My Experience as a Technical Associate at Techstars

Cedars Sinai Accelerator Powered by Techstars

Those of you who follow my journey, know that in January 2017 I joined one of the top accelerators in the world: Techstars. I had began working there as a technical associate at the start of the second cohort. This post is dedicated to exploring my venture, what I’ve learned in the last few months and where it has taken me after the accelerator.

Brief Background

The healthcare accelerator was started by the partnership of Techstars and the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in 2016. The general idea is that both parties mutually select companies who they believe show the greatest promise to succeed with bringing a product to the hospital as well as the healthcare industry. More information about the program can be found on the official website: Cedars-Sinai Accelerator Powered by Techstars.

I joined the second cohort of the accelerator which included 7 companies. Once again, more information about what each company is doing can be found on the official website: Cedars-Sinai Accelerator Powered by Techstars.

Demo Day 2016 video (can be found on official site)

1. The Power of the Mentors & #givefirst Mentality

Techstars & The Cedars-Sinai Medical Center bring some of the most influential mentors to the program. The #givefirst mentality sets the tone of these meeting and their relationship towards the companies at the accelerator. In fact, most people who come to the accelerator have been extremely helpful without having any expectations of getting something back.

I had a lot of skepticism when the “give first” mentality was first introduced to me. I thought it would be just like any other cheesy slogan advertised by a large corporation. I could not have been more wrong. As I sat in some of the meetings and listened to the mentors speak & give advice to the companies, I understood that there really were no expectations; they were here to help & give back. Not only did they come to the program to speak with the entrepreneurs, some of them pledged to have weekly connections (through calls & meetings) aimed at helping specific companies.

Although I didn’t get the same attention during the meetings (understandably so), mentors were very open to speaking with me and gave me the same courtesy in terms of advice & relationships. I was able to reach out to some of them and inquire about potential roles, companies and positions I was interested in. They took the time to share their knowledge & expertise with me, without me having to offer anything in return: #givefirst.

The Power of the Network

I always struggled with networking in the past. I had found most of the previous opportunities through my own research and applications. As I joined Techstars, I took the time to figure out what networking really meant, how to approach it and what steps I need to take in order to be successful in the future. The staff was extremely helpful and taught me everything I need to succeed in my ventures. I was able to reach out to numerous mentors & receive personal recommendations from them as well as some of the people who worked at the accelerator. I will be forever grateful for these lessons, introductions and the network I’ve built thanks to them.

2. The Technical Work

Engineering & technical projects often have a steep learning curve. As my worries dictated, it would have been truly difficult to get up to speed & contribute on a meaningful level to any work undertaken by the start-ups. That being said, I was able to help the program and work on several smaller projects with the companies which required some of my engineering skills. I helped several companies test their product, develop features and help on the design front. Noteworth, a company which was in their development phase had particularly interesting projects. I had the pleasure of working with their Sr. Program Manager as the team was building their iOS and Android applications and get involved on the QA side. I was also tasked to put together an analysis of where and how analytics would be integrated into their platform. Although some of these projects seemed trivial to me, companies who were strapped for time welcomed them with open arms . It was very gratifying to see that my efforts had an impact.

Overall, I believe that it’s hard to predict what kind of projects will emerge at another accelerator due to the fact that every startup will be at a different stage and have distinct technologies. My only regret is not pushing harder for projects due to feeling that I might distract them from their work.

Noteworth in all it’s glory

We had some press coverage the day that Noteworth flew in on a red eye flight; here’s the result of their interview:
Interview with Noteworth

3. The Program Tasks

Five associates joined the program. We all had different assignments on an ongoing basis which would help the program one way or another. Most tasks were aimed towards operations: organizing the space, events & coordinating some of the logistics for guests who were coming to the space. The other major component was researching companies who would be contacted by the PMs & MD for the next cohort.

The Pipeline

Techstars is extremely selective with the companies for their program. Just like at any other investment fund, thorough research began at the associate level. Every associate took the time to research companies from around the world and see how they would fit into the program. I read about hundreds (if not thousands) of companies, discovered what they did, how they performed and more. I ultimately had to make the decision if they could be a good fit for the program and advance to the next step which was to be evaluated by the PMs. Without going into too much detail, some of the things we were looking for is traction, how their product would benefit the medical center and how good of a fit they would be for the program. The research took place mostly through crunchbase which allowed us to find companies with the right fit, traction (based on money raised) and what their product was for Cedars-Sinai. I was crucial for it to be the right product for Cedars-Sinai because ultimately, companies would be interested in a partnership with the hospital. This meant that even though a company had traction, their B2C models would not be compatible with the vision of the hospital, thus making it not the right fit for this particular accelerator. This entire procedure allowed me to look into the world of early stage investments and what it really takes to get a company into an accelerator.

My Design Duties

For a mysterious reason, the sixth associate who had joined the program, decided to leave after the first week. Since I was the only person with Photoshop on my laptop, I was given most of the design work. Although I wouldn’t consider myself an expert in the field, I enjoyed creating logos, editing marketing material and doing general design for the program.

4. The Program Is Coming To An End

The program ends next week, on April 14th. Demo Day is scheduled to take place on April 19th where each company will present their product and position themselves in their best light for a potential investment. What does that mean for me? It means the start of a new adventure and a completely different outlook on the world.

The opportunities from within the program

Several companies spoke with me about potential opportunities; they all needed engineers. I was open to discussing their needs, but also wanted to evaluate how they approached the business, what technologies they used and what their teams were like. Although I came to the conclusion that none of the roles matched what I was looking for at the start-ups, I developed relationships with their teams for future opportunities.

5. Final Takeaways

I’ve learned to embrace every experience I go through in my life and this program is no different. I learned a lot, met some great mentors, which I hope to keep for life, and got a chance to see how entrepreneurs take their companies to the next level.

The Techstars network is enormous. People from all over the world who participated in the programs are given access to a private network where they reach out for help in different areas. As I build my career, I plan to leverage this network and ultimately find a way to give back one way or another; helping others with their goals.

Conclusion

Before joining the program, a good friend of mine (who had gone through it) was telling me that he would do it again without hesitation. Looking only at the financial aspect, I couldn’t understand why; but now that my program is coming to a close, I have the same sentiment.

Special Thanks

The last three months were great thanks to the co-workers, staff and companies who participated in the program. As a special thanks; I wanted to distribute some recognition to those who made this happen (Send me your social media handles if you want a mention; sorry in advance to those I forgot to include)

Karim for helping me get into the program; Maureen, Elana & Matt for being great managers & mentors; Daniel, Max, Melissa & Maria as fellow associates; Omkar & Shin-Shin as the awesome Cedars-Sinai staff; the companies (full list here) and all their staff.

Cheers,
– Vlad