The Techstars experience
By Ross Lawless
Going through a Techstars accelerator feels exactly like that, acceleration. Your foot planted and pushed back in the seat kind of acceleration. Once you’ve been accepted, put on your seat belt and get ready to focus on the road ahead because you’re driving a bus with one hundred passengers telling you the best route.
Now don’t get me wrong. Your passengers are great people, they’re not even going to your destination, they just got on the bus to help you out. I’m talking about your mentors and 'mentor madness', this was the first phase in our Techstars program. The madness refers to how you’ll be feeling and not the mentors, although we did meet some characters. We met lots and lots of experts who are considered leaders in their fields. Our program was specific to additive manufacturing so the mentors we met were mostly related to that industry which was really useful, especially since we had come from Europe to the USA. The feedback we were getting about our PMC 3D printers was overwhelmingly positive and getting time to ask these people questions was priceless. They all have your best interest at heart, but everyone has their own opinion so you’re getting tugged around. That’s where the seat belt and focus come in. You must remain strong on your vision while taking all this advice on board. When we did, we found ourselves closer to our destination and we had a very good idea of what route to take.
After a month of meetings and vital feedback you reach a bus stop. Here most of your mentors get off the bus and all but 5 to 10 will remain. So, it’s you, your team and your select group of mentors who will make the next stint. The next phase in our program was titled ‘build’, this is where you focus your efforts on your product, having absorbed everything from the previous month’s madness. We were working on a hardware product, so we focused on creating a tech demo of a PMC 3D printer to explain our new technology. Ultimately, we ended up creating two tech demos to help get the concept across. Sometimes it can be difficult to tell a hardware story because intellectual property constantly redacts your efforts. In our case, we couldn’t fully disclose the invention and I was worried this would affect our ability to raise capital so we focused on telling the part of the story that we could really well. Others were working on their software products and refining their already up and running sales funnel. What a business will be doing in this phase largely depends on what the business does, but one thing is for sure, your foot better be pressed as hard as possible on that accelerator because you’ve got Techstars in the tank and month 3 is looming.
It’s month 3, the last month of the program and all the focus is on pitching and finances. The end is near, bits of your bus may have fallen off, new bits might have been added and like us, you might even have less team passengers. The program is a stress test on your product and team but it’s good to find these issues as quickly as possible. I was tired but also pumped coming into this month. We practised pitching to refine our message and this is important because you need perspective after working so intensely on it the previous two months. You don’t want to get your bus all the way there and not have the message you’re carrying resonate. You’ll pitch until you can say it backwards and be sure you’re portraying the right message for your company. For us, that meant highlighting the benefits of PMC 3D printers and explaining how it will have an impact on industry, developing nations and logistics in a compelling way. The last bus stop then arrives, it’s demo day. For our accelerator we were pitching in the beautiful Bushnell theatre in Hartford, CT to a packed house of almost 400 tech lovers and investors. All that was left to do was get on stage and tell people about all the work we had done and why they should care about CALT Dynamics, it went like this:
The journey is only just beginning. How far we got down the road depended on two things. How hard we had our foot on that accelerator and how much traction we had. As it turned out, we got very far. Following the program, CALT Dynamics has received significant investment and Techstars aim of compressing two years work into 3 months hit the bulls-eye. We’re off the bus and back in our own vehicle but Techstars really mean it when they say ‘Techstars for life’ so we’ve still got Techstars in the tank and we’re accelerating even harder. PMC 3D printers are coming to market and Techstars had a definite hand in that.
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