As a matter of fact, many established startups including unicorns would have gone through an incubation/acceleration programme at some stage of their journey.
For example, Airbnb, which joined Y-Combinator back in 2008 when the co-founders realised they were running out of money; Twilio, a billion-dollar company which was accelerated by 500 Startups; and Khatabook, a 3-year-old Indian startup currently valued at US$300 million, which was part of Sequoia Capital’s Surge.
The role of an accelerator is to help startups become fully operational and sustainable. It doesn’t however mean these companies are not capable of running their business without any external help.
Having said that, being a part of an accelerator certainly offers many benefits to startups.
The idea of an accelerator is to provide founders with all the necessary resources that could polish them, so they don’t make avoidable mistakes. Some accelerators help startups by providing direct or indirect financial support while others offer a combination of non-financial and financial support.
But what goes into running a truly successful accelerator programme?
To answer this, e27 decided to interview Jonas Thürig, Head of F10 Singapore, a fintech-focused accelerator and incubator.
Launched in 2015 with the help of Swiss and Spanish stock exchanges, F10 has today expanded its programmes globally to Zurich, Singapore, Madrid and Barcelona.
What makes the organisation stand out is its strong network of influential banks, consultancies, insurers and tech firms. Consequently, all of its mentors hail from some of the largest corporates in the world, including Accenture, DBS, Deloitte, HSBC, NETS, Oracle, Standard Chartered and UBS.
With a strong footing in finance, F10 ultimately wants to help founders contribute towards the innovation of the fintech industry.
Here, Thürig discusses how F10’s programme is designed to help cultivate the fintech innovators of tomorrow.
Part 1: The selection
A multi-phased process
Before we actually start scouting for startups, we identify challenges and problem statements from our corporate partners. With this information, we then go out and discover startups.
We receive about 300 applications per batch. The F10 team then pre-selects the top 50 startups. We then invite them for a 30-minute pitching session before we share their details with our corporate partners.
From there, we select the top 25 companies and invite them for a 1-day speed dating event with corporates, after which we select the top 10 finalists that make it into the programme.
When we screen the startups and interview them, we look at various aspects: team composition and experience, the problem they are trying to solve, how big is the opportunity they are trying to address, technology, etc.
Our programme prefers a combination of two co-founders (rather than solo founders) with one being technically focused and the other business-focused, as this structure has proven to be more resilient.
Here are also some other qualities that the accelerator looks for in founders:
1. Coachability of the founders: Are they open to feedback and able to act on and apply inputs from experts? Do they listen and understand their clients’ needs?
2. Professional and educational experience of the founders: This is less about their working experience with big brands but more about understanding the industry relevance and skill sets they bring to the table.
3. Past successes and failures as founders: For instance, if they have previously worked in/built a startup, which is useful to understand how they tackled hurdles and triumphs.
4. Immediate network: The blunt reality of being an entrepreneur is that it is a life choice with an impact on an individual’s family and friends as well. Having a strong circle of support is essential to ensure they can manage the journey as a marathon, not as a sprint.
5. Startup solution: Once this is established we can see how that can be developed for commercialisation.
1. There is one Verticys (supply chain finance) in the current cohort, whose co-founder Volkmar Ahrens has two decades of experience in the supply chain industry.
He understands the pain points of the SMEs and their financing well. He also knows where the data sits within the MNCs and how this data can be utilised to develop its supply chain financing solution.
2. Another example is Data Lagoon. Its team members have a very strong track record of working with Israel’s airforce and an investment firm (as data analysts).
The solution Data Lagoon is building comes from their previous experiences and is now applied in the areas of family offices and smaller asset managers — who require alternative data for their investment decisions but are not able to afford to have a huge team of data scientists.
Part 2: Entering the programme
The first day
It’s in a way like your first day at school. The first day with F10 is very much about setting the scene and getting to know each other.
We start with an outlook on the overall programme. This is like a briefing session that includes a masterclass, a gist of the expected outputs from teams, ice breakers and speed dating elements to get everyone familiar with each other.
We then introduce teams to the corporate partners, as well as the mentor network to whom they present and tell them what they are looking for.
Requirements for successful graduation
In order to make sure the teams are ready for long-term partnerships and growth, we expect them to fulfil several criteria by the end of the programme:
1. Teams have developed an MVP
2. Teams have acquired a first client (minimum letter of intent)
3. Finances are stable to conduct PoC (proof of concept)
4. Teams are incorporated and have investor deck ready to be shared with investors
How F10 supports the startups
1. Ensuring readiness: We ensure that the teams have their prototypes tested and adjusted and are ready for launching the MVP.
2. For acquiring their first client: We host multiple networking events with industry experts and run workshops for improving the teams’ business development skills.
3. For a sufficient cash flow to stay afloat during PoCs and pilots: We get them to create a risk mitigation plan and get them ready to fundraise according to their timeline.
4. To execute projects with (potential) clients: We ensure the team has sufficient resources to set them up for the best opportunities to succeed.
5. To coach: During the programme, we cover common topics each startup founder and team needs to be aware of — from design thinking to interviewing, refining value proposition, prototyping, go-to-market strategy all the way to getting investor-ready and pitching their business idea to various stakeholders.
6. To accommodate individual needs and questions: We work with the startups as coaches and address their specific needs in our weekly coaching sessions. We also assign 1-on-1 mentors that are working with the founders on more specific topics, which can range from marketing and communication via product development to value proposition adjustment.
1. APIAX, a graduate of our Zurich programme, later joined our Singapore programme. We supported its APAC manager in launching its business in the city-state. By connecting them to our local corporate partners, the Singapore-based team was able to take the startup’s success to Asia.
2. From our second Zurich batch, the three co-founders of Vestr had left their full-time jobs to start the company. They were frustrated with the manual process of managing a specific structured product in the capital market and decided to build a more efficient web-based solution.
They demonstrated that their industry and educational background helped them get kickstarted. Today, their 30-member team gets together on a regular basis to get all their employees across the globe (offices in Switzerland, Germany, Ukraine, and Singapore) up to date about its product and client progress.
Part 3: Graduation
After the startups graduate from the 6-month-long programme, F10 additionally provides its batch of companies with the following support:
1. Continued promotion and introduction to existing and new corporate partners
2. Community sessions and expert sessions with mentors
3. Extended coaching on an ad-hoc basis
4. Cross-promotion of startup updates via F10’s channels and network
5. Opportunities for co-speaking and exhibitions with F10 at conferences
6. Speaker opportunities at alumni events
Image Credit: F10
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