Could TechStars be Shark Tank for start-ups? Replace Mark Cuban with Mark Suster, and you just might have a hit.
The new documentary television show—that shares a name with the start-up incubator that inspired it—airs next month on Bloomberg TV. It will document the high-octane lives of start-up founders as they code, brainstorm, pitch, and pivot over a three-month period at the New York City incubator.
David Cohen, the founder and CEO of TechStars, the funding and mentoring start-up accelerator based in Boulder, Colorado, tells Inc.com the show will offer a glimpse at the unadorned life of a tech start-up.
"You'll see success, and you'll see failures," he says. "We didn't change anything about TechStars to do this."
The show features companies from TechStars's first-ever class of New York start-ups. Among the 10 start-ups selected include a fashion e-commerce site (ToVieFor), a social-classified service (FriendsList), and an e-mail migration business (MigrationBox).
Since TechStars was founded in 2006, it has risen in prestige among start-up circles and investors. According to the founders, each year about 600 start-ups vie for a spot in the mentorship and funding program. Ten are selected, which essentially makes it harder to get into than Harvard or Yale. With good reason, too: TechStars entrepreneurs are given funding, mentorship, and access to some of the world's most respected executives and venture capitalists, including Fred Wilson, Brad Feld (who is one of the founders), and Gary Vaynerchuck. About 70 percent of TechStars start-ups go on to raise angel funding or venture capital.
Indeed, the show appears to present the down-and-dirty version of life as a small-time start-up in a big city, replete with all-night pizza binges and the barking, four-letter vocabulary of merciless investors.
Jason Baptiste, CEO and co-founder of Onswipe, says Bloomberg's camera crew was a constant, lurking presence, "like the creepy guy at a club who's standing right behind you the whole night.
"In the trailer you can see me sleeping on a couch at the TechStars office," Baptiste says. "It wasn't easy. We were there for a good 17 hours each day, including Saturday and Sunday. That office was our home."
Cohen asserts that TechStars, the show, will not conform to the cliches of reality television. He promises that the show, which will air over six episodes, will offer an inside look at the life of a TechStars entrepreneur.
"Bloomberg's audience is global and affluent," says Cohen. "You won't be watching a bunch of geeks just sit there and code. It really gets into the stories of these companies. People will be able to identify with the entrepreneurs but also the investors and the mentors."
He added, "There's no voting anyone off the island and there are no rose ceremonies."
Indeed, the show appears to present the down-and-dirty version of life as a small-time start-up in a big city, replete with all-night pizza binges and the barking, four-letter vocabulary of merciless investors. It's also worth noting that the show will bring a fair amount of publicity to the start-ups, which is undoubtedly good press for the TechStars staff. (As seed investors, TechStars shares in the profits of the companies it supports.) Still, Cohen says the founders didn't do the show for economic reasons.
"Obviously it's good brand visibility," says Cohen. "But we think it will be helpful for people to see the value of an accelerator from the perspective of an entrepreneur, and the mentors."
To apply for a spot in TechStars, click here.