We started with 11 teams from 9 countries and finished with 8 teams from 7 countries outperforming themselves in front of the jury. All online. Many thanks to TRAngels with Hale and Namik, Elif for Atanova Ventures, Can for String Ventures and Christoph for MotionLab.Berlin for spending their Saturday afternoon with us and giving very useful feedback. The teams were: I am Heuristic (India), Cha Paper (Türkiye), Innovia Digital (Northern Cyprus), Night Out (India), Be Boucha (Ukraine), Caddie Engineering (Bulgaria) and Justice 4.0 (South Africa). Yes we had winners of course but for me, all 8 teams did a great job. The jury selected Caddie Engineering as the winner, followed by Night Out and Cha Paper. Congratz to all 8 of them. We had one team from Zambia with a very bad internet connection who gave up, 1underperforming team that I asked to stop the program and 1 team who had internal issues and didn’t pitch. All normal things except for the Zambia team that I hope we can welcome in our next cohort.
The 1-month long program, completely online, went very smooth even without Zoom, with some great guest workshops by Yasemin, Eren and Branka. Many thanks, my friends. In the program, I focused very hard on the problem statement, the solution and the market with our own canvas, based on Design Thinking. This part is crucial for me as all the rest is just filling in the blanks and do your research and surveys in order to validate. We were working with very early stage to established but struggling startup teams with a very good interaction. We just used Google Drive and Whatsapp and to my surprise that worked very good. Email was a problem as well as to reach out to the teams, the mentors and the partners. So I needed to check through Whatsapp or my other email account if people received and understood the emails. I used Hubspot which worked fine from my end but always ended up in promotion and spam. Quite frustrating.
Introducing the mentors was crucial. Most teams were still struggling, like the business model and, indeed, product/market fit. I now the mentors personal and I also knew their value and oh boy, did they deliver! I assigned mentors based on the needs of the teams. The needs were determined by the sheet they filled out with their perceived desires combined with my own assessment. The only challenge is time. Mentors and teams only had less than 2 weeks to find a common schedule and have at least 2 sessions. The feedback from the teams were beyond good and we are now waiting for all the surveys, mentor and team side, to come in and see the complete results.
The pitch is still a hard nut to crack, and we ended up with a 5th week focusing on just the pitch. Mentors helped and I did 101 sessions with all teams. My experience is here that an intense and direct but constructive feedback is needed and brings out the best of the teams. Early-stage still gives me the most satisfaction as the impact on the teams is wonderful to see evolving from understanding to execution. No doubt with the 8 teams I have built a wonderful relation and in the end, the teams also among themselves albeit way more limited than the face to face programs.
And it is not over. After the pitching, the teams prepare a 1-minute pitch video and final deck that I will share with more investors and after that, they all come into the Alumni program. Mentorship for life, monthly meetups and much more are awaiting them.
Was it worth it knowing that it was for free? Hell yeah! And I will do it again, including some minor upgrades, it will be version 1.1. I can see more guest workshops next to the 8 mandatory workshops, and a bit more focus on MVP. So it can actually be a bit more concentrated with the same region: East Europe, Balkans, Africa and Centra Asia. Hour differences were no problem, neither was language. I can also see a bigger role for the partners, who are a blessing already now and try to get them closer to the program, especially in tracking down startup teams in their region.
Next time you ask yourself, can I bootstrap an Accelerator Program? I know the answer but I also have to find now a business model around all this effort while staying loyal to my principle, no equity, warrants or options, from the teams. I believe in the combination sponsoring, give back for big companies, combined with a small fee to ensure the commitment. Although I have to admit the teams were ALL committed. Bootstrapping has always been my thing. No one to answer too and fully responsible for my actions. It’s my nature I guess.
I have to thank too many people, and I already mentioned all their names in previous posts. Two people I want to mention extra. Zoe Leung, our volunteer, based in Vancouver, Canada and of course my wife and partner Neşen Yücel reminding me of the song “Stand by your man” from Tammy Wynette as Neşen stands there always with a smile and helping hands. Never without her.