Techstars Associate Program: The better Startup MBA?
We were done. After ten amazing pitches, we all stood together on stage, celebrating the end of the Barclays Accelerator Spring 2015 Program in front of over 400 people. This was the end of three incredible months that changed my life for the better. But let’s go back to the beginning.
About 18 months earlier, l rejected offers from two well known MBA programs. A two-year opportunity to give my life a new and heavily needed trajectory, after being no longer happy with my professional career for a long time.
Instead, I decided to do what just felt right. I quit my corporate job, joined a Buddhist monastery, traveled around the world and got more involved with the startup scene that always intrigued me. It turned out to be one of the best years of my life.
I knew entrepreneurship should be my new playground and one of my mentors gave me the next idea: Join Techstars as an Associate. One introduction and a personal meeting in London later, I received the offer to join the Barclays Accelerator Program. So instead of joining a well known MBA school, I joined 100 days of startup madness and created my own startup MBA.
But was it worth it?
Three months at the Barclays Accelerator
In March, I met all the Startups, Associates and team members who would become my family for the time ahead. It didn’t take long and the program took off and with it, our jobs as Associates to add as much value as possible to the teams with our skills and experience.
During your time as an Associate, you get the chance to build great connections with mentors, help the teams in any area you are interested in, attend amazing masterclasses and learn how to tell a compelling story.
I worked with the startups on anything around Business Development including Business Models, Customer Development, Sales Pipelines, and Digital Marketing. On top, I had the pleasure to get deep insights into the operations of the program.
Three months turned into the perfect startup MBA
Looking back, I realized that, skipping the typical MBA for this program was the perfect choice to prepare myself for my new playground — The Startup Ecosystem. But let me also tell you why:
1. Build the Future — Don’t Manage the Past
When you work with ten smart and driven startups for three months, you definitely learn one thing: how to solve our biggest problems and build a successful business around it.
Most MBA programs focus on turning corporate soldiers into corporate officers and managing an existing business as good as possible. While these are valuable skills for work in a global corporation, it does not prepare you to start your company from scratch.
Learn to build the future instead of managing the past.
While growing a company is hard, there are tried and tested methods that work and you’ll learn them at Techstars. This can not give you a guaranteed success, but it can increase your chances and make sure you avoid mistakes others have done before.
2. Deal With Real Business — Not Case Studies
During my time in the business, I learned that books, lectures and case studies can only take you so far. At Techstars, the startups constantly deal with real customers, real products and a real ping pong table to recover from all of that, and so do you as an Associate.
Only when you get confronted with reality, you actually learn and get better.
While case studies are usually based on real problems, they cannot take into account the dynamic and complexity of running a business. It is one thing to come up with the perfect solution on paper, but once you are facing real business, things change.
At Techstars, many experienced mentors support you in handling real-life and you can tap into their knowledge every day. When your goal is to build a company, this is the perfect setup to get you used to reality.
3. Enter a Network of Makers — Not Managers
One of the most valuable assets of an MBA is the alumni network. It gives you easy access to new contacts that can speed up your career. But those contacts can turn out to be just like you — the BizDevs of the world.
Your future aspirations should define your networks.
A network of consultants, bankers and corporate managers can be a great asset, but if you are reading this right now, it might not be the right one for you. For a startup career, you want to look in a different direction.
Techstars’ global network of founders and mentors is a diverse network of amazing people who devote themselves to building great companies and supporting startup communities around the world. If you feel that startup spirit inside you, that is the network you want to join.
4. Get a Positive Lifetime ROI — Not Personal Debt
I believe that the best investments you can make are the ones into your own skills, experience, and knowledge. They stay with you forever and make your life worth living. But they also need to pay off at some point down the line.
Getting a well recognized MBA today comes with a major investment, due to the high tuition fees and a long time with no regular income. With a fatal result for many graduates who make the payback a priority for their career.
Personal debt can be the biggest killer of your personal freedom.
When you join Techstars as an Associate you get a guaranteed positive lifetime return. All you have to invest is your time, energy and knowledge. With the provided stipend, you can easily bootstrap your life for the duration of the program and get the experience you desire.
The Right Family to Start your Journey
When I read Philip Broughton’s experience of an MBA at Harvard, one short line stuck to my head forever. He told the story of an MBA student who complained to HBS staff about all the pressure that came with the program.
The student asked „Why are you treating me like this? I’m the customer.“ And all the staff member replied was „No, you’re not. You are the product.“
At Techstars, you don’t become a product, but the lifetime member of a family.
In this family, paying it forward is taken seriously. I had the pleasure of experiencing that myself several times. And like in every family, there will be good and though times. But in the end, all its members will support you and embrace you for who you are.
So no matter if you want to change your career from corporate to startup, prepare yourself for your own startup or just have an amazing three months full of new experiences and contacts: Consider joining Techstars and get your own Startup MBA.
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Originally published at www.dirk-lehmann.com on Sep. 30, 2015.