A Conversation With: John Hill of Techstars

The Upstate Capital Association of New York is enthusiastic to feature John Hill, Vice President of Network at Techstars, who is truly at the vanguard of assisting fledgling entrepreneurs and start-ups across the US and abroad as one of the keynote speakers at Venture NY on April 27th in Syracuse.

Hill, a former Higher Education Evangelist for LinkedIn, is highly sought after for his insight and expertise on early-stage businesses from “Inspiration to IPO.” He expounds on how Techstars has provided the access to much-needed capital to allow start-ups and entrepreneurs the means to survive their early stages of operation and have the opportunity to grow and flourish in the years to come.

Techstars is a global investment business that provides access to capital, one-on-one mentorship and a worldwide network and customized programming for early-stage entrepreneurs. The firm, founded in 2006 in Boulder, CO, has approximately 3,300 businesses in its portfolio. The company also operates more than 50 accelerators in 15 countries. 

To date, more than 1,000 companies have gone through the Techstars accelerators, and Hill is charged with supporting and growing a global network of tech entrepreneurs, mentors and investors who surround them and the Techstars team. 

“Build a network before you need it so it’s there when you do.”

Prior to Techstars, he was the Higher Education Evangelist at LinkedIn, helping to build out a suite of products dedicated to the university ecosystem. In that role he spoke at 91 of the top 100 U.S. institutions and 143 of the top 400 universities globally and represented the brand globally as a media contact while providing insight to the product team on user insights and needs. Before LinkedIn, Hill was the Director of Alumni Career Services offering support to 420,000 Michigan State University alumni. He’s an MSU graduate in Journalism who worked in media for 10 years before working at the university. 

Hill said he believes in three guiding principles that he always reinforces in his talks with investors and entrepreneurs. The first is “Build a network before you need it so it’s there when you do.” He said the best time to build a network is at the university level and “play off that affiliation and create opportunities for yourself.”

The second principle is to “Build a quality network not a quantity network.” Such a network could include joining associations such as Upstate Capital Association and attending events such as the upcoming Venture NY program. “These are quality networks that you can leverage time and time again,” he noted. 

The third and perhaps most important is to “Dream Big.” 

“I have had the good fortune of witnessing companies that were two or three people and going through that journey to be valued at over $1 billion,” Hill said. “The great thing about entrepreneurs is that they have the ability to suspend disbelief and believe that they can create something new or something better than someone else has done in the past through product and service.”

“I think it is up to the helpers—investors, community leaders, people who are engaged in the ecosystems to support entrepreneurs—to really stoke those dreams and to continue to help them along,” he continued.

At the Venture NY event, Hill also plans to touch on the five things needed within an ecosystem that supports entrepreneurs. 

Every system needs to support:

  • Funding
  • Talent
  • Customer Acquisition
  • Knowledge Share 
  • Mentorship

“If you do those five things within a region, you are going to see some benefits come out of it for the entrepreneurs that are associated with you geographically,” he stressed.

He concluded by saying that one of the guiding principles for anyone associated with the Techstars network is “Give First,” which means, “If I reach out for help you will respond and then it is not quid pro quo so, if you need something from somebody else in the Techstars network, they will respond.”

Hall said that Techstars has tried to install that concept with all of their network participants so that people can find the partners and relationships they need to succeed.

Hundreds of entrepreneurs and investors are expected to gather at the OnCenter in Syracuse on April 27 to attend Venture NY, Upstate Capital’s marquee annual event for the early-stage venture capital community. Register and attend Venture NY.