TechStars: a fascinating series following start-up companies and their creators

Bloomberg TV isn’t exactly a place I ever expected to look for a compelling reality TV show, but it’s the home of a recently completed series: TechStars, which is named after the organization it follows.

The show follows a real-life process, as TechStars has been funding and mentoring new start-ups since 2006; it says it offers them “three months of intensive top-notch mentorship, incredible perks, and the chance to pitch to angel investors and venture capitalists at the end of the program.” (You may have heard of similar programs such as Y Combinator.)

The reality series following six start-ups that went through TechStars in New York City is fascinating and reminiscent of the engaging documentary Startup.com. There’s real-life drama as the mentors clash with the entrepreneurs, and as the start-ups struggle to develop their products, with a number of surprises.

Once I started watching, I couldn’t stop, because the episodes are fast and leave you wondering what happens next. Still, the show doesn’t dig deep into the actual work they’re doing, which is perhaps due to its limited format (six 22-minute episodes, one of which is kind of a throwaway reunion), but is still disappointing, especially when we hear people discussing work or decisions after the fact instead of actually seeing that. It focuses instead on the TechStars process, the vision and idea the founders have for their companies, and the big-picture advice they get from mentors and the TechStars New York director David Tisch and TechStars founder David Cohen. (I have no idea why the segments featuring them having intense conversations in their office are shown in black and white, though; it’s kind of an unnecessary gimmick.)

Before the season debuted, TechCrunch reported that “TechStars had been approached by several networks looking to do reality-type shows on the incubator, but ultimately chose Bloomberg TV, they said, for the reasons cited above. They wanted it to be an objective, fact-based series that captured the actual essence of what it’s like to be a founder going through an incubator, rather than something that’s over-produced and skewed in favor of dramatization. Bloomberg seemed the right fit.”

However, at least one of the people featured was not happy with the final result, calling it “fabricated drama.” Melanie Moore, who does not come off well starting in the first episode (below), details in a blog post what she calls “the blatant lies and manipulation of our story.”

Since the show ended last week, all six episodes are now online on Bloomberg’s site. Watch the first episode:

TechStars: B

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.