Twins Unveil Plans for Techstars Accelerator Program
A century-old sports team is looking for new ideas from startups.
On Thursday, the Minnesota Twins announced a startup accelerator program with Techstars. Like many other accelerators in town, the Twins’ new program will provide funding and mentorship opportunities for startups.
Joe Pohlad, the Twins’ executive VP of brand strategy and growth, said the new program is an outgrowth of the team’s “ongoing brand evolution.”
“That brand evolution work is really an effort to grow the overall Twins experience beyond what’s taking place on the field,” Pohlad said.
The Twins and Techstars will begin taking applications for the program on May 10. Then, the first cohort of 10 startups will begin a 13-week program beginning November 2021. At the outset, the accelerator will last for three years, with the goal of working with 30 startups over that time.
The Twins will become the second Major League Baseball team to host an accelerator: In 2015, the Los Angeles Dodgers launched a similar program, though the team partnered with R/GA Ventures on the effort. But the Twins will be the first Minnesota sports team to launch an accelerator.
“What this partnership will bring to our organization is an influx of innovation,” Pohlad said. “It’s exposure to innovation that our organization has not had.”
Based in Colorado, Techstars has launched several similar accelerator programs over the years, including a few in Minnesota. In 2016, the organization launched a retail-focused program with Target Corp. Then, in 2018, Techstars partnered with Cargill and Ecolab on a “Farm to Fork Accelerator.” A year later, Techstars launched another accelerator with UnitedHealthcare.
The Twins’ accelerator will, of course, be based in Minneapolis, but it’s open to companies around the globe. Ryan Broshar, founder and partner of Minneapolis-based venture capital firm Matchstick Ventures, said that Techstars’ Minnesota programs have given outside companies a closer look at the Twin Cities’ startup scene. In some cases, a few startups have even made the decision to relocate to the Twin Cities after participating in a local Techstars program, said Broshar, who helped lead the organization’s first program in Minneapolis in 2016.
“We’ve had a long history of companies moving here after the program,” Broshar said. “We hope to see more of that. … I think the Twins are making a smart move here.”
What kinds of startups are the Twins looking for? The program will be fairly broad, but the main focus is on “enhancing the fan experience,” Pohlad said. That could include a startup working on technology focused on athlete performance, for instance. Or it could be an app that “reimagines interactions at the ballpark.”
Pohlad sees the program as another way to “get more fans in the building.”
“We want to grow our brand because that is another way of sustaining and growing the business,” he said. “We need to be thinking creatively and differently about our business.”
As part of the program, startups will receive direct mentorship from top brass at the Twins and the Pohlad Cos. From the Twins, that includes president and CEO Dave St. Peter, executive VP and chief business officer Laura Day, senior VP of technology John Avenson, senior VP of business strategy and analytics Jason Lee, and assistant general manager of baseball operations Daniel Adler. Pohlad Cos. chief investment officer Elizabeth Lilly and chief information officer Rachel Lockett will also serve as mentors.