089: Boston Speaks Up with Kerty Levy of Techstars Boston
Boston Speaks Up (BSU) is a podcast owned and operated by Value Creation Labs. Listen to BSU on any podcast platform you choose: SoundCloud, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, and Google Play.
Kerty Levy is the Managing Director of Techstars Boston, the successful startup accelerator tied to a global network of Techstars programs. (Techstars Boston applications are open now and will close June 7, 2023. Don’t miss out!)
Levy replaced Greg Raiz, who stepped down as managing director at the end of October 2022. She brings a global perspective to her role having grown up all over the world. Born in Japan, Levy spent time in the Philippines, Belgium, Switzerland and Sweden before settling in the United States.
Levy is also the managing director of recently launched Techstars Crypto Boston, a crypto-focused accelerator in Boston. This program, run in partnership with Algorand and the Algorand Foundation, is designed for startups globally that focus on innovative and fast-growing web3 development solutions that cut across Decentralized Finance (DeFi), Gaming, Creator Economy, and many more. Techstars Crypto Boston kicked off in January 2023 and just held DemoDay on April 6, 2023. Levy has been with Techstars since 2019. Before her move to Boston, she served as managing director of Techstars Iowa. Prior to that, the long-time business advisor and coach spent time at the Iowa AgriTech Accelerator where she was a trusted member of Iowa’s startup community and expert on the Des Moines entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Levy is a lifelong learner. After graduating from the Stevenson School, she went on to earn her Bachelor of Arts in International Relations from the University of California, Davis. She then earned her MBA from Harvard Business School.
In this episode, our host Zach Servideo discusses with Levy her career journey, what she loves about Boston, the startup sectors that most intrigue her, the future of crypto/blockchain, and much more.
You can listen to our podcast discussion embedded below or on any podcast platform you prefer (SoundCloud, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, and Google Play):
Before we get into the written Q&A, here’s a teaser clip from the episode:
Where did you grow up? And how would you describe your childhood?
I grew up all over the world. I was born in Japan, spent time in the Philippines, in Europe - Belgium and Switzerland - went to boarding school in Sweden, and high school in Northern California. In all, I attended 13 schools by the time I finished my MBA. Even though I was shy and spent much of my time alone or with my brother, I learned how to assimilate into new environments quickly. I attended classes conducted in Japanese, French and Swedish before I even knew the languages. Like all kids in their early years, I was able to pick up those languages quickly. I was too young to retain Japanese but I can still get around in French and Swedish. It was a great upbringing. I think about most things on a global level. Borders don’t really exist for me.
Who were your role models growing up?
Two great family friends, both successful female entrepreneurs, one in China and one in the US, have been amazing mentors and role models since my late teens/early twenties. In my early years, my dad was a great role model. He didn’t think any barriers existed for me and so therefore I didn’t either.
If you could go back and give your 18-year-old self one piece of advice, what would it be?
Don’t worry about what others think. Be bold and build something. I learned later that you really don’t need to ask permission.
What is the biggest challenge you had to overcome to get to where you are today?
I was a mediocre student in high school. I didn’t do much homework. I played sports each quarter and did all kinds of activities and my head was all over the place. I loved learning but did not have discipline. In college I learned to harness the energy over time and hyperfocus when I needed to. It has been a lifelong challenge and gift to think about everything and then pull it together and execute on something.
Since moving from the Midwest, what do you miss most about Des Moines and love most about Boston?
Des Moines and Iowa: The community is super friendly and supportive of each other. I don’t need reservations for everything, I can park for free or very cheaply. Oh, and rush minute vs. rush hour!
Boston: The Intellectual stimulation is unparalleled. No matter what event I attend, I meet people doing interesting things. It’s a big, globally recognized city and yet, it feels intimate, more so than others like it. I love walking everywhere, and rowing/ running on/along the Charles.
What excites you the most about the Boston tech scene right now?
There is SO much going on! Research at the plethora of institutions here, labs, studios, incubators, accelerators, successful companies ready for new technology testing, investors who are willing to bet on new tech. The ecosystem nourishes and feeds one another. It’s really inspiring.
What startup sectors most intrigue you right now and why?
AGI is here and Boston is at the center of it. Soon Natural Language AI applications will be part of everyone’s daily lives. Robotics is next with a multitude of opportunities to bridge the gap between AI and the physical world. What I’ve learned running the Crypto Boston accelerator has been that blockchain is valuable underlying technology and has a multitude of applications. I am really excited about the advancements in healthcare that are at our fingertips in genomic sequencing and the speed at which discoveries for disease prevention and health enhancement are advancing. Finally, many of the world’s biggest problems such as climate change, income inequality, disease, and education, can be solved by leveraging these technologies.
What are some common mistakes you’ve seen entrepreneurs make early in their journey that could be avoided?
Getting locked on to a solution and listening to the market/customers’ needs.
Making mistakes when fundraising such as taking money from the wrong investors, giving away too much of the company by raising too much too early.
Going at it alone is really tough. But bringing on team members who are in it for a salary or for a quick exit also doesn’t work.
Can you touch on the benefits of working with an accelerator like Techstars Boston?
Techstars is the worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed. Leveraging Techstars Boston to build a network around a company just getting started is game changing. The programming and mentorship is individualized and designed to help founders build repeatable, scalable businesses. We take 12 companies at a time and each company is on a different trajectory. It’s a 13 week acceleration program but we start working with founders on their specific needs the minute we think they are ready for acceleration and a good match for our accelerator.
PSA: Applications are open right now at https://www.techstars.com/accelerators/boston and will close on June 7th.
With the crypto/blockchain market in a trough of disillusionment, why are you bullish on the sector?
There are huge inefficiencies surrounding the exchange of value between parties. Blockchain is not perfect but offers the technology to take out cost and control by few and enable many to exchange value without paywalls. The US government is currently attacking the loss of control. Other jurisdictions are embracing it. We’ll see. I just don’t think the genie can be put back in the bottle.
Where do you see the Boston tech space 5 years from now?
I think Boston will have its heyday in the proliferation of AI and robotics. We’ll be early adopters to new solutions as they’re being tested and launched. The building blocks are all here. It’s where the world is headed.
Let’s get deep for this one… If you could be remembered for one thing in life, what would it be?
For challenging, motivating and inspiring people to live with purpose and have a positive impact on others and the world.
FINAL QUESTION: We like the idea of ending our episodes with a challenge for the listeners/readers. Whether it be reaching out to an old friend, reading 5 pages a day from a book, creating a new healthy habit… What is one challenge you have for the listeners?
Embrace life long learning. Learn at least one thing new, outside of your area of expertise, each day. Listen to a podcast (runs/walks are great for this), read a book, watch a documentary, meet someone, etc.
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