Mentoring startups, fostering talent and using technology for good: An interview with Techstars’ Jenny Fielding
Techstars is a global ecosystem that empowers entrepreneurs to bring new technologies to market wherever they choose to build their business. With 18 mentorship-driven accelerator programs worldwide, Techstars exists to support the world’s most promising entrepreneurs throughout their lifelong journey. Techstars provides access to over 5,000 founders, mentors investors, and corporate partners, allowing entrepreneurs to accelerate the pace of innovation and do more faster. Techstars makes entrepreneurship more accessible by providing access to capital, guidance, marketing, business development, customer acquisition, and recruitment.
This interview is with Jenny Fielding, the Managing Director of Techstars. To apply, visit
https://www.f6s.com/techstarsiot/apply. Deadline is July 10, 2016.
This interview is conducted by CEO Grant Canary of DroneSeed, a Techstars 2016 company, which uses drones to automate and dominate the forestry services vertical.
GRANT: Explain a bit about your startup and your background.
JENNY: In 2006, I was working at a big bank. I had a personal pain point and started brainstorming on ways to solve it. I wound up teaming up with some technical people and we founded our company — Switch Mobile, a voice-over-IP company. It was a big thing for me leaving corporate to launch a startup, especially since I didn’t come from that world at all or have an entrepreneurial background. It was pretty amazing, traumatic, awesome — you know all the words for building a startup. Then three years of hard work, luck and a little bit of magic pixie dust, we sold the company and we had a really nice exit in 2009.
GRANT: Now, you’re managing director of Techstars. Help us make the connection. From startup to managing director — what got you interested there and how’d you make that leap?
JENNY: After I exited my company, I was trying to think of the next big idea. In the meantime, I started angel investing as a mechanism to give back to the community that was so helpful and supportive of me when I was running my startup. Along the way, I developed a taste for mentoring and helping startups. Instead of founding another company, I would up going to the other side of the fence and investing in companies. For four and a half years, I started and ran a venture group at the BBC. The best thing I did at the BBC was launching an internal accelerator called BBC Labs, which is still going strong today. In that moment, I realized that big corporates need to be investing in and learning from startups. An accelerator is a great way to do that.
So I was sold on the accelerator model and had an exciting opportunity to join Techstars. Now I run two programs for Techstars: our FinTech program in partnership with Barclays and our Internet of Things program. We have five corporate partners that support that program.
GRANT: I want to dig into that a little bit. I had an interesting conversation with The Nature Conservancy recently. They were looking at massive organizations as holders of forest land and how startups could help those organizations get access to new technology faster. How has working with startups and their technology benefitted BBC and Barclays, as it could The Nature Conservancy?
JENNY: In the last few years, companies have realized that everything cannot be built and conceived internally- it’s too expensive and it’s too slow. The counterpart to that is that startups move really fast and they can be ahead of the curve. If you put those two things together, great things can happen. Yet there’s a cultural divide that makes it difficult for startups and corporations to work together. If you can be the bridge between those two worlds, as Techstars often is, then a lot of innovation can happen.
GRANT: What else is Techstars insanely good at?
JENNY: Techstars is amazing at identifying and tapping potential. Over the course of the three months, Techstars helps startups tell their story in a way that is super concise, sharp and compelling. When startups come in, they are not ready meet with corporate partners or VCs, but at the close of our program, they are shined up and impressive.
GRANT: I would second that. It’s been a world of learning for us as far as how we tell our story. As far as identifying talent, how do expectations differ for investing in a hardware startup versus a software startup?
JENNY: At Techstars, we really look at founders. Whether investing in hardware or software — who are the founders? When we’re evaluating companies across the spectrum, we look at the foundational team and the skillsets they bring to the table.
GRANT: Let me shift and ask about the industry side of things. A lot of people are seeing drones as a fad. Other people see it as an entire revolution that’s going to impact society in very interesting ways. Where do you sit on that spectrum?
JENNY: I’m much more towards the revolution side! Drones have so much potential and can do so much. Everyone loves to talk about delivery and being a Jetsons-like society, but space exploration, security surveillance and transportation can all be enabled by drones. As the technology develops, we’re going to see some real game-changing use cases, so I’m pretty bullish.
GRANT: You see a lot of applications in Internet of Things. Where have you seen drones intersecting with IoT that excites you?
JENNY: Right now, I’m really interested in smart cities and the way that technology can transform smart cities. I think drones are a big part of that. I recently saw a drone that fights pollution by cleaning the air. Many use cases go beyond one drone and an operator, scaling to impact cities and mass numbers of people. I’m hopeful that there can be more drones for public good.
GRANT: What do you say to someone who’s a skeptic of that position?
JENNY: Think bigger.
Have a question you want to ask, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
See other interviews in the series here:
From Kosovo to Sand Hill Road: A discussion with Skyward CEO Jonathan Evans
The Democratization of Flight by Drones
Drones and Simplifying the Future
Why Drones are Taking Off in Unexpected Industries
How to Build Trust in Drones
The Evolution of Drones as a Service (DaaS)