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January 24, 2010 / Danny Robinson

Softbank – The Root of TechStars, Seedcamp and Bootup Labs

Last Friday I found out just how small the world is.  While at the TechCrunch offices in Palo Alto, I met Reshma Sohoni, CEO of Seedcamp for the first time.  Similar to YCombinator, TechStars of the US and Bootup Labs in Canada, Seedcamp has to be one of the most powerful entrepreneurial drivers Europe has going for it.  They run a startup competition where winners are given some seed capital and then exposed to an impressive list of over 400 mentors.

Michael Perone, Danny Robinson, Willie Quinn, George John Kimbel

What was remarkable to me is that Reshma worked with SoftBank Venture Capital in Mountain View back in 1999/2000 to get their incubator started. My first startup, Spinway, was funded by SoftBank at the same time.  I would often visit the incubator and work with some of the founders there.  I dug around and found this picture of it.  If you look closely, you can see a much younger version of me talking to the then DoDots founders, George and John Kembel, while Willie Quinn looks over Michael Perone’s shoulder as he shows him something on that huge CRT monitor.

Another twist is that TechStars co-founder Brad Feld was a Venture Partner at SoftBank at the same time as well. There must have been something in the water at the Softbank offices, or maybe it was the vodka ice louge… but that’s a different story (and different pictures)

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5 Comments

  1. Brad Feld / Jan 24 2010 1:48 pm

    Danny, I look forward with mild trepidation to seeing those old pictures!

    In addition to the incubator (which we called "Hotbank" for a while) in our Mountain View office, we also created one in Colorado at my office in Superior (just outside of Boulder.) We often referred to the "Superior Hotbank", but that was an inside joke that probably only I got.

    As far as I know, David Cohen (the founder of TechStars) never knew about Hotbank. However, when we first met, it was in my office in Superior well after we had abandoned the incubator concept and let several of our portfolio companies take over the space. For a while StillSecure and Return Path occupied the Colorado space – they eventually both outgrew their half of it and Return Path moved out; StillSecure now occupies the space.

    While there are a handful of connection points back to Hotbank, that's about it in my mind. The actual dynamics of TechStars (which I guess is now being classified as an "accelerator") is radically different, as I imagine you know.

    And – for clarification – I was actually a Managing Director of Softbank Venture Capital and one of the four co-founders. I was never a Venture Partner, but we did have a bunch of wacky titles for a while so it's entirely possible that I have a business card with a title on it that is the same as the phrase that is stamped on my wallet.

    • DannyRobinson / Jan 25 2010 6:34 am

      Oh ya. I remember the name "Hotbank" now. And of course I knew that you were a Managing Director and co-founder of Softbank Venture Capital. My apologies for getting the title wrong.

      The last thing I want to do is undermine the work David has done to create Techstars. Our deep respect is well documented on this blog. But, as people go through life, they learn all sorts of lessons. Some conscious, some subconscious. When I see pattern, like the fact that three of the leading "seed accelerators" had experience with Hotbank in their past, I can't accept that as pure happenstance. When David came to you with the Techstars Idea, how did you know it was going to work? Why did you decide to work with him on it? How long did it take you to decide? And, I wonder how long it took Reshma to decide to work with Saul on Seedcamp.

      I'm just saying that it doesn't surprise me that the people who are finally getting this model right have had experience, however removed, with the previous generation.

      • Brad Feld / Jan 25 2010 11:42 am

        Totally agree – I didn’t mean to indicate that it wasn’t an interesting observation.  I’m sure my Hotbank experience was data that was rolling around in my head.  However, I made the decision to do TechStars with David about five minutes into our meeting – it was 100% my reaction to him.

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