A Techstars leader guides startups to glory
A prolific entrepreneur might start a handful of companies over the course of a career. Nicole Glaros is involved in launching 10 to 20 a year. As managing director of the Boulder, Colo., and New York City programs for the Techstars accelerator, Glaros selects the 1 percent of applicants who are chosen for the three-month programs and guides them through the often-painful learning curve between inception and success.
The fast-talking Glaros is in some ways an unlikely kingmaker. She's a powerful woman in an insular industry overrun by men. And unlike many of the other mentors in Techstars (there are close to 1,000), she doesn't come with an inspirational startup story.
After launching a successful e-commerce company focused on the property-management industry with her father in 1997, Glaros' next two tech startups were "dismal failures," she admits. "What I learned was the [entrepreneurial] magic wasn't with me; it was with my dad."
Still, her failures led to a job with a tech accelerator, the Boulder Technology Incubator, where she discovered that her ill-fated entrepreneurial attempts, combined with her strengths as an executor and networker, made her ideally suited to guiding others. "I don't have all the answers," she says. "But I do believe I know someone who does. My job is to find people who can be most helpful to that company."
She joined Techstars in 2009 after co-founder David Cohen noticed her deft ability to play matchmaker between startups and outside mentors. The program provides business services and modest financing for the startups
it selects ($18,000 in seed funding and an optional $100,000 convertible debt note). But Glaros says the accelerator's most important role is not capital, or even connections to capital, but guidance.
"I hear all the time, 'Oh, if we only had $250,000, if we could only raise $1 million, our business would be so much better,'" she says. "That's not true. What's important, even in fundraising, is getting the right people around you who are passionate about your success."
Techstars' roster of mentors includes a wide array of entrepreneurs, industry experts and venture capitalists, such as Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, angel investor Esther Dyson and Vimeo and CollegeHumor.com co-founder Josh Abramson.
Glaros, like other managing directors at Techstars' seven campuses, serves as the networking hub of her programs, connecting startups with mentors, experts, investors and anyone else she believes could help. Such connections, she says, are Techstars' "killer app," the one that results in roughly 90 percent of graduates building sustainable businesses or being acquired.
"Nicole has an eye for talent," says Techstars' Cohen. "She has great instincts about people, and early-stage startups are almost exclusively about the people."
Would she ever start a company again? Has she found the entrepreneurial magic? "I get tempted every single year," she admits. "But every year I ask, 'Where's my biggest reward?' and it's here. I get to help 10 companies instead of just one." --Joe Lindsey