Venture capitalists who were early investors in 20 different companies now worth over a billion dollars are setting up shop in Tuscaloosa, where they hope to lure or discover their next "unicorn."

Techstars, a now-global company founded in Colorado in 2006, bills itself as "the world's most active pre-seed investor." They've helped accelerate more than 4,100 companies with an accumulative market cap of more than a hundred billion dollars.

They've helped foster incredible success stories and have accelerators in major cities across the US and abroad. Their program in New York is powered by J.P. Morgan and specializes in part in financial startups. In Minneapolis, Techstars runs a Farm to Fork accelerator. Down the road in Birmingham, they're investing in energy startups.

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Dignitaries from every corner of Tuscaloosa gathered in the District Room venue downtown Thursday evening to welcome Techstars to Tuscaloosa, where they plan to accelerate companies with a specific eye on water technology and sustainability.

(Stephen Dethrage | Tuscaloosa Thread)
(Stephen Dethrage | Tuscaloosa Thread)

Tuscaloosa will be the smallest city where Techstars has ever launched an accelerator, but Justice Smyth, the executive director of the Tuscaloosa County Economic Development Authority, said our unique hydrologic resources were enough to draw the investors to town.

Those include the Alabama Water Institute, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Water Center, and the soon-to-be-opened U.S. Geological Survey Hydrologic Instrumentation Facility. With unmatched research and resources on hand, Techstars has decided to set up its latest accelerator here in Tuscaloosa.

Their director of partnerships Jose Sanchez and Techstars "evangelist" John Hill were at the District Room Thursday to celebrate the news.

(Stephen Dethrage | Tuscaloosa Thread)
(Stephen Dethrage | Tuscaloosa Thread)

"Talent is equally distributed, but opportunity is not, and it's programs, engagements and collaborations like this that make the world more palatable to entrepreneurs as they build what they're building," Hill said.

"I've been working at Techstars for 10 years, where we have 53 accelerators operating in 15 companies," he continued. "The needs of entrepreneurs have never changed - they need funding, talent, customer acquisition, knowledge share and mentorship."

That's what Techstars aims to offer in Tuscaloosa, through an idea-stage pre-accelerator program called Founder Catalyst WaterTech and Sustainability and the full-fledged Techstars WaterTech and Sustainability accelerator for startups.

Both local entrepreneurs and those outside Tuscaloosa with good ideas for the hydrological space will benefit from the programs, Sanchez said.

"We source and recruit globally, so the goal is for us to not only go out around the world and find those innovators but also be intentional when recruiting from the local community to ensure that we get the next billion-dollar company, the next unicorn to add to the 20 unicorns we have in our portfolio today," he said.

The partnership was also made possible by a grant from the state's Innovate Alabama program.

"The decision to establish the Techstars program in Tuscaloosa underscores the richness of resources available in Alabama, making our state an ideal location for fostering groundbreaking innovation," said Innovate Alabama Chair Bill Poole, a Tuscaloosa resident. "At Innovate Alabama, we are building a future where entrepreneurs thrive, and the presence of Techstars further solidifies our commitment to this vision."

Things kick off with the 10-week Founder Catalyst pre-accelerator program, applications for which are being accepted through March 3rd.

The more intensive 13-week accelerators for startups which are further along kick off in September of this year.

"Founders who are selected will receive hands-on mentorship, curated entrepreneurial content and programming, up to $120 thousand in funding, and access to Techstars’ global network of mentors, investors, alumni and corporates," Techstars said in a release.

Learn more about Techstars and their plans for Tuscaloosa here. 

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