI on the fintechs accelerator, and I was like, my entire life experiences as CRO and consumer brands. So, you know, obviously, there was a little bit of impostor syndrome there going into that and once I started meeting with these founders, I immediately realized they actually know everything there is to know about fintech. What they need help with is, who do I hire first? What does my org structure look like? What is my go to market and you know, slowly as I'm having these one on ones every week with founders realizing this is a good relationship. You know, I can help these folks out. And they know what they need to know about fintech. And it just was really incredibly rewarding. You know, I always say, like, I don't have the courage to be a founder again. And so I get to live vicariously through the courage of all the founders I get to work with.

Les  25:16

That's cool. That's a great quote.

Elle  25:20

So did I answer your question? This is what I do on podcasts. I just go off on a tangent.

Les  25:24

I love it, no this is great. No, you're taking in a great direction. So So you so you, you that was basically like it, I would recharacterize that as sort of like a an unexpected, like. It was like a serendipitous, great experience that you had through this programming. And then what what was the major kind of realization coming out of that other than, you know, living living vicariously through these founders that have the courage? Is, did that become like just this new passion that you just wanted to keep going after that more and more, was that sort of the…

Elle  25:56

Yeah that and, you know, I realized that, you know, we're not going to know outcomes for a long time. But I think I'm a pretty damn good investor. And that's what came out of it. And what I have experience in is having worked as an operator for so long, I can read people and founders and leaders really, really well, I'd like to say I'm very perceptive in that regard. And I had, you know, thought as much but it was, I was really able to solidify that skill set that I had, I don't mean to be bragging, but you know, I'm 42 years old, so you got to know what you're good at now. If you haven't already. And so it was the combination of that, like, Hey, I actually, I can pick up companies. And then the, you know, hopefully, they all think the ability to be able to support them in their process. And, you know, whether it's coming off like that or not right now doing it with a lot of humility in the process. 

Les  26:53

Yeah, no, of course. Of course. Well, and anybody that knows you, you're you're, you know, you're you're one of the most humble, humble people I have met in the ecosystem. So, with with regards to picking them, by the way, I mean, let's let's go there, because like, you know, I think it's been said, it's like TechStars. Like is it's harder to get into than like, Harvard? Harvard? Yeah, whatever. Yeah. Whatever the whatever analogy you want to use? What? What is it actually? Like? How hard is it? Actually? Can you tell us? Or would that be too much? Divulging? 

Elle  27:28

Well, it's hard as shit. You know, I mean, you have I, you know, I talked to hundreds, just like you do last hundreds, yeah, hundreds of founders a year. And you think about kind of your ingredients that you look for, and that perfect recipe call. You'll meet with someone, they have four out of five, and you're like, Oh, I really wish they had that fifth, that fifth ingredient. Maybe I can, you know, maybe I can coach them on that one. And you know, you kind of just, it's like, you're always looking for that perfect package. But that said, it's also hard because you appreciate these folks, right? Like, you're a good investor, you have so much respect for founders. I think that's the most important thing, right? You don't want to say no.

Les  28:15

That's hard, I always tell people that's the hardest part about the job. I did end of the year episode last year, which is a really fun one, where I talked about how like saying no is like, you know, you may think it's easy, but that's why so many VCs say maybe yeah, I got my job. A lot. I got a lot maybes. Like I say no all the time. Because I know it's important for the founders to hear no versus maybe. But it hurts. It's so hard. 

Elle  28:39

So hard. But yeah, it is true, we get a ton of applications. And we I mean, I can vouch for my program, we look through every single one of them. And, you know, it just comes down to, you know, who's who's got most of the ingredients at the end of the day. And sometimes it's not even about the company, it's about our current investment thesis or, you know, if we're so focused on a certain geography for that cohort, things outside of like this is, you know, just a great company.

Les  29:11

Yeah, yeah. And and not not only that, but it's like the courage I'd say that it takes just to apply to TechStars and the discipline and it's like, this is already a really select amazing group of people that you're picking from to begin with, right? So it's the competition I'm sure is super steep, and fierce. And then on top of that, you only get to pick how many per cohort out of the

Elle  29:38

Yeah, 12 companies per cohort. We have moved to two cohorts a year so that's that's been great. And that you know, for company is just a little too early but you really liked them. It's not like they have to wait another year to apply. They can apply three months later. 

Les  29:57

Yeah, awesome. And you know, Natty was on the episode we did mostly talk about Matchstick, he did give us a little history of TechStars and his journey in TechStars, through his first company, but what I'd love to do today is can you tell us a little bit about kind of the program today? What it's like when the cohorts run, just kind of a general pitch overview for our listeners that may be thinking about it.

Elle  30:18

yeah, well, I have my predecessor Natty Zola to thank for much of it. So that's a good segue. So a little bit of an overview on TechStars today, because it has changed a lot. You know, we have a new CEO in the last couple of years, I would say kind of, structurally, it's changed. But fundamentally, it's stayed the same, which is our give first mentality and always putting founders first. But we now have we currently have about 50 programs around the world. And all of our city programs have moved to two cohorts a year. So that's myself and Boulder, Austin, New York, LA TechStars Anywhere, Chicago, that's just domestically

Les  31:03

Is that Anywhere, North Dakota? What is that?

Elle 31:07

Is that a city? 

Les  31:04

No, I just made that up, you fell for it.

Elle  31:14

TechStars. Anywhere is actually our TechStars remote program before we all kind of went remote. So they've always been remote from day 1. And so we take 12 companies on per cohort, like I mentioned, and it's a 13 week accelerator. So I like to say we invest in companies via an accelerator model. We're not writing really large checks, we do write smaller checks to our companies. But the value is truly in the accelerator and the network and the mentorship and the experience itself. So the way my program is structured, I'll speak to mine only is we break it into three parts. The first part is customer discovery and building, I'm really obsessed with customer discovery, in order to kind of build that infrastructure in order to find you know, your product market fit, and then build your product roadmap from there, as the first third of program, the middle program is all about selling, which is what I've done my whole career. And everything we're building out for this next cohort is very tactical. So the customer journey, the ICP, you know, contracting, kind of you name it there. And then the last part of program is fundraising. So, you know, that's a lot of why people come into program for sure, but we don't want, you know, we want to prepare our founders for fundraising, so that when they actually do go out to the market, that they're putting their best foot forward. So it's not like come in to TechStars. And we'll introduce you to 60 VCs on day one, and you know, you'll go out and have a check by day 15. It's just, you know, it's not how it works. It's not a longtail play. So we really spend the first two thirds building the company, and then we focus on fundraising.

Les  32:56

Nice. Yeah. I mean, that's kind of the three legged stool for an early stage. Yeah. Right. Like, can you get customers, can you get revenue, and then can you fund the revenue through growth? And then, you know, keep the cycle going. That's, that's great. What? And what are the what times is there like, open applicate? Open Season for applications? When did the cohorts run? Generally? What are you looking for?

Elle  33:18

Yeah, so actually, I did not mention that, which is also how we've evolved as an organization. So we do have open apps at all times. And you can actually apply and just apply to the general TechStars application field, you don't have to choose an accelerator, we do recommend you put a first, second and third choice, it's really helpful to get eyes on it, but you don't have to. So there's, excuse me a general pool of applications that we just launched in the last couple of months. And you can apply several times if you like. Oftentimes, our companies do not get in on the first attempt, but more so the second or third attempt. But yeah, if you go and click on startups, you'll be able to see the opportunities and the options for applying.

Les  34:07

Awesome. And is there are there any, are there any themes or I know some of the programs have specific themes that they seek out? 

Elle  34:19

Yeah, there's there are themes. So go on there and take a look, I would say for TechStars Boulder. You know, it's changed over the years across MDs, and of course, kind of our appetites for different types of investment. Last cohort was all FinTech for boulder. And that was the first time there has been a really specific investment thesis. And that was super fun. We broadened it a bit this cohort to FinTech marketplaces, supply chain and logistics. So that's what you're gonna see in our upcoming class which starts in January. And then we will open apps for the next cohort in January we'll announce our thesis there. You know, Boulder, obviously has an incredible rich deep history of of great companies coming out of it, I'd say there's, you know, a lot in sales management tools, a lot prop tech, a lot of SaaS has historically come out of here. But we continue to evolve there. And I love I love mountain region companies, I want more of them. So I'm gonna do a plug there like Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, New Mexico, bring it, Utah. I want to see all of those companies. I mean, even Arizona, I'll call call mountain region at this point.

Les  35:32

Yeah, why not? It's in the, it's in corner

Les  35:37

Awesome. Well, you heard if you heard of founders, if you're listening to our podcast, go to go to TechStars a online and figure out figure out how to make it work. Get that application in.

Elle  35:46

Find Boulder and reach out to us.

Les  35:49

Yeah. Any any advice? And specifically, let's talk about Mountain West, like any any advice to startup founders in the Mountain West that are maybe thinking about TechStars, maybe want to apply to thinking about applying to TechStars Boulder? Any advice you'd give them? Like, before they press submit? Either from a company journey prospective, like, wait until you do this? Or, like any advice? 

Elle  36:18

Yeah, you know, we don't necessarily we don't bring in companies that are in idea stage. There's awesome free accelerators available out there for that, you know, we are minimally are looking for an MVP idea, ideally, in beta up to, you know, maybe 500k in ARR is kind of where that's our sweet spot for where we feel like we can be helpful to companies, I would say, only apply to TechStars if you really want it. So don't apply to TechStars. And also, if you really want to put in the work, I should say. Yeah, don't apply to TechStars. If you think it's an easy way to get a check. And that's what you want to get out of it.

Les  36:59

I don't think I've ever heard anyone who's got through TechStars say that it was easy, just for the record. Yeah, it's gonna be work. But I think generally that self selects the right, yeah, you're gonna be successful founder, you're gonna work? Yeah, 10 times isn't hard after TechStars.

Elle  37:14

Exactly. And I think I'm just gonna kind of wax off of that question a little bit about, like, being a founder in our region in general. You know, there's upsides and downsides, obviously, founders don't have as much exposure to venture capital money, but we're getting there. I mean, in Colorado, especially. I think we were the seventh highest city as far as venture capital dollars invested in 2021, you know, beating out some larger tier markets that you want to expect us to. So we're growing, we're getting there. And I would say the advantage to being to fundraising and building a company here is that people want to help you. Like it is not quid pro quo. It is Les we'll take a phone call with you, Elle, Natty, we will we will help you succeed, not just in Colorado, but in the mountain region, because we have so much pride in it. And we believe in it. And that is so unique to where we live. And I can tell you that because I've lived in the other places.

Les  38:10

Yeah, I second that, I can tell you that as well, from the places I've lived.

Elle  38:14

So that's the upside, everyone will take your phone call, everyone will take the coffee. You know, the downside is you just it's not a numbers game as much. It's a quality over quantity game, when it comes to like the size of the network.

Les  38:27

Yeah, that's fair. What about what's like a one minute, or 30 second? Or whatever you want to do plug on? Why choose an accelerator? I'm thinking or maybe specifically, why choose TechStars? Because maybe I'm thinking about, Oh, there's Y Combinator or this or that MassChallenge away? Like, why do it? Why do an accelerator and maybe more specifically, why do TechStars?

Elle  38:51

I'm going to speak to why do TechStars and I'll preface that with not all accelerators are created equal. And many have attributes that are stone have and vice versa. It's just it's not it's not vanilla, to vanilla, you know, it's like,

Les  39:05

That's, that's a great clarification. Yeah. 

Elle  39:09

But why do TechStars I mean, you should talk to our founders to understand why and how life changing, it's been for them. But I would say do TechStars if you want the ability, and again, you want to put in the hard work to accelerate the growth of your business. In three months, what you normally would have done in three years, and you don't know what you don't know. And the power it's not actually the fundraising. It's not the investors we intro you too. It is in the mentorship and to be able to create a network of people that took myself and my team and Natty and everyone before me, you know, collectively 20 years to build and to be able to hand that over to our founders in three months is there's nothing more powerful than that in order to build a business, and so that was like a very high level answer but it’s the power of the network and the mentorship that is going to accelerate the growth in a really short time. Even if you're a second or third time founder, there's still things you don't know, going into this environment, right? Where you're starting a different kind of company. You want introductions to different types of potential customers, etc. It's, you know, I am biased, but I have been a founder many times myself, I always say, I wish I had gone through TechStars I think the outcome of my companies would have been very different.

Les  40:31

Yeah, great pitch. Make me want to apply to TechStars, is there one for VCs?

Elle  40:37

Did you say you want to come to a workshop and help with the next cohort? Great. 

Les  40:42

All right, you heard it here. I'd love to, you know, I'd love Yeah, anytime. Yeah, we say yes in the Rockies. Yeah, um, two more quick questions, because we're just about out of time. First of all, any fun predictions about the future of our region, startup founders in our region, anything fun, you're seeing trends you're seeing? We always like to, you know, try to get you to say something that someday we can use to embarrass you when you were totally wrong about I’m teasing… but like anything fun, like future predictions that you have. 

Elle  41:12

Yeah, well, you know, we're investors. So we're mostly wrong, right? I compare our job to meteorologists. It's, there's a few jobs in the world where you can get it wrong most of the time and still have a job. So I won't be embarrassed when when I do get it wrong. But a prediction, I don't know, if I necessarily have a prediction, I will say I think 2024 was really going to be the year that Colorado in particular, puts themselves on the map as a founder, VC, kind of capital, because we have so many companies on the cusp of exit, and that are unicorns in the state of Colorado and 2022, late 2022 and early 2023. We're gonna set us back a bit and those, but we just need a few more companies to quote unquote, hit in order to put ourselves really on the map. And you know, because that comes after all the investment infusion. Right. And so like I said, 2021 was a big year for investment. So I think we're gonna see some really strong outcomes in late 2023, which is what will put a community on the map, and we've had a few, but we still haven't had enough for our friends on the coast to feel like there's a competitive nature there. 

Les  42:31

Well, you know, we've been we've made a couple a few investments in 2021. And and in 2022. So yeah, hopefully we're in that batch. Yeah, yes. Absolutely. Yeah. That's awesome. That's great. Very cool. Last question. I always like to ask, you know, kind of just a fun personal question. Anything you are looking forward to on the personal front and kind of the next 30 days to close out 2022? Anything? Anything fun trips, vacations, anything?

Elle  43:00

I'm actually staying here for the holidays, which we never do. So. I think I look forward to that. I think I look forward to being still and doing nothing. But yeah, I have three small children. And so the holidays are super fun. Just a lot of running around, Santa Claus. We already playing the Christmas music, which my husband is like, I'm over it. So love the holidays

Les  43:31

By the way, do you guys have, not that I'm like endorsing Elf on a Shelf. But do you guys have one of those?

Elle  43:36

Hell no.

Les  43:40

All right, you're lucky. I bit that off about what Gosh, what was it? My son's 14 probably 13 years ago. And I can't figure out how to break free of it. My eight year old still.

Elle  43:51

Yeah, yeah,

Les  43:52

That could be a whole episode. Good on you for dodging that.

Elle  43:55

 That's your fault. Les. 

Les  43:57

Yeah, exactly. All right. Wonderful. Well, just to conclude, I just want to thank you for being just a phenomenal guests on our show. We're so thankful to have you in this region. All you do for founders on a daily basis, living vicariously through their courage. I love that it's such a cool quote. And to just to conclude if you could just tell our listeners where they can find out more about you and TechStars Boulder online.

Elle  44:23

Yeah, perfect. Well, thanks Les and right back at you backslash Boulder is where you can connect with us for office hours and to apply. That is the best way to go about it. I would give you my Twitter handle but we're not doing that anymore

Les 44:39

She doesn’t Elf on a Shelf or Twitter. This is incredible. Awesome Elle. Yeah. 

Elle  44:45

And I'd love to hear from folks I truly mean it. Open Door policy as much time as we as much time as we can give we're happy to regardless of its joining TechStars or not.

Les  44:55

Awesome. Thanks so much. Thank you for listening to this week's episode of Found in the Rockies. You can find links in the show notes or go to to get transcripts, links, and contact information for today's guests. If you like what you heard and want more, please don't forget to rate review and subscribe to get notified as our new episodes drop every two weeks. We'll see you next time.