After a little more than three years running the Techstars Boston program for entrepreneurs, Katie Rae and Reed Sturtevant are turning over the keys to Semyon Dukach, an angel investor, entrepreneur, and former member of the MIT Blackjack Team. Dukach takes over with the fall cycle of Techstars this year, which runs from August through November.
Rae and Sturtevant will now focus on getting their early-stage investing firm, Project 11, off the ground. Joining them is another member of the Techstars Boston team, Bob Mason, who was one of the founders of the video publishing platform Brightcove. Back in 2010, before they were overseeing Techstars Boston, Rae and Sturtevant told me they were hoping to raise a small first fund of several million dollars, but earlier this morning, Rae wouldn’t comment on their plans for Project 11, beyond saying that they’re out looking for office space. Taking over Techstars Boston — it had originally been run by entrepreneur Shawn Broderick — was a way for Rae and Sturtevant to prove their bona fides investing in and assisting fledgling businesses.
Techstars offers mentorship, office space, and $18,000 in seed funding in return for six percent of the equity in participating companies. Participants also have access to additional capital. Rae and Sturtevant will have overseen five different cycles of the three-month long program. Companies that participated in those cycles have collectively raised about $110 million in funding, and employ about 460 people, according to Techstars stats.
Running Techstars is a combination of being a college admissions officer, an investor, coach, psychologist, publicist, and management consultant. “I don’t even think of it as a job — it’s just all consuming,” Rae says. “We needed to find someone who both understands what they’re getting into and would love it. Semyon, as an investor, really gets in there and rolls up his sleeves, and there aren’t a lot of people that have that reputation.” She adds that Dukach has been spending much of the current Techstars session at the accelerator’s Boston office, serving as a mentor-in-residence and learning the ropes. Two team members who help with Techstars Boston’s operations, Rohit Gupta and Tuan Pham, will stay on to help Dukach.
Dukach, a founder of tech companies like SMTP.com, Fast Engines, and PDFFiller.com, says he has invested in about a dozen individual companies that have been through the TechStars program, and he is an investor in the Techstars Boston fund itself, which puts money into each participating company. He says he has a stake in about 75 startups overall.
“Katie and Reed have done a fantastic job,” Dukach says. “The community that they’ve created is really special, and my first goal is not to lose that feeling.” Dukach, who was born in Russia but grew up in Texas, says he hopes to recruit more teams from Russia and Europe — “We had a great team last year, Check.io, that came from Ukraine,” he says. Another focus will be trying to fine-tune the interactions between Techstars mentors, most of whom are volunteers from the local startup scene, and the participating companies.
“I want to try to measure more accurately how well those mentor interactions work for companies, to optimize everyone’s time a little better. You need to direct great mentors to the right company at the right time.”
Among the startups that Dukach has backed are Terrafugia, which is developing a flying car; Double Robotics, in the telepresence space; and Krash, a communal housing startup that I wrote about earlier this month. Rae will remain chairman of the Techstars Boston program, a non-operational role that she says will involve “thinking about what would be great for Techstars in Boston.”
Techstars will hold a demo day for its current crop of startups on April 29 at the House of Blues. Applications for the next class are now being accepted.
Here’s Dukach’s profile on AngelList, and here’s one of his blackjack videos. (The Globe wrote in 2006 about Dukach’s central role in a Ben Mezrich book, “Busting Vegas: The MIT Whiz Kid Who Brought the Casinos to Their Knees.”)
This much is certain: future graduates of Techstars will know when to hit and when to stand…
Scott Kirsner writes the Innovation Economy column every Sunday in the Boston Globe, in which he tracks entrepreneurship, investment, and big company activities around New England.
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