After trying his hand at politics, Suneel Gupta is now coaching budding entrepreneurs.The Novi native and tech entrepreneur recently joined Techstars Detroit as the mobility tech accelerator’s first founder-in-residence, a mentoring-focused position designed to give founders of startup businesses guidance in bringing a concept to market and attracting investors.
“What we’re trying to do is make sure people understand that Detroit’s ecosystem is almost in a lot of ways the ideal system for a startup to plug into,” said Gupta, who lost a Democratic primary for Congress last year in suburban Detroit’s 11th Congressional District.
Techstars Detroit (formerly Techstars Mobility) is a corporate-funded accelerator program for startups that offers 90-day courses to help entrepreneurs with largely transportation and mobility-based ideas get their business launched.
In the newly created position at Techstars Detroit, Gupta is drawing on his own experience of developing a nutrition coaching app and co-founding Rise Labs Inc., a medical services startup he sold to One Medical in 2016 for $20 million.
Gupta, a 2018 Crain’s 40 Under 40, also has previously worked at Groupon Inc. and Kleiner Perkins, the Silicon Valley venture capital firm.
In getting Rise Labs off the ground in 2013, Gupta recalls a period when he was striking out with investors and got to sit down for coffee with TaskRabbit founder Leah Busque to go over his pitch presentation.
“By the time I left, I had culled this 25-slide monstrosity of a pitch deck down to eight slides that were very, very clear,” Gupta said in an interview for the Crain’s “Detroit Rising” podcast. “I had a much better story in my head. And when I went forward and started talking to investors, I just had much more success.”
Gupta, 40, said he will focus both on coaching entrepreneurs as well as linking them with potential investors through his connections in Silicon Valley. He is the younger brother of CNN medical reporter and physician Sanjay Gupta.
“There are great concepts that need to be connected to capital,” Gupta said. “And there are investors right now that are fascinated by Detroit, but their offices are based on the coasts or based in different parts of the world. But they really want to know what’s happening that’s exciting here in Detroit.”
Gupta joins a lean team at Techstars Detroit that consists of managing director Ted Serbinski and program manager Kelly Kang. They are assisted by a volunteer corps of mentors from the sponsoring companies and other local entrepreneurs, such as Qey Capital chairman Dhani Jones and Detroit Mobility Institute’s co-founder and President Chris Thomas and Executive Director Jessica Robinson.
Techstars Detroit — one of 45 Techstars programs in the world — gets its primary corporate support from Ford Motor Co., Honda North America Inc. Lear Corp., AAA of Michigan, USAA, Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. and the state of Michigan’s PlanetM.
Of the 54 businesses that have gone through Techstars Detroit’s program in five years, just three were from Michigan, and participating companies have come from 11 different countries, Serbinski said.
There are 10 companies in the current class that began July 15; a demo day is planned for Oct. 1 at the Lear Innovation Center.