An Out of This World Experience at Techstars’ Demo Day

Dave Smith News

If you are like me, you’ve never been to a Techstars Demo Day. Those things happen in far off places like Silicon Valley. Well… they used to.

Now Demo Days will be a frequent event right here in Detroit, Michigan. 

Ted Serbinski, who ran the show, said:

“The first year of Techstars Mobility has exceeded all of our expectations with 10 amazing companies, a worldwide response, over 300 mentors across metro Detroit, and 8 active corporate partners. This was all brought together by operating at the intersection of the automotive dominance and entrepreneurial resurgence of Detroit. I’m very excited about how we’ll continue to expand and grow this program over the next few years.” – Ted Serbinski Managing Director, Techstars Mobility

This was quite the first time event for me!

Here are some highlights:

  • Largest first year program Techstars demo day with around 1,100 RSVPs
  • The only accelerator in the US focused on next-generation mobility solutions
  • World-wide response for applications (6 continents and 42 countries)
  • Techstars is bringing talent to Michigan – Two companies (SPLT and My Dealer Service) are relocating to Detroit and 3 others will have Michigan offices

But, let’s back up. I didn’t know all that before I attended.

Before going I wondered:

  • What would it be like?
  • Who would be there?
  • Would investors rain cash on the startups?
  • Would startups get funded that night be high-fiving and slapping each other on the back while unfunded startups sat in corners holding their head in their hands.

Driving to Demo Day I had no idea what to expect.

When I heard about the event a month ago I thought the Venture Capitalists and pitching companies would want to have an exclusive event to intertwine their futures. That was my first misconception.

“This year’s Techstars Mobility cohort was amazing. Everyone worked hard on serious transportation and communication problems. Ted Serbinski did a great job and I look forward to seeing more.” – Henry Balanon

The Venue – The Fillmore Detroit

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I lived and worked in downtown Detroit during the 2008 auto crisis. I had walked past the historic Fillmore many times without more than a glance inside the window.

From the outside, the Fillmore looked almost like a movie screening with red velvet rope and security to usher in the attendees.

After a nod from security I left the bright sunlight of the Detroit streets and entered a darker entryway where attendees were checked in by super-friendly Techstars staff.

Just beyond the entryway, underneath a grand staircase was the entryway to Demo Day.

Passing through the entryway I entered a packed foyer. The crush of people reminded me of the frat parties I attended almost two decades ago at MSU.

Against the walls on either side, the Techstar companies, tonight’s stars, maybe some of them future unicorns, all had booths demoing their services and engaging with investors, partners, and potential customers.

The Crowd

The people attending the event (myself included) were primarily males in their 30s to 50s in varying degrees of unshavenness. I don’t recall seeing a single tie and hardly any suits – of course there are the obligatory suits and jeans.

One of the booths had a man who looked like a racecar driver with logos embroidered all over his jacket. I wondered if he was a famous race car driver 🙂

The Pitches

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The Techstars pitches were amazing – all of them.

They all had stunning news to share:

  • Hundreds of thousands in revenue
  • Partnerships with huge companies like Ford, DTE Energy, Hagerty, etc.
  • Millions of pageviews served

I also noticed that these companies had MAJOR deals and partners lined up: Ford, Hagerty, etc. I was wondering: should I be working on partnerships with big companies? Or does it only make sense for Techstars companies because of Techstars connections and marketing pull?

I was also struck by the amount of work these teams have done in 3 months (1 million pageviews, hiring, building websites, building product, marketing collateral, etc.)

Here are the amazing teams forming the inaugural class of TechStars Mobility:

  • Ansik makes automotive service safer, quicker and more affordable for everyone.
  • CDL Warrior is a communication and productivity platform for the trucking industry that connects truck drivers to their supply chain partners and improves efficiency, visibility and compliance.
  • Classics & Exotics brings the “sharing economy” into the car enthusiast’s garage, allowing classic and exotic car enthusiasts to now offset their car ownership costs by renting their cars to pre-screened, highly qualified renters.
  • Cosmos Browser. Internet via SMS, no data or WiFi required.
  • Elegus Technologies, a spin-out from the University of Michigan, is commercializing battery separator technology that can enable safer, longer lasting batteries.
  • GearBrake is a universal, easy to install brake light module that can detect when your vehicle is slowing and automatically light the brake lights, reducing the risk of rear-end collisions by up to 90%.
  • Motoroso combines content, community, and commerce for automotive enthusiasts to help them discover, connect, and buy everything that powers their lifestyle.
  • My Dealer Service empowers automotive service departments with digital connectivity and workflow management, elevating efficiency and creating an unprecedented customer experience.
  • Splitting Fares — SPLT — is a social ridesharing app designed to connect people with similar routes, share the fare, save money, reduce traffic and emissions and change the way people meet and move in cities around the world.
  • WISE Systems provides real-time routing and analytics software to help on-demand delivery companies serve their customers more effectively.

 

Watching the pitches I couldn’t help wondering – is this an accurate picture of their companies?

The pitches made me remember Startup Podcast Season 2 Episode 1. Dating Ring, a Y Combinator company, was pitching at YC’s demo day. The pitch sounded amazing. It sounded like Dating Ring was a few small steps from conquering the world, overcoming the odds, and becoming a unicorn. For those who don’t follow startups, unicorns are companies valued at an eye-popping 1 billion dollars or more.

The pitch sounded great. However, later in the season, listeners learn the pitch was communicating a vision. It didn’t portray the messy, risky, money-losing business model Dating Ring was executing at the moment the pitch was made.

These teams have great ideas. They’ve worked hard, built amazing companies, and recruited awesome teams. I hope they succeed. These companies are companies that make our lives better: less pollution, less preventable accidents, helping people spend more time with their families, etc. etc.

We should all be rooting for the Techstars class of 2015.

The Afterparty

Techstars Mobility was the biggest inaugural Demo Day ever and the biggest Detroit Startup Event ever. The afterparty did not disappoint.

Held at Techstars HQ in Ford Field, investors, the teams, and attendees like me were able to hang out playing corn hole, eating pizza, and enjoying an open bar.

 

The coolest part for me was getting to see the office space. My thoughts wandered back to how much these teams had gotten done in 3 months.

I enjoyed seeing the open office floor plan (pictured above) and the whiteboards that helped make that happen 🙂

I’m Glad to Have Attended my First Techstars Demo Day

I learned Techstars puts on high quality events that educate, inspire, and entertain attendees.

Having attended I’m even more excited to have Techstars as part of the Michigan entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Techstars brings talent, companies, and attention to Detroit.

About Techstars Mobility

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Techstars Mobility, driven by Detroit, is focused on the rapidly changing mobility and transportation industry. Companies that come through the Techstars Mobility accelerator include software, hardware, and advanced materials businesses building technologies that will power the efficient movement of people, goods and services across all modes of transportation. Techstars is committed to operating this program in Detroit, the center of the global next-generation mobility and transportation ecosystem.

For this program, Techstars has partnered with leading global corporations focused on next-generation mobility solutions. These partners include Ford, Verizon, Magna, Dana, Honda, McDonald’s, Munich Re, and Michelin.

For more information visit techstars.com/mobility

 

Dave Smith

About Dave Smith

"David has been a bitcoin entrepreneur, educator, and investor since 2013. David spoke at many events in 2014 including to Congressional policymakers, high net worth individuals, and entrepreneurs. He has been interviewed by USA Today, CBS MoneyWatch, NBC Chicago, Michigan Business Network, and USA Today regarding bitcoin. In 2014 he was a Benzinga.com writer with his articles read by tens of thousands of people and syndicated to sites like Yahoo Finance."

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