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accelerator of the month by vestbee.com
22 February 2024·9 min read

Martyna Konys

Program Manager, Vestbee

Vestbee Accelerator Of The Month — StartSmart CEE

Accelerator Strategy Overview

  • Geography: worldwide with the focus on CEE, Germany, UK, France and Israel
  • Preferred industries: we are sector agnostic and each edition we focus on different prefered industries 
  • Company stage: early stage for #ReThink track and growth stage for #PilotReady track
  • Product stage: at least MVP
  • Product type: B2B / B2C / B2B2C
  • Revenues: not required

Program Details

  • Duration: 3-6 months, depending on the track.
  • Participation fee: no participation fee
  • Equity Investment: we are a non-equity acceleration program
  • Grant: up to €93,000 (PLN 400,000)
  • N of batches per year (+ months when you collect applications): spring & autumn editions
  • No. of startups in a cohort: max. 25

Q&A with (Łukasz Owczarek, Head of Growth)

What are the 5 most important things you look for in a startup applying to your acceleration program?

In selecting startups for our acceleration program, we prioritize:

  • Strong team: A dedicated and capable team is essential for navigating the challenges of a growing and innovative startup, especially when it comes to working with a corporate partner.
  • Innovative idea: We seek startups with unique and innovative solutions that address significant market needs.
  • Growth potential: Startups with scalability and potential for rapid growth are particularly appealing. By rapid growth, we don't only mean the Polish market but also international. 
  • Clear vision: Clarity of vision and a well-defined roadmap are indicators of a startup's readiness for our program.
  • Alignment with program tracks: We assess how well the startup fits into our program tracks, ensuring mutual benefit and effective support.

What startups should take into account before applying to your acceleration program?

  • Alignment with program goals and tracks: Ensure that your objectives align with what our program offers and that you fit into one of our acceleration tracks based on your level of maturity.
  • Commitment to growth: Be prepared to fully commit to the program and leverage the resources and mentorship provided to accelerate your growth.
  • Openness to feedback: Embrace feedback and be willing to iterate on your business model and strategy based on insights gained during the program.
  • Understanding of program requirements: Familiarize yourself with the application process, timeline, and any specific criteria or prerequisites for participation.
  • Research and preparation: Take the time to research our program, understand our values, and tailor your application to demonstrate how you can benefit from and contribute to the accelerator. When doing your research, focus especially on the technologies we and our corporate partners are looking for. Answering one of the key challenges will definitely skyrocket your application.

Can you share some of the red flags that can disqualify a startup from joining your accelerator?

  • Lack of clear direction or vision for the business
  • Weak team dynamics or inadequate skills within the founding team
  • Lack of innovation 
  • Poor quality of startup application or not meeting formal requirements 
  • Incompatibility with our program's focus or tracks
  • Limited scalability or growth potential
  • Inability to commit time and resources to the program
  • Resistance to feedback or mentorship

What are the most valuable skills that selected startups can develop thanks to your program, especially when it comes to #ReThink Academy?

  • Business model refinement and validation
  • Product development and iteration based on market feedback
  • Market research and customer validation
  • Pitching and communication skills for investor meetings and networking
  • Strategic planning and execution
  • Relationship building with partners, mentors, and investors
  • Adaptability and resilience in navigating the challenges of entrepreneurship

How does your accelerator support portfolio companies during and after the program?

During our acceleration program, we provide comprehensive support tailored to the specific needs of startups, with a focus on two distinct tracks depending on the maturity of participants: #PilotReady and #ReThink.

#PilotReady Track:

In the #PilotReady track, we concentrate on facilitating tangible outcomes for startups by collaborating closely with corporate partners to implement pilot projects. Our support includes:

  • Strategic Partnerships: We leverage our extensive network of corporate partners to identify strategic opportunities for startups to pilot their solutions in real-world environments.
  • Financial Support: Selected startups receive non-equity grants of up to €93,000 (PLN 400,000)to conduct proof of concept projects with corporate partners. This financial support helps cover expenses associated with pilot implementation, ensuring startups can focus on delivering value and validating their solutions.
  • Mentorship and Guidance: Our experienced mentors provide guidance and support throughout the pilot process, offering insights into navigating corporate partnerships, refining value propositions, and overcoming implementation challenges.
  • Validation and Feedback: Startups benefit from direct feedback and validation from corporate partners, helping them refine their products or services to better meet market needs and customer expectations.
  • Access to Resources: We facilitate access to resources and expertise, including technical assistance, regulatory guidance, and market insights, to help startups navigate the complexities of pilot implementation successfully.

#Rethink Track:

In the #Rethink track, we focus on supporting startups with innovative solutions and significant social impact. Our support includes:

  • CVC Young Innovator Award: Startups with the highest social impact and key team member under 30 years of age have the opportunity to compete for the CVC Young Innovator Award, with a prize of over €27,000 (PLN 120,000). This award recognizes and rewards startups that demonstrate exceptional social responsibility and innovation.
  • Innovation Development: We help startups refine their innovative ideas, validate their business models, and accelerate their growth trajectory through tailored mentorship and coaching.
  • Market Expansion: Our program provides startups with the tools, resources, and connections needed to expand into new markets and scale their operations effectively.
  • Access to Funding: Beyond non-equity grants, startups in the #Rethink track have access to additional funding opportunities, including venture capital networks, angel investors, and government grants.
  • Strategic Guidance: Our mentors offer strategic guidance and industry insights to help startups navigate market challenges, identify growth opportunities, and make informed decisions.
  • Networking and Collaboration: We facilitate networking opportunities with industry leaders, potential partners, and investors, fostering collaboration and knowledge exchange within our ecosystem.

Post-Program Support:

After the program, we continue to support portfolio companies through our Alumni Club. We remain committed to nurturing the long-term success and growth of our startups, providing guidance, resources, and connections to help them thrive in the competitive business landscape.

What are the best-performing companies in your portfolio?

Some of the best-performing companies in our portfolio include Zowie, Lerta, XTPL, CUX, and Saps Accesories. These companies have demonstrated strong growth, innovation, and impact within their respective industries.

What key lessons have you learned from projects that didn’t work out the way you expected?

In our journey, we've embraced the reality that in the realm of innovation and breakthrough technologies, unexpected challenges are par for the course. Whether it's pilot projects or ambitious ventures, there's always a chance of setbacks, delays, or unforeseen outcomes. What's crucial is our response to these situations.

From projects that didn't unfold as anticipated, we've learned the vital importance of resilience and adaptability. We recognize that failure is not the end but rather an opportunity for growth and improvement. Our role is to help both corporates and startups navigate these uncertainties, leveraging expectations and guiding teams towards success. It's about fostering a culture of learning, agility, and perseverance, ensuring that setbacks become stepping stones to greater achievements.

Why, in your opinion, accelerators are becoming more popular nowadays?

  • Increasing entrepreneurship culture: Growing interest in entrepreneurship and innovation has led to more individuals seeking support and resources to launch and grow their ventures.
  • Access to networks and resources: Accelerators offer startups access to mentorship, funding, and networks that can significantly accelerate their growth and increase their chances of success.
  • Validation and credibility: Being accepted into a reputable accelerator program can validate a startup's concept and enhance its credibility in the eyes of investors, customers, and partners.
  • Rapid pace of change: In today's fast-paced business environment, startups often need to move quickly to stay ahead of the competition. Accelerators provide the structure and support needed to iterate and adapt rapidly.

What are the hottest markets you currently look at as an accelerator, and where do you see the biggest hype?

As an accelerator but also as a team, we closely monitor and actively engage with markets that are at the forefront of innovation and poised for significant growth. Currently, we are particularly focused on several key areas that we believe will shape the future of entrepreneurship and technology:

  • Artificial Intelligence: AI continues to revolutionize industries across the board, from healthcare and finance to manufacturing and retail. We see tremendous potential in startups leveraging AI technologies to drive efficiency, improve decision-making, and unlock new opportunities for innovation.
  • Sustainability and Cleantech: The urgent need to address climate change and environmental sustainability has propelled the rapid growth of the sustainability and cleantech sectors. We are enthusiastic about supporting startups developing solutions in renewable energy, waste management, sustainable agriculture, circular economy initiatives, and other areas that promote environmental stewardship and resource efficiency.
  • Deeptech Solutions: With our strong roots in deep tech, we remain committed to supporting startups that push the boundaries of technological innovation. Deep tech solutions, which often involve cutting-edge scientific research and engineering breakthroughs, have the potential to address some of the most pressing challenges facing humanity, from healthcare and cybersecurity to space exploration and beyond.

While these areas represent where we see the greatest potential for impact and innovation, we recognize that entrepreneurship is dynamic and multifaceted. Therefore, we maintain an open-minded approach and remain adaptable to emerging trends and opportunities. Our goal is to provide a supportive ecosystem where startups across various sectors can thrive and drive positive change in their respective industries and beyond.

Do you have any predictions about the key trends that will shape the European accelerator scene in the near future?

  • Increased focus on impact-driven entrepreneurship: There is growing recognition of the importance of social and environmental impact, leading to more accelerators focusing on supporting startups with a mission-driven approach.
  • Emphasis on diversity and inclusion: Accelerators are likely to place greater emphasis on diversity and inclusion, recognizing the value of diverse perspectives and experiences in driving innovation and success.
  • Continued collaboration and partnership: We expect to see more collaboration and partnership between accelerators, corporates, governments, and other ecosystem players to provide holistic support to startups and foster innovation at scale.
  • Integration of emerging technologies: Accelerators will increasingly focus on startups leveraging emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, and quantum computing to address pressing challenges and unlock new opportunities in various industries.

Related Posts:

Vestbee Accelerator Of The Month - PortXL (by Martyna Konys, Program Manager, Vestbee)

Startup Accelerator Of The Month: Baltic Sandbox Ventures (by Martyna Konys, Program Manager, Vestbee)

Startup Accelerator Of The Month: Culttech (by Martyna Konys, Program Manager, Vestbee)

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