IVCA Feature: Demo Day Starts TODAY (4/29/20) for TechStars Chicago, Managing Director Neal Sales-Griffin Has the Details

 

IVCA Feature: Demo Day Starts TODAY (4/29/20) for TechStars Chicago, Managing Director Neal Sales-Griffin Has the Details

April 29, 2020

The pandemic quarantine has not stopped one of the more vital accelerators in Chicago. TechStars Chicago has completed their 13-week program with the founders and their companies, which were selected from a vast application process. Demo Day, which was originally scheduled for April 21st at a venue location, will now take place virtually online starting today, April 29th, and the companies can be assessed for three weeks. Click here to connect to the invitation. The ten companies participating and their descriptions can be accessed by clicking here. 
 
One of the most successful accelerator and founder facilitation programs in Chicago is Techstars, an annual mentorship course that allows entrepreneurs, start-ups and companies to participate in a 13-week forum that teaches them how to improve and execute their business ideas. TechStars Chicagos last Demo Day was about a year-and-a-half ago, and the program took that time to reschedule the program parameters and name a new Managing Director. Neal Sales-Griffin, an associate in Venture Capital and a Chicago founder, was named in July of 2019 to steer the latest TechStars Chicago Class of 2020, which began on January 27th. 
 
Techstars is based in Boulder, Colorado, and has a global footprint. The Chicago branch began locally as Excelerate Labs which was the brainchild of Sandbox Industries, the I2A Fund, Sam Yagan (OK Cupid, Sparknotes) and Troy Henikoff before it merged with Techstars in 2013. Troy Henikoff was the primary Managing Director until Logan LaHive took the reins in 2017. Sales-Griffin became the next in line his team and the participant companies were able to finish the program despite the quarantine. 
 
Neal Sales-Griffin spoke to the IVCA about the circumstances of guiding the TechStars ship during these extraordinary times, and adjusting to the new normal. 
 
IVCA: Lets talk about Demo Day first. What are the details about the virtual event and how will it be different from what people are used to? 
 
Neal Sales-Griffin: Demo Day will be April 29th, which is a significant day for our founder participants, because they created videos about their companies that can be accessed for three weeks, and each of the pitches will be available for online assessment on anybodys own time.  
 
IVCA: At what point in the 13-week program did TechStars, and their Class of 2020,make the switch to staying and home and adjusting the program? 
 
Sales-Griffin: We were fortunate. I was privy to information that allowed us to adjust early to a remote dynamic on March 10th. I listened to the needs of our founders and there were difficulties and challenges within that abrupt decision. When I gave the word we were going remote, it overrode the operations of some of the companies. Adjusting proved to be a challenge, but in the end it was the right call.  
 
Even though the local and national governments werent calling it a threat at the time we went remote, it became obvious to us. We made the move early to let our companies adapt, and we built out a lot of remote tools and resources, so when we made the move we were able to run the program on the original schedule. 
 
IVCA: In many ways, this has been one of the most challenging situations for a Managing Director in Techstars Chicago history, and this in your first year. Who or what was instrumental in helping you to your decisions regarding the program change? 
 
Sales-Griffin: Specifically there was Jason Fried, founder of Basecamp in Chicago; Harper Reed, former Chief Technology Officer for the Barack Obama campaign; and the founders of Pairi, who is one of participants in TechStars Chicago. They had foresight into what was happening. 
 
IVCA: Aside from the extraordinary situation, how was the front end of the program for you. Did you find that the ideas you had for the accelerator fit into what the participants were learning and doing? 
 
Sales-Griffin: Although it was a steep learning curve, it ran pretty smoothly, all things considered. When we recruited for our mentor madnessstage, we had upwards of 150 people participate. I also had access to the two previous Managing Directors, Troy Henikoff and Logan LaHive, and their contributions were immeasurable. 
 
IVCA: Have the mentors continued in the program, since it has gone remote? 
 
Sales-Griffin: Yes. It was interesting because more people reached out because of the consequence of working remotely. The people who could not physically fit it in the schedule during the front half found themselves with more down time, and were able to contribute when it went remote so many stepped up. 
 
IVCA: The depth and variety of your ten participant organizations was notable. What thread did you notice through all of the ten, that connects their passion and drive? 
 
Sales-Griffin: Despite the diverse nature of the companies, their technologies and the problems they are solving, they all had a deep empathy for their customers a profound connection to the potential consumers of their product or service. That was true across the board. 
 
IVCA: Using technology for services that already exist seems to be prevalent among the ten companies, with childcare, food, nutrition and even mens grooming choices getting an upgrade. What impresses you about the ideas people have to make familiar human products better? 
 
Sales-Griffin: Its really about how adaptable they are. You can even connect it to the situation we are in now. Food and nutrition are on peoples minds during the quarantine, they need to stay healthy and live well. And right now childcare is also top of mind, between the effort to work at home and keep children occupied. So many of our TechStar companies are at the ready to assist people with these challenges. There is so much adaptability, and I think all of our companies are in a position to not only survive, but actually contribute in significant ways to the challenges were facing. 
 
IVCA: Since you have an entrepreneurial background, and with this quarantine combined with a potentially different post-pandemic economy, do you have any predictions on what the world will look like for entrepreneurs? 
 
Sales-Griffin: I think the world will be rich with opportunities to make it better, even more expansive than it was before, at least through the lens on how I see the world. There are opportunities for new organizations and entrepreneurs to rise and serve our communities, but also for our existing companies, as Ive seen the process and progress of our TechStar companies.  
 
They now understand the swivel’ … keeping their eye on their core opportunities, but also being able to make an adjustment in the short term, to establish other customer bases and solve other needs. 
 
IVCA: What is your impression about the community both the city and their businesses during this  pandemic situation? 
 
Sales-Griffin: I am very proud of Chicago and the State of Illinois, with Mayor Lightfoot, Governor Pritzker and the community all having stepped up. Im also grateful to be a part of the tech sector and the startup community right now, and as a representative I just want to say that were here for you, and we want to help. If there is a role TechStars, our founders, our companies or I can play in the community to help us all get through this, please contact me.  
 
IVCA: Finally, how can the IVCA and/or the VC/PE community help you get to the finish line for TechStars Chicago in this unforgettable year of 2020? 
 
Sales-Griffin: The primary way to help our companies is to check out Demo Days, and check out all the video pitches. Weve shortened them, each are four to five minutes long maximum. Once you understand what their businesses and goals are, Id love for you all to get directly connected to them, to help them make progress and stay in the fight. They are all in a position to continue growing, but they need your guidance, your advice and your mentorship, as well as your funding. You can also reach out to me directly at [email protected] for any additional information. 
 
For more information about Techstars Chicago, click here.