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One of Southern California's top accelerators has named Matt Kozlov its next managing director, marking a shift to jumpstarting more deep-tech startups.
Kozlov succeeds the popular Anna Barber, who departed Techstars Los Angeles Accelerator in November to become the first head of M13's venture studio and a partner at the firm.
"It's certainly big shoes that I'm filling," Kozlov said. "I'm quite humbled by it, to be perfectly honest."
Kozlov is not new to the Techstars franchise, having previously led Techstars' Starburst Space Accelerator and Healthcare Accelerator.
"I've spent the last five years working with startups that are a little bit more regulatory-based with longer sales cycles, which I think is actually a really great background to bring," Kozlov said.
Kozlov and Barber are friends and Barber said it was Kozlov who helped show her the ropes at Techstars when she joined in 2017.
"Because he's been a mentor for the L.A. program, he also knows the whole community and can seamlessly step in, although I fully expect him to define his own thesis and take the program to a whole new level," Barber said.
Both began their careers with two-year stints in management consulting, Kozlov at Bain and Barber at McKinsey. But while her background is more in consumer technology, Kozlov has roots in deep tech in addition to stints in executive roles at Sony Music Entertainment and TeleSign.
"I'm very excited about the deep-tech market here in Southern California – pharmaceutical, aerospace, defense, health care, and robotics," Kozlov said. "The industrial base in Los Angeles is so complex and so varied and my own career I think reflects that."
Kozlov says with no offense to those developing mobile video games or entertainment startups, he generally looks for founders who want to aim higher to solve big problems in areas like healthcare or aerospace.
"I'm looking for humble coachable founders who are deeply passionate about solving the problem they're going after, and ideally that problem is something that if they are successful in solving, it will actually make the world a better place," he said.
One thing he said will not change in Techstars' commitment to backing diverse founders.
"Los Angeles is a diverse community and our entrepreneurial investments should reflect that," he said.
Founders who have been mentored by Kozlov say he brings a high degree of both empathy and analytical rigor to his job.
"He is always willing to roll up his sleeves and do the work in the trenches, in the best of times and the worst," said Dante Tolbert, who graduated from the 2017 healthcare accelerator when he was CEO of Cerebro Solutions, a startup that helps hospitals manage clinicians and labor costs.
"Matt brings that rare combination of analytical rigor, a solid understanding of key KPIs (key performance indicators) and milestones for early-to mid-stage startups, and incredible people skills to build strong networks and partnerships," said Wout Brusselaers, founder and CEO at Deep 6 AI, a startup that helps hospital companies with analytics that was part of the 2016 healthcare accelerator.
A total of 40 companies have gone through the three-month Techstars Los Angeles Accelerator during the past five years. Collectively, they have gone on raise over $126 million and have a combined market cap of $328.6 million. Standouts include Slingshot Aerospace, Blue Fever, Stackin, Fernish, Liquid, Dash Systems and Finli.
However, some have questioned whether accelerators provide the necessary value to startups to justify the cut of equity, which in Techstars' case is 6%. That is especially true in the pandemic, when Zoom meetings have replaced most in-person interaction. Not surprisingly, Kozlov disagrees.
"Whether it's in person under one office building or distributed across Zoom rooms, I've learned that it doesn't really matter," Kozlov said. "It's certainly a lot more fun when you're able to grab a real meal with somebody or really just spend long nights talking about your challenges, but what I've learned is that by bringing this community together to support these ten startups at a time, magic happens. It's different than building your business out on your own."
On the plus side, Kozlov says deals have been closing faster during the pandemic and mentors have more time on their hands since they are not traveling or commuting.
"There's actually a little bit more time to pay it forward," he said.
Applications for the Techstars LA 2021 program are open now through April 11, a cohort that Kozlov expects to once again be remote with perhaps some in-person interaction by the end.
"I guess you and I are probably going to assume that it will be a virtual program unless we can hurry the pace of vaccinations," Kozlov said.
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