Techstars Bets Big on the Hampton Roads Startup Ecosystem with New Executive Director

Local entrepreneur Aazia Mickens-Dessaso will lead a partnership to catalyze the region’s startup community. Interested startup founders can learn more at

[Hampton Roads, VA] – Aazia Mickens-Dessaso has been named Techstars’ Executive Director of Ecosystem Development for Hampton Roads.  The startup ecosystem development program announced in October is funded by GO Virginia and represents a partnership between 757 Collab and Techstars.  Mickens-Dessaso’s mission is to enhance collaboration within the Hampton Roads startup community by hosting events, sharing best practices, and integrating members with Techstars’ global network. 

“It’s exciting to see an organization like Techstars investing energy and talent in Hampton Roads,” remarked Evans McMillion, Executive Director of 757 Accelerate. “The startup community here has been beating the drum for Hampton Roads for years, and it’s extremely validating to capture the attention of Techstars to support the continued growth of our entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

The Hampton Roads Ecosystem Development program is a strong signal that Techstars sees real opportunity in the region and is committed to helping founders thrive here. “We see tremendous potential for the region to be home to a new wave of successful companies and we’re excited to help the community through this program,” says Ian Hathaway, Techstars’ Senior Director, Ecosystem Development. “Under Aazia’s leadership, we have a credible, connected, and motivated grassroots organizer to focus on founders and serve the community on a day-to-day basis.” 

Mickens-Dessaso is not new to the Hampton Roads startup community. She was previously the co-founder of FreePing, a Hampton-based mobile messaging startup. Mickens-Dessaso has appeared on Shark Tank and was honored by the White House as an Emerging Global Entrepreneur.

“I learned first-hand how important it is to have a strong network of local founders and visionary mentors who believe in you when I was building FreePing,” said Mickens-Dessaso. “My mission as Executive Director of Ecosystem Development in Hampton Roads will be to embody the Techstars value of Give First. I look forward to paying forward the support I experienced by working with founders, investors, mentors, and community organizers to amplify the growth of our startup community and the startup companies in the region.

The first step of the project is for Mickens-Dessaso to connect 1-on-1 with 100 Hampton Roads founders in the next 100 days to learn about their business and share resources from the Techstars network. Interested entrepreneurs and community members can schedule time to meet with Mickens-Dessaso at

About Techstars

The Techstars worldwide network helps entrepreneurs succeed. Founded in 2006, Techstars began with three simple ideas — entrepreneurs create a better future for everyone, collaboration drives innovation, and great ideas can come from anywhere. Now we are on a mission to enable every person on the planet to contribute to, and benefit from, the success of entrepreneurs. In addition to operating accelerator programs and venture capital funds, we do this by connecting startups, investors, corporations, and cities to help build thriving startup communities. Techstars has invested in more than 2,300 companies and has a portfolio valued at more than $185B.

About GO Virginia

This project was funded in part by GO Virginia, a state-funded initiative administered by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) that strengthens and diversifies Virginia’s economy and fosters the creation of higher-wage jobs in strategic industries.