My personal story on the unethical behaviors of a Silicon Valley accelerator

This is my personal story on how an accelerator based in Silicon Valley scammed many of the entrepreneurs who joined its program. It is called TechCode and is backed by Chinese investors. It identifies itself as a global accelerator with presence in all well-known startup hubs of the world, including USA, Israel, Korea and other countries.

As a “Machine Learning” startup, we need every bit of help to make progress, and considering that there are not many accelerators or funds focused on AI startups, we were attracted to what they advertised: no need for relocation, promise to make connections to partners and beta users, and investment in 10 selected startups at the end of the program.

Everything went well at the beginning, and the investment director was very responsive to our questions, up to the moment of “signing the agreement”. As soon as we signed the agreement, things started to change drastically: they never sent back the counter-signed agreement, and they became much less responsive to our e-mails and communications.

For example, the director had promised that after officially launching the program, they will sit down with each individual startup to identify their needs and build a customized acceleration plan for them. He said that they will make introductions to potential partners and beta users from across the globe. But once I sent him an e-mail a few days after the launch of the program and outlined our requests, I never heard back from him.

Then they started their “mentorship sessions and office hours”. Except for one session, none of the other sessions were relevant to a machine learning startup. And the mentors were not really the top-tier experts we used to see in other programs. Except for that one session, we at Jasper never attended any of their other sessions or office hours. They were totally useless to us.

Came January and all of a sudden they announced that they’re holding their “demo day” in the middle of the program, with no prior notice and no help whatsoever on preparing the pitches! We did not attend their demo day nor any of their sessions afterwards, because their scam had started to stink really badly.

As per our original discussions with them, they were supposed to announce the selected startups for investment in late January or early February. As I had guessed, we did not hear back from them by then! So I got in touch with their investment director once again, this time only to learn that they have actually extended their accelerator program by one month!

Just to confirm my suspicions on them, I got in touch with them again in March and inquired about the outcome of their investment. Again they replied back that they have not made any decisions yet and it’s taking “longer than expected”! That was when I contacted the other founders in the program, and confirmed that many of them have gone through the exact same experience.

I cannot confirm the motives of this so-called accelerator, but my guess is that at least they’re trying to build a brand in the US and elsewhere at the expense of startups. Another fellow founder suggested that sometimes these sorts of programs could be abused for something even worse, like fishing startup ideas and IP for foreign governments, companies or startups. Whatever it is, I leave it to authorities to look into it.

All entrepreneurs, especially those in the business of machine learning and hardware, are among the most vulnerable entrepreneurs in the world. Their job is extremely hard, their risk is extremely high and their work is capital-intensive and time-consuming. I find it extremely disgusting that any investor, especially a foreign investor takes advantage of these group of people to advance its hidden agenda. And I think all the good investors and entrepreneurs, especially those in Silicon Valley, have a moral obligation to speak up against these unethical behaviors, happening in the name of startup and entrepreneurship.

Startup ecosystem already suffers from all sorts of problems: diversity issues, Theranos-like startups, unrealistic valuations. We just can’t afford to have this sort of scam on top of it.

If you really care about the truth and ethical behaviors in the startup ecosystem, please share my story. Hopefully it makes a difference.