It’s been more than 2 years since my last post. A lot has happened since then. Most importantly, our family has welcomed a new member, Peter, who was born on 25 March 2013. I may talk more about my family in the future. I am finishing my PhD now and I plan to defend the thesis by the end of 2013. However, I decided to start blogging about entrepreneurship. During the last year, I have discovered a new passion – everything related to business, start-ups, and good business ideas.
In February, we incorporated our bioinformatics start-up, Genialis. Our business idea, to offer a cloud-based gene recommendation product to life scientists, started to emerge in December last year. In the beginning of April, we applied to TechPeaks, “The People Accelerator”, a six-month non-equity accelerator program located in Trento, Italy. It’s main idea is that it’s much more people-oriented than project-oriented. We started off in the end of May and last week, after the 3rd pitching round, we joined the club of 7 other teams who got funded a 25,000 EUR grant.
Before we came to Trento, I thought we’d benefit from TechPeaks by:
- Getting help from various skilled and experienced mentors
- Completing our team with skilled programmers and business guys
- Getting help from the TechPeaks team to link us to potential customers in the area
- Getting the 25,000 EUR non-equity grant
After a month and a half, I can evaluate a bit my expectations and put down some lessons learned which might be of use to others considering joining an accelerator.
1. Mentors: they are a great opportunity because they are ready to listen to you “by default”. Being a participant in accelerator itself provides you with a certain level of credibility, which you can increase or lose. Of course not all mentors will give you useful advice for your specific business, but they will give you useful feedback in most cases, and, more importantly, they are usually more than willing to link you with the parts of their social network that is somehow related to your business. This expectation has been met so far.
2. Team: getting new members into an existing team is very hard on itself. It is even harder when you only have two weeks to do it (if the team loses a member after it gets funded, it loses the funding*). It is something completely different from building a team from scratch. We had a rather unpleasant experience in this aspect, as our freshly-enlarged team fell apart right after the first pitching round. I believe it was mostly our fault as we were not careful enough to be as transparent as possible. We failed in putting ourselves in our new teammates shoes and explaining them all the important details of our business idea history, differentiator, relationships etc. I think there’s a reason why most of the teams that already existed before coming to TechPeaks, stayed the same. This expectation has certainly not been (and probably won’t be) met.
3. Network: we are already leveraging our “TechPeaker” status to get introduced to relevant people in the area: potential customers, domain experts, potential partners etc. It looks like this expectation will be met.
4. Grant: even though we still don’t know what will be the conditions for spending the grant, we are happy we got it. Obviously, this expectation was met.
But wait, there’s more.
5. TechPeakers: I could not imagine before what a powerful and friendly crowd of people will the TechPeakers be. I really enjoy coming to the office every day and meet other teams and individuals and discussing various matters. I am astonished to see how these guys are eager to help. I really feel they all took Evan Nisselson’s advice seriously when he said something like this in one of his first talks at TechPeaks: “If you don’t help at least one of your colleagues every day, you’re failing them and yourself”. I believe it is such networks of people, which add the most value to accelerators like TechPeaks. Thanks guys!
6. Be humble: It’s really hard to be humble and open to critiques when you think you have already spent too much time on fixing something and when you don’t see a clear way how to improve it further. You start to believe people providing the critique are malevolent or not smart, which is a dangerous thing. Our team was disappointed after not getting funded in the first round. That’s OK. But we were angry and shocked when we didn’t get funded in the second round. We have been considering all sorts of scenarios, even leaving the accelerator right away. In the end we realized it was us who didn’t really try hard enough to understand and implement the feedback we got from the jury. It was a painful but very important process for us.
That’s it for now. I’ll try to write the next post before 2015, I promise.
*Update 2013-07-25: One of the funded teams lost a member after it got funded and they kept the money. So apparently there can be exceptions.