Maxwell joins the elite ranks of Nebraska-based Techstars alum
Omaha startup Maxwell recently completed the prestigious Techstars accelerator. They're only the third company from Nebraska ever to participate in the program. Read about their experience and takeaways.
Omaha-based startup Maxwell, a company focused on employee benefits, recently graduated from the Winter ‘23 cohort of Techstars Boulder.
That puts Maxwell in some rare company. It’s only the third Nebraska startup to complete the prestigious Techstars accelerator. And it was one of only 12 selected from across North America for the 13-week winter session.
Techstars is a worldwide network of startup founders, funders, mentors and corporate partners that supports early entrepreneurs. Techstars has invested in more than 3,000 companies since it was founded in 2006, with a combined market cap of $140B, according to their website.
Techstars is known for their accelerators, which are 3-month small group intensive programs for early stage companies. And they are extremely competitive: The Techstars acceptance rate is typically 1-2%.
Interested in applying to a future cohort? Check out tips from the Techstars team at the end of the story to learn more about what they’re looking for in the companies they select.
Drive Spotter was the first Nebraska company to graduate from a Techstars accelerator, completing Techstars Mobility in 2016. They went on to raise additional rounds of funding after completing the accelerator. Omaha-based Vesta participated in the Minnesota Twins’ Accelerator by Techstars in 2022, which was a catalyst to launch their app in the Twin Cities earlier this year. They have announced plans to expand to additional markets across the U.S.
Despite Techstars’ prestige, Maxwell co-founders Adriana Cisneros Basulto and Stephen Enke said they were skeptical when a Techstars scout first reached out to them. Cisneros Basulto worried that Maxwell was too established to benefit from an accelerator designed for early stage companies. She worried that it might be more distraction than help.
“I mean we have a product. We have customers. We are in the middle of…releasing the next version of the product,” she said.
However, Cisneros Basulto said revisiting something you already think you know, like your ideal customer or go-to-market strategy, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going in a circle. “Hopefully you can make it a spiral.” That could be a spiral up, she said, but also a spiral down.
Enke said that meeting with the Techstars Boulder team and managing director Elle Bruno convinced them to apply. He realized: “This is someone that we can learn from and someone that is a good human being and incredibly intelligent.”
After a series of interviews, the Maxwell team made their pitch. Techstars Boulder accepted the Omaha startup from a pool of 1,200 applicants.
Maxwell helps companies provide personalized employee benefits and rewards through their mobile app, marketplace and debit card. Employers provide each team member with a monthly budget ranging from $30-$200. Employees use their budget to pay for perks and rewards through the marketplace (made up of pre-vetted vendors) or spend anywhere using the Maxwell Visa card.
“It was clear from our first conversation how visionary and innovative the Maxwell team is,” said Sylvia Bouloutas, investment associate at Techstars. “We were also quickly impressed with how…the team is highly supportive of each other, and each member’s diverse skill set is leveraged to execute on their shared vision.”
The “high-quality technology” the team has developed is impressive, too, she said. “We are so excited to watch Maxwell continue to revolutionize the FinTech and HRTech landscape.”
Now, after completing Techstars, Maxwell’s founders think it pushed their startup to new heights.
“It was the single best decision we’ve ever made as a company,” Enke said. “There’s just something about dedicating 13 weeks and being fully bought in…Doing it with exceptional people…And then having a team supporting you along the way through the highs and the lows, opening doors, creating those connections,” he said.
Cisneros Basulto said the most important benefit of Techstars was “it forced us to be courageous about choosing a beachhead.” She said the accelerator pushed them to choose a specific industry to focus on. Maxwell chose healthcare organizations, making it easier to build their product and their go-to-market strategy by allowing them to solve the unique challenges faced by healthcare employers.
Another huge advantage: The extended community of mentors, program teams and past participants cheering them along. The “give first” mentality of the Techstars community resulted in immediate intros to strangers, she added.
In Cisneros Basulto’s experience, Nebraska founders are often hesitant to make those connections. She said Nebraskans tend to hold their networks closer to the chest and have a higher level of skepticism when it comes to offering help to someone they don’t already know well.
In the Techstars community being open and helpful is “part of the culture.” “Being a founder can be lonesome,” she said.
Techstars allowed the Maxwell team to be surrounded by others with a similar mindset and goals. It expanded their network – more potential customers, more potential funders, more potential mentors – significantly across North America, Cisneros Basulto said.
Hearing other founders speak with conviction about their grandiose vision gave Maxwell the confidence to dream bigger, Enke said.
They decided that, at Maxwell, they want to do more than just create a product and make some money. “We have a big vision of reimagining a workforce that is inclusive, that is a better place, that you can both thrive at work and in life,” he said.
“We’ve gotten broad, we’ve looked at everything, and now we have even more conviction on where we’re heading.”
Maxwell’s Techstars cohort ended with their demo day on April 7. You can see their live pitch here.
Now the company is focused on raising a pre-seed round of funding to grow their number of employees and scale their product, Cisneros Basulto said.
“Having been through Techstars and then seeing a lot of the things that are bubbling right now in our ecosystem…gives me hope that we can have a really vibrant startup ecosystem here in our state,” she said.
The outside perspective of Techstars opened the Maxwell founders’ eyes to what’s possible in Nebraska, Enke said – especially when founders support one another.
“There’s no reason this should not be happening here.”
Q&A with Techstars Investment Associate Sylvia Boulouta
Q. What is your role at Techstars?
A. I am an Investment Associate at Techstars, and I manage the sourcing and investment process for identifying and selecting prospective companies to join our accelerator program. I additionally support our founders in the program with business strategy and fundraising advice.
Q. What are the attributes you’re looking for when you select a company for Techstars Boulder?
A. Firstly, we are looking for founders who are passionate about the product and understand the market they are disrupting to a molecular level.
Secondly, we are hunting for teams that demonstrate grit and resilience – we want to work with teams that can weather setbacks and keep pushing forward.
Finally, we are excited about teams that ultimately are motivated by learning. Joining a Techstars accelerator is an incredible opportunity for founders to discover their strengths and improve their shortcomings.
Q. How can a company maximize the value of their experience with Techstars?
A. Often, the teams that get the most out of our program are those that approach the experience with a positive attitude, are coachable, and are very receptive to feedback.
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