What Have We Learned Running Our Acceleration Program Fully Online in the Past 5 years?

The startup programs have always been very diverse with solutions designed to support different types of business. Some of these programs are designed specifically for different stages of the development of a startup. The acceleration programs are one of the most commonly requested services by entrepreneurs and they have proven to have a great impact on business growth. In fact, in its 2016 accelerator report, the fundraising management platform Gust found more than 10,000 accelerators worldwide. To date, there is no other organisation that has been encouraged to identify the total number worldwide.

The acceleration programs can be divided into those that are run face-to-face, which allow entrepreneurs to meet in a physical space at the same time and those that are carried out regardless of physical barriers, the time zone, the thousands of kilometres of distance between people or even complex situations (such as those we have been experiencing in the last weeks).

As we know, the COVID-19 outbreak has altered our lives in all aspects, and the world’s most prestigious accelerators have not been unaware of these changes. Many of the events and programs for entrepreneurs worldwide have had to adapt their content and make it 100% suitable for virtual delivery. Some of us attended the 500 Startups or Y Combinator virtual Demo Day in the past weeks, for example. Y Combinator also mentioned that it may make its Summer 2020 accelerator program entirely virtual. Event Sequoia India, which runs a rapid scaleup program, Surge, in India and Southeast Asia, is going virtual.

At Seedstars we aren’t immune either, so we re-imagined our global SeedstarsSummit and made it into an entirely virtual event, open to the community. We also found ourselves running a Virtual Hackathon in Egypt, and we have developed an initiative #SeedstarsCares where entrepreneurs can find a survival guide for startups.

With all of the above-mentioned, ecosystem facilitators who now want to explore the benefits of online education should take into account the four learnings that we have identified when structuring and executing fully online programs for 5 years.

Online Education

E-learning or online education is a trend that has developed over the last 30 years. It was not until 1996 that the term e-learning came to be used, and from that year until now we have witnessed its evolution.

There are several main events that have marked the evolution of e-learning: the creation of tools for web courses (LMS), the birth of b-learning (blended learning), the rise of blogs, the use of websites for teaching expanded (the web 2.0), the mobile-learning (adapt the content of e-learning to mobile devices), the rise of the apps, and the industrialisation of learning through MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course).

Currently, e-learning has a promising future and the market is in full growth. Already in 2015 e-learning reached revenues of $107 billion, and it is predicted that by 2025 the figure will triple and reach $325 billion. South America is expected to be the 4th fastest-growing region for online schools with expectations to generate revenues of more than $ 3 billion by 2023.

Why is there a growing demand for online teaching?

(i) The fact that students have to move to an institution is a barrier to the traditional education model (face-to-face). E-learning allows you to overcome these obstacles easily.

(ii) There is an exponential growth of tools and digital resources available. This is favoured by the Open Source movement, a term used for freely developed and distributed software.

(iii) There are pedagogical methods of e-learning (such as autonomous learning) that complement the existing methodologies.

Types of Startup Programs: What Seedstars have Developed so Far

If you search for acceleration programs online you will find many opportunities, and surprisingly many of those will be for face-to-face programs. However, today’s entrepreneurs seem to be more interested in online education because of its cost and time-saving advantages.

graph/programs

The programs we have developed, and that have the modality of “Virtual School”, are Acceleration Programs, Growth Program, Investment Readiness Program, and Power-up Program. The main differences between these programs are the profile of the participating entrepreneurs, the stage of development in which their businesses are and the objectives they want to achieve through the program.

Acceleration Program

Acceleration Program is a program delivered to startups seeking a product/market fit. It is delivered by 2-3 in-house mentors and 10-15 external experts. The program maximises interactions, knowledge transfer and execution given the early-stage nature of the startups. The Acceleration program closes with a Demo Day.

Who is this program for? It is aimed at startups searching for Product/Market Fit.

What are the objectives? The objectives are to have a full review of the market, business model, team, product, tech or any other area, lead by de Seedstars team, have a validation of a product/market fit, have a fundraising setup, which includes a financial model, a deck, an investor list and a strategy to start raising funds, and have an expanded network of advisors, experts and partners.

Growth Program

It is a virtual three-month post-acceleration program focused on growth and it allows startups to stay close to their customers and teams. Formats include webinars and weekly growth mentoring delivered by 2-3 in-house mentors and 15-20 external experts.

Who is this program for? It is for entrepreneurs around the world who have already gone through acceleration programs and want to focus on growth.

What are the objectives? The objectives are to successfully implement a Growth Machine, maintain consistent growth, develop a series A fundraising set up and expand the network of advisors, experts, and partners.

Investment Readiness Program (IRP)

It is a cross-formats program helping startups save time and energy on the fundraising process. Run virtually through webinars, online training and online mentoring may include onsite meetings in our hubs, Seedspaces.

Who is this program for? It is for entrepreneurs around the world who are preparing to start raising funds.

What are the objectives? The objectives are to get to Investment Readiness faster, get set up to start fundraising and leverage the Seedstars’ network.

Power-up Program*

It is a 4-month program which boosts the growth. It is based on content, workshops, Q&A sessions with specialists, mentor support and investor mapping, as well as synergies and networking sessions through the SeedsBoard.

Who is this program for? It is for companies in Peru that want to enhance the growth of their business, with a local and regional approach.

What are the objectives? The objectives are to enhance knowledge in topics such as B2B sales, growth/expansion, digital marketing, and organisational culture.

Note*: This program was conceived as on-site but, given the current situation, we have managed to redesign it to a 100% virtual program.

“I thought the workshops were more in-depth than classical entrepreneurship classes we can have in Switzerland. The experience shared feels less academic and more “from the field”. The Control Tower is very well done and interesting. A good way to plan strategic and tactical actions. Short, middle and long term.” Participant of Mexico City Bootcamp, Nov 2017.

What Are the Results of the Programs?

Some of the results that we had in our programs, using our methodology, are:

  • We ran 4 batches of our Growth Program, accelerating 40 startups (in 2020 we are running our 5th batch).
  • The NPS of startups that would recommend the program is 83% (50% is considered a good result in the industry).
  • We ran over 200 boot camps for over 4,000 startups, NPS 73.8%.
  • In the Investment Readiness Program, the average evaluation score for our sessions and mentors is 4.5 out of 5.
  • 61% of startups raise follow-on funding after completing our programs (average between $300K-$1.2M).
  • We ran programs with corporate partners for vertical-specific acceleration (for e.g. energy, education, mobility).

“The biggest value-added was the constant support from the Growth Mentors to every question and necessity. The methodology helped us organize better and understand better what we are pursuing.” Carlos Jordan, Ultracasas – #1 property marketplace in Bolivia. Batch 1.

These programs are successful due to the trust we create with entrepreneurs, whom, in many cases, we get to know thanks to previous activities and events in which they participate, the network of mentors and experts that we involve in the sessions and the methodology we use in the programs.

Charlie Graham-Brown, CIO of Seedstars explains:

“Onsite acceleration is fine in ecosystems with a critical mass of ventures. But if you have a batch of startups all from different countries there is no point extracting them from their customer base for three months. They need to be on the ground, with their team and close to their customers. To make ‘virtual’ work there has to be a large element of trust created with the participants. We do this through a series of events – local events, regional events, boot camps and Global Summit. By doing this, the participants know us and the value we can bring. We also have other techniques such as always using video chat and tranching the disbursements. From what I hear, participation rates are probably higher than most onsite programs!”

4 Learnings from Running Acceleration Programs fully Online

Keeping engagement through progress update group calls. Remote activities are often challenging, and work must be done to keep the energy and commitment of the entrepreneurs at the same level throughout the program.

One way to start the session well is to give people time to interact in the most natural way possible, for example by giving 5 or 10 minutes in the beginning to tell them how their day went (icebreaker).

There should be at least two team members moderating the session and collecting the questions. This way we guarantee that all questions are taken into account. Another way to maintain participation is to ask for a deliverable per week, and if there are doubts about it, it can be answered at the beginning of the next session.

online program screenshot

Splitting the participants into “breakout rooms” for small group discussions. We normally use Zoom for our calls, and its “breakout rooms” feature allows you to divide the meeting into up to 50 separate sessions. Assembling small groups allows you to better manage the discussion and ensure that everyone participates. With Zoom, you can also prevent interruptions by activating the mute function and promote participation with the “Raise Hand” function. Finally, you can open the microphone and video to the participants to encourage participation – Camera on!

Opportunity to tailor to every teams’ individual needs through a personalised mentoring and flexible calendar (you can use Calendly or a shared Google Calendar to choose the best times). Mentor startups in the growth process and provide personalised knowledge and advice; lean on your team to identify the needs of entrepreneurs and involve mentors and experts from your network. This will give great value to your program.

Feedback-driven adjustments based on the on-going startups’ feedback on all the formats. Find the right moment and be open to receiving feedback after each call, mentoring session, workshop or any other activity.

Bonus

What are the essential tools that we use?

The Investment Readiness Score. This is an integral part of the IRP and a proprietary tool developed by Seedstars. It is made up of 7 sections, Team, Talent, Advisors, Product & Market, Technology & Operations, Revenue & Growth, Financial & Performance Management, Legal & Admin and Fundraising.

The Investment Readiness Program prides itself for its flexibility and adaptability to the participants’ startups’ needs, which are carefully reviewed through the Investment Readiness Score. This tool allows us to understand which are the areas of a startup that are performing well and which are the ones that need to be worked on. Based on the results, we are able to provide startups with mentoring and support needed for them to succeed.

investment readiness score

The Growth Control Tower. It has been created in order to support entrepreneurs to prioritise their objectives, develop a data-oriented mindset and run experiments.

The control tower is introduced to the entrepreneurs during the first week of the program in the aim that all entrepreneurs participating get a clear win out of this first week and a methodology + tool to “bring back home”. Also, the control tower will become the core tool of their day to day and mentoring session (northern metrics measurement, experiment pipeline, etc).

Final Thoughts

The accelerator ecosystem is more diverse now than it was just a few years ago. This has made offering entrepreneurs useful and attractive content a huge challenge.

Whether you offer an on-site or virtual program, maintaining the commitment and energy of all entrepreneurs is crucial. This can be achieved in several ways: use update calls and give participants spaces to meet each other and share insights, experiences and problems, form small groups to discuss the topics of the workshops and encourage the participation of all, identify the needs of each company and ensure personal mentoring (it is always good to involve mentors from your network and experts), and always (seriously, always!) ask for feedback.

Now, given the global situation, the programs and services offered to entrepreneurs will have to be reinvented, which is a great opportunity to experiment (#InExperimentWeTrust) and find new ways to develop and run solutions that guarantee the continuity of the programs even in complex times.

Written by:
Yanira Caraza