A review of the first eleven Techstars Unicorns

Someone asked me the other day “How many unicorns has Techstars funded?” When I asked them to guess they said “2 or 3.” I told them it was closer to ten. Actually, there are currently eleven.

Here’s quick review of the eleven companies valued at $1B or more that Techstars has funded to date. These are sorted by the year that we funded them. In total, they are valued at more than $100 billion today.

#1: SendGrid (2009)

SendGrid is a transactional email platform. The three founders (Isaac, Tim, and Jose) were based in the Los Angeles area when they moved the company to Boulder for the Techstars Boulder Accelerator in 2009. Here’s their demo day pitch. Jim Franklin was a Techstars mentor during that accelerator program, and would later join as CEO. I served on the board of directors until the IPO, and during that time we were able to recruit great firms like Foundry Group, SoftTech VC (now Uncork Capital), Bessemer Venture Partners, and Bain Capital Ventures. In 2019, SendGrid become the first ever company from any accelerator program to IPO, valued at over $1 billion. The company later merged with Twilio in a transaction worth about $2 billion at the time.

#2: Uber (2009)

Techstars Ventures 2009 invested in Uber (NYSE: UBER) (actually UberCab, as it was called then) as part of their initial angel round in 2009. Ryan Graves was mentoring at Techstars Boulder that year (full story) when he shared the vision that everyone could have a private driver. I was “rider zero” when Uber launched in Colorado and we made sure people knew about Uber at all of our demo days around the country as they grew. We also pushed hard to make sure consumers got the service they loved. Today, Uber is valued at around $65 billion.

#3: Twilio (2009)

Techstars Ventures 2009 invested in Twilio’s (NYSE: TWLO) initial angel round after founder and CEO Jeff Lawson visited Colorado to mentor at the Techstars Boulder Accelerator in 2009. Twilio became a popular perk for Techstars companies globally over the years and many other Techstars portfolio companies use the product extensively. Today, the cloud communication platform is valued at around $33 billion.

#4: Zipline (2011)

Zipline provides vital, on demand delivery for the world. Today, they deliver vaccines, blood, medicines, and supplies using drones. Techstars funded the company via our Techstars Seattle Accelerator in 2011. It was originally called Romotive, and I still remember founder Keller Rinaudo just crushing it at demo day that year. They later attracted investors such as Sequoia, Visionnaire Ventures, Katalyst Ventures, and the Rise Fund. The company is based in San Francisco, with significant operations in Africa and elsewhere.

#5: Scopely (2011)

Scopely is an LA based interactive entertainment company and a leading mobile games publisher. Techstars Ventures 2009 invested in the angel debt round in 2011. Greycroft, Revolution Growth, Blackrock, Greenspring Associates, Highland Capital Partners, NEA, Social Leverage and others funded the companies after the accelerator.

#6: Outreach (2011)

Outreach is a sales engagement platform that was funded by the Techstars Seattle Accelerator in 2011. During that accelerator, they were building tools to help sell their original concept, and discovered that those tools had more potential than their original business idea. Founders Co-op, Menlo Ventures, Floodgate, Mayfield, Trinity Ventures, and many others funded the company after the Techstars accelerator program.

#7: Remitly (2011)

Techstars funded Remitly, an online remittance company as part of our Techstars Seattle Accelerator in 2011. They were originally called BeamIt Mobile (yep – lots of companies change their names during the accelerator program). They went on to raise capital from Founder Co-op, Vulcan Capital, Trilogy Equity Partners, DFJ, and Top Tier Capital Partners, among others. We’re humbled that founder Matt Oppenheimer thinks “none of this would have been possible without Techstars.

#8: Digital Ocean (2012)

DigitalOcean is a cloud infrastructure provider that was funded by the Techstars Boulder Accelerator in 2012, after a referral from IA Ventures. Like many Techstars success stories, they didn’t get accepted to the accelerator the first time they applied (but they did on the second attempt – whew!). After the accelerator, the company attracted investors including IA Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz and Access Industries. DigitalOcean is based in New York City.

#9: Classpass (2012)

Techstars funded ClassPass through our Techstars New York Accelerator in 2012. Founder Payal Kadakia once told us “I’m a dancer, I’m a woman, and I’m going to go build a massive company.” She was certainly right. Payal and team have attracted capital partners like CRV, Thrive Capital, Google Ventures, General Catalyst, Temasek, and more.

#10: PillPack (2013)

Techstars funded PillPack as part of the Techstars Boston Accelerator in 2013. PillPack is a full service pharmacy designed around your life. The founders incorporated the startup on the first day of the accelerator. Later they attracted capital from firms such as CRV, Accel, Menlo Ventures, Accomplice, and Founder Collective. PillPack was acquired by Amazon for approximately $1 billion in 2018.

#11: DataRobot (2013)

Techstars funded DataRobot, an enterprise AI platform, as part of our Techstars Cloud Accelerator in 2013. That accelerator was in San Antonio, Texas in partnership with Rackspace. The company later settled in Boston. The company raised follow on capital from the likes of NEA, Intel Capital, IA Ventures, and Northern Trust, among others.

Techstars Unicorn Insights

Of the eleven companies listed above, eight were initially funded through one of our accelerator programs (typically with follow on from one of our venture funds) and three were funded initially by one of our venture funds without going through an accelerator. Early on, we only have a few accelerator programs whereas today we have about fifty globally.

The geographies of the accelerators that funded the known unicorns are:

  • Seattle: 3
  • Boulder: 2
  • New York City: 1
  • San Antonio: 1
  • Boston: 1

The Not-Quite-Yet Unicorns

Beyond the eleven unicorns here, forty-two other Techstars accelerator portfolio companies currently have valuations in the hundreds of millions of dollars today. It usually takes at least 5 or 6 years for companies to reach valuations over $1 billion.

It’s fun to look back once in a while, but I get even more excited when I look ahead.

file under: Startups