Tech in Indiana is often synonymous with software and SaaS products, but international accelerator program Techstars is upending that perception with its latest cohort of Hard Tech companies.

The Heritage Group Accelerator Powered by Techstars is graduating its first cohort of materials science-related businesses in December. These companies operate in the “Hard Tech” space, a term referring to tech companies that create or manipulate tangible objects to build tech-focused solutions to difficult challenges—think the creation of new chemicals or establishment of innovative manufacturing methods. These Hard Tech companies, some of which are planning to root themselves in Indiana, are bringing the future of tech to the state with the help of Techstars.

Techstars doubles down on Indiana investment

Techstars first joined the Indiana tech community in August 2018 with two programs: The Heritage Group (THG) Accelerator Powered by Techstars focused on materials science and other Hard Tech, and the SportsTech Accelerator Powered by Indy on sports tech innovations. Techstars invited companies around the world to apply and join their 12-week-long accelerator programs.

The companies selected for participation have since been hard at work building their products and customer bases and cementing their business models, while Techstars helps them navigate through the unique challenges businesses can face. For example, companies in Hard Tech commonly emphasize attaining first customers before first investors. Hard Tech can be an expensive proposition, so a solid first customer can help investors see the long-term benefits of funding them. THG Accelerator offers a clear path for companies to acquire their first customers and then snowball on those successes. 

“At Techstars, we talk about ourselves as a worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed, and at the beginning of the process, worldwide is local. You need local relationships to help companies establish first customers and enable them to grow into the Techstars worldwide network,” said Lesa Mitchell, a managing director with Techstars.

Since THG Accelerator launched its first cohort earlier this year, the collaboration between Techstars and The Heritage Group has driven significant results. According to Jon Schalliol, director of the new ventures group at The Heritage Group, the excellent working relationship with Techstars has allowed The Heritage Group to support the program as mentors while also strengthening his company’s commitment to business development.

“I work with these companies every day, and it’s really exciting to see how they’ve worked with people across our organization,” said Jon. “It’s also been great to see people within our organization who have stepped up to the challenge to figure out how to help these companies move forward, as well as the participation of a community with a whole host of mentors, from large companies to economic development organizations and individual experts in different fields.”

Startups get involved in Indiana’s tech ecosystem

While the companies incubate, Techstars encourages them to get involved in the local community with an eye toward permanent relocation. Out of this THG Accelerator cohort, two companies have so far announced plans to relocate to Indiana and invest their futures here.

Ateios had been based in the San Diego area before beginning its Techstars experience. Founder and CEO Dr. Rajan Kumar and the Ateios team dove into the Indy tech community and found mentorship and connection with organizations like the Indiana Economic Development Corporation and the Newberry, Ind.-based Battery Innovation Center

The Ateios team is revolutionizing how batteries are manufactured and used.

The Techstars program and mentor network helped educate the Ateios team on the business elements they needed in order to grow and take on customers. For Rajan, the program offered a special atmosphere of discovery where he could tinker with Ateios’ business model. “Techstars showed us how to build a financial model, which is helping us raise funding, and that was the most critical tool we were missing,” he said. “Techstars is helping us explain the real value we’re providing and then providing an economic model to show how we can profit off it.”

Even before the Techstars program ended, the Ateios team announced it is staying in Indiana and will invest in product development and manufacturing processes to deliver its first-of-a-kind flexible, paper-thin batteries. The company is moving its HQ to Bloomington, Ind. and will maintain a presence at the Battery Innovation Center while the company builds out its manufacturing capabilities to fulfill large-batch customer orders.

Companies showcase successes at Techstars Demo Day

Throughout their time in Techstars, these companies accomplish impressive results, so it makes sense for companies to have an opportunity to show off the fruits of their labors. In that vein, every Techstars program ends its cohorts with a Demo Day. Alongside the celebratory aspect of completing the program comes companies’ introductions to a wider network of supporters and potential funders through live demonstrations. 

Companies at THG Accelerator will get to demonstrate their progress and also participate in a public pre-demo conference, the Future of Materials and Infrastructure Forum. This conference will touch on materials science and Hard Tech initiatives and ask big questions about what can be done to disrupt multi-trillion-dollar industries like infrastructure development.

“Our conference sets a foundation for the kinds of companies you’re going to see at Demo Day. The speakers are going to talk about placing big bets in venture capital in the Hard Tech space—and why you have to think about this as a big-bets environment,” said Lesa.

With plenty of thought leadership to go around, Techstars seeks to prepare its cohort companies for success well beyond the 12-week accelerator and ensure they’re finding an active community here in Indiana that’s rooting for its next big win.

The Heritage Group Accelerator Powered by Techstars’ Demo Day will be held on December 4 at The Heritage Group. Spots to attend the conference and demonstrations are still available.