Ted Serbinski has a unique mission. In his role as Managing Director of Mobility at Techstars’ Detroit office, he builds mutually beneficial partnerships between mobile technology startups and Fortune 500 automotive companies. Ted’s day-to-day involves not only establishing the relationships between large and small organizations, but breaking down the barriers between different corporate cultures and ways of working.
“We work with big corporations and tiny startups… they work at different speeds. It’s insightful to see how we can be that middle ground,” Ted explained. “It’s an experiment… a new consortium model for Techstars.”
Ted is taking part in a Thursday morning panel at ResloveTO that explores the ways startups can grow through cultivating partnerships with large corporations.
Ted answers our five questions:
What are you working on right now that you are really excited about?
We just launched our third program just a couple weeks ago. Applications are open for mobility companies to join Techstars. We’re looking for any technology startup that enables people and goods to move around more freely — companies that are advancing mobility using connected, shared, autonomous and electric technologies.
For example, last year Spatial came into the program. They’re exploring ways to build an API around hyper-specific location data. How do you answer questions that a local would know? An API can uncover that information. They’re working with Ford on three projects that are looking at different ways to integrate their technology to understand a location.
We’re accepting applications for our mobility program until April 9. If you’re thinking of working with big organizations in the U.S., now would be a great time to apply. We also have openings in other programs if you’re looking for another fit.
What was the pivotal moment or decision that set you on the path to your current career?
A lot of serendipity. It was the right timing, and the right place. My wife and I were looking into moving east from San Francisco. I literally googled to see what was going on in Detroit and shot Detroit Venture Partners an email. There I helped turn them into a $55M fund that invested in 25 startups. Along the way our group brought Techstars to town and I left DVP to run the Mobility program in Detroit for Techstars. So it all started with an email five years ago.
If you could give one piece of advice to a tiny, freshly-minted startup, what would it be?
In a startup, the people matter most. I looked at more than 1,000 startups over the last few years. There are dozens of great ideas, but it’s hard to find that great team. As an analogy, think of a band: all members play a key role in making that music. You need to find people in those complementary roles. Find people who are driven by passion. If you are in it for the wrong reasons, you aren’t going to last that long. The right people have a shared passion to change the world and the lives of their customers.
What can legacy organizations learn from startups to keep up with the fast pace of innovation required in today’s economy?
Large organizations need to develop ways to interface with and learn from small startups. They need to have a mindset that asks: how do you learn from startups… through investments, partnerships, pilots? Ultimately, how do you build a process with a goal that is not just ROI or integration? How do you meet startups with accelerated learning in order to incorporate that? How do you learn and develop processes that integrate different ways of working? If it’s approached in an exploratory way, you’re going to learn to work together.
What do you foresee as the biggest tech innovation to impact business in 2017?
I’m in the mobility space, so technology that moves people and goods is the biggest tech innovation. It’s not a single thing, it’s an alignment of a lot of things. Cities, local governments and federal governments working with startups, even the Ubers of the world, are starting to transform the way people move around. There will be more alignment around the complexity of transportation — new opportunities are opening up worldwide that embrace autonomous roads, connected highways and electric charging stations. 2017 will see a lot more alignment around the complexity of these different initiatives.
See Ted Serbinski’s panel Walking the walk at ResolveTO, 3:20 p.m. on Thursday, January 26th.