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Techstars new CEO calls Boulder, Colorado house

The shock in the local entrepreneurial community after the home-grown Techstars announced its move to New York in February, gave way to concern when CEO Maëlle Gavet said last week she was stepping down to take care of her health. 

Former CEO, co-founder and first employee David Cohen stepped up to take her place. Cohen publicly responded to questions locals had in a blog post shared Tuesday.

No, he wasn’t forced into this as an interim role. He considers it to be long term. And no, Techstars isn’t going to move its headquarters back to Boulder. It’ll remain in New York City. But he called the Denver office one of “three major offices globally.” The third is in London.

Techstars has an office in Denver, opposite Union Station, with more than 60 employees. Cohen lives here and said, “as CEO I am based in Boulder, Colorado.”

But Cohen, who has been Techstars board chairman for the past several years, acknowledged the pain still felt in Techstars’ hometown of Boulder, where he, venture capitalist Brad Feld, serial entrepreneur David Brown and Jared Polis (long before he became governor), came up with the business accelerator in 2006. They wanted to help tech founders get support and mentorship, connect to capital and aim for success that at the time only seemed possible for Silicon Valley-based startups. 

In February, Techstars also announced that the current Boulder accelerator class would also be its last in the city. The company was also winding down physical operations in Seattle, after leaving Austin last year. It would continue to serve startups in the coastal markets of San Francisco, New York, Boston and Los Angeles and provide its virtual “Techstars Anywhere” program everywhere else.

The changes were shocking to some former Techstars graduates, mentors and local community, and Cohen acknowledged it.

“There is a lot of fresh pain there,” Cohen said in his post. “I have lots of friends in those markets. Some of my friends are sad and disappointed. A few are even angry. Ultimately we are running a business and business decisions get made.”

Cohen said he wants to focus on repairing the connection to the local communities in Boulder, Seattle and elsewhere to “fix, at a minimum, that feeling,” he said. “We love those communities, we owe them more than sadness and disappointment.”  

Techstars was the founding team’s response to creating tech startup scenes outside of Silicon Valley and Boston, which were fueled by tech innovation coming out of Stanford University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 

Techstars graduates went on to build a handful of billion-dollar companies, including transactional email delivery platform SendGrid (Boulder class of 2009), cloud computing system DigitalOcean (Boulder class of 2012) and package-delivery company Veho (Boulder class of 2019). SendGrid stuck around the area and moved its headquarters to Denver before being acquired by Twilio for $2 billion in 2018. Veho, which has raised $300 million in venture funding, had a $1.5 billion valuation after its last raise two years ago. 

In the past three and a half years under Gavet’s leadership, the company invested in more than 2,000 startups, Cohen said. Last year, 469 portfolio companies raised over $2.4 billion. And there’s still a lot of interest in Techstars programs, which put founders through several weeks of fine-tuning their business models and culminate in a Demo Day in front of potential investors.

Demo Day for the last Boulder cohort is June 6.

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