With a new role leading a startup within Boulder-based Techstars, you won’t see as much of Chris Heivly around Durham.
But many of the lessons he’s sharing while visiting startup communities around the world come from his time building The Startup Factory here. And his ambition is to take the things he learns during his travels, and bring them back to our region.
Heivly’s job is to help startup communities around the world get to the next level, and to eventually build a business for Techstars around that effort. Techstars has been committed to startup community development since its first accelerator opened in Boulder in 2007—co-founder Brad Feld even published a leading book on the topic.
It’s only when a startup community reaches a critical mass of entrepreneurs, investors and collaboration between various support entities that it makes sense to open an accelerator.
With Heivly’s help, Techstars hopes to get more cities to that point. While his home base will remain Durham, he’ll be traveling around the U.S. and to at least two international locales this year scouting opportunities. It’s likely he’ll lead workshops, consult with community leaders or have speaking engagements—his work will inform a long-term effort to help build stronger startup communities globally and expand Techstars’ footprint.
There’s certainly a lot of interest. Heivly says at least three inquiries come in every week from cities hoping for a Techstars accelerator in their town, or at least insight on how to create a program themselves. They range from South Bend, Ind. to Lima, Peru to Moscow.
And that’s what brings it all home for Heivly. When he got the idea for an accelerator in Durham, his first call was to Techstars founders David Cohen and Brad Feld.
The two men were quick to provide advice back then. It was 2010 and Techstars only operated in Boulder, Boston and Seattle. A key value for the organization has always been to give first. But providing that support to nascent startup communities has been a bit more tough as Techstars got larger, Heivly says.
The men stayed in touch as Techstars grew to 24 accelerators, took over programs like Startup Weekend and raised subsequently larger funds (its third is $150 million), and as Heivly’s Launchbox Digital became The Startup Factory, eventually investing its $6.64 million fund in 35 companies.
When Heivly and partner Dave Neal decided to shut down the accelerator and stop making new investments last fall, Techstars took advantage of the opportunity. Hiring Heivly as entrepreneur-in-residence and drawing on his experience building a startup ecosystem, Techstars could continue to provide support to burgeoning communities.
Could the new job lead to a Techstars program in Durham? Heivly says there are no new Techstars accelerators planned for 2017, but he expects the relationships he’s building to benefit Durham over time.
By the end of 2017, Heivly expects to have vetted more than 50 cities around the world, provided advice to some and worked in depth with about six. It’s a little different than vetting startups to invest in, but it promises to have as big an impact.
“It allows me to use my startup brains and work with two global leaders and a great brand,” he says. “Instead of helping one community, I get to help 40.”