Techstars CEO on Running a Startup Accelerator in a Downturn; Advice for founders; and more – GeekWire

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Maelle Gavet, CEO of Techstars at the University of Washington Startup Hall, where Techstars Seattle is based. (Photo by GeekWire/Taylor Soper)

Maelle Gavet has lived and worked through economic downturns, both as a startup entrepreneur and as a technology company executive. And she doesn’t like what’s on the horizon.

“The economy is melting, and specifically in the tech industry, we’re seeing a massive market pullback,” she said.

But Gavet, a former Priceline and Compass executive who became CEO of Techstars last year also sees opportunity.

“We help founders build sustainable, resilient businesses and prepare them to move on to the next round,” she said. “Our formula is even more relevant in an economic crisis.”

GeekWire interviewed Gavet this week in Seattle, where she was visiting from New York City for a series of events hosted by Techstars. Since its inception in 2006, nearly 3,000 startups have gone through Techstars’ three-month accelerators.

Techstars expanded to Seattle in 2010 and since then more than 130 companies have gone through the program. Together they have raised more than $2.5 billion in private capital. The class of 2011 alone produced three unicorns.

“Seattle has a super vibrant ecosystem,” Gavet said.

Before taking over the helm of Techstars, Gavet was previously Chief Operating Officer at real estate giant Compass. She was also CEO of Russia’s largest e-commerce website, OZON.ru, and published a Book in 2020 entitled Trampled by Unicorns: Big Tech’s Empathy Problem and How to Fix It.

We asked Gavet for her advice to entrepreneurs amid the current downturn; why Techstars focuses on underrepresented founders; and more. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

GeekWire: Thanks for talking to us, Maelle. What are you saying to founders right now?

Maelle Gavet: The reality is that very few founders have endured such a downturn. We spend quite a bit of time talking about the general awareness of what’s happening in the world right now. We help them think about their cash flow and how to reduce cash burn and create additional cash facilities. We haven’t seen any down rounds yet, but I think it’s coming. We’re preparing the founders for what will very likely be hand-to-hand combat for fundraising.

What do you mean by that?

There are always exceptions, but fundraising over the past 18 months has generally been relatively easy. Now we’re going back to a more normal situation where it takes six to nine months to raise funds and you have an unbearable duty of care. But the market won’t stop completely. The VC industry still has a lot of money to invest. And there’s an opportunistic approach by many investors when valuations fall.

“We’re preparing the founders for what is likely to be hand-to-hand combat to raise funds.”

Techstars has been around for 16 years. What’s the secret sauce?

Techstars was built on one core principle: Give First. It’s that idea you give first, supporting communities, building ecosystems, helping entrepreneurs thrive, and things will work along the way. And now Techstars is one of the largest pre-seed investors in the world.

When it comes to the venture capital industry, we are partners. We help entrepreneurs bridge gaps and build businesses that can be VC-backed, and we do it at scale. We do the work most VCs aren’t built to do.

Tell us about Techstars’ Obligation to support underrepresented entrepreneurs.

It’s good for business. There are underserved founders who have incredible potential and very few people are taking care of their needs. The tech investment world has focused on the same pool. We focus on the sea and help founders get their pool ticket and know how to behave there.

Financially, the greatest benefit comes from pockets that are unexplored and unsupported. Let’s find the founders who aren’t getting the attention they deserve and support them.

Thoughts on Seattle?

It’s hard to find a more welcoming ecosystem for entrepreneurs, both in terms of people and infrastructure and a genuine interest in innovation. And Seattle is doing it in a way that isn’t Silicon Valley. Something about Seattle is more welcoming. Here’s a real conversation about the impact we have together as we build and support businesses.

Applications are open for the 14th cohort of Techstars Seattle. What is your advice to founders who want to apply?

Talk to us before you start the application process. Talk to us about what you are working on and what you are looking forward to. What is the problem you are trying to solve that is so big and so important that you are willing to sacrifice 10 years of your life to solve it? And how do you feel about your team? Which team would you like to put together? We firmly believe in human connection as the source of success.

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