Lesa Mitchell’s promotion within Techstars — a Boulder, Colorado-based accelerator network with global reach — is a value-add for Kansas City, she said Monday.
The outgoing managing director of Techstars’ local program also teased the popular accelerator’s summer return.
“My new role simply means we have more Techstars staff in KC,” said Mitchell, Techstars’ newly announced general manager of Americas, who does not plan to leave the metro as she assumes new duties.
Kansas City’s next accelerator cohort is set to begin in June, and although Mitchell is taking on greater responsibility in the organization, she’ll be co-leading the program with the incoming Techstars KC managing director through at least the first month of the accelerator, she said.
“We are hoping that this summer will be a hybrid program with the goal of running an in-person program for the month of June,” Mitchell said. “Our location — that we can’t yet announce — is perfectly set up for social distancing.”
Techstars’ ability to bring companies to Kansas City to meet with local mentors is extremely important to the ability for long-lasting connections, she added.
“The biggest concern that all early stage founders have is access to talent and customers,” Mitchell explained. “We have proven that you can raise money from anywhere, so local access to capital is no longer an issue. Therefore stickiness to community for early stage companies begins with early customers and extends to their ability to attract talent.
“Remote-first has helped this a bit, but when you are early stage and have to move fast, doing so in the same time zone and city is a bit easier,” she continued.
Techstars is “currently and aggressively” looking for Mitchell’s successor, she said.
“Like the other managing director roles, our preference is for individuals who have founded and scaled companies — and, of course, industry operating experience is always a big plus,” she added.
Because Techstars has become a remote-first company in the past year, Mitchell suggested Kansas Citians also explore other open careers within the accelerator network.
Click here to check out job openings at Techstars.
In addition, Rachel Morris, program manager for Techstars KC, is in the process of hiring summer associates to join in supporting the 10 cohort companies selected for investment.
Techstars has not yet announced the members of the 2021 cohort.
Techstars’ Kansas City track record
Mitchell’s three years at Techstars Kansas City — with a detour to an Indianapolis-based Techstars program in 2019 — saw challenges and success, she said.
“Our companies continue to have issues finding product and developer expertise,” Mitchell acknowledged. “But it is a bit better than it was three years ago simply because we have a number of growth companies that have imported talent.”
Among the most notable KC graduates during Mitchell’s time with the accelerator: Zego (which completed Techstars in 2017 as CasaiQ before its rebranding).
“Zego was an obvious success, not just in its exit, but the fact that founder Adam Blake’s company was acquired by a very large company, which then recently renamed the entire company ‘Zego,’” she said.
From the 2018 cohort, three of the startups have closed Series A rounds, including New York-based SoLo Funds (an alternative to payday loans) — which has closed $12.8 million to date — Mitchell said, adding that a number of other cohort members have news in the works.
“In general and as a comparison to other cities, the 2018 cohort and their continual ramp in revenue and funding were terrific,” she said.
The 2020 accelerator featured no Kansas City companies, Mitchell noted, which she called disappointing, but said the startups were blessed with serious engagement from local and national mentors facilitated by Techstars.
In full, Kansas City’s cohorts have featured capital-efficient companies that might raise less funding than those on the coasts, but have comparable valuations, she said.
“At the end of the day revenue growth is what really matters,” Mitchell emphasized.