The concept of a startup accelerator is by now quite a common one. ICT startups have been getting up to speed – and beyond – through intensive mentorship programmes, pitching sessions, business modeling and prototyping. But so how about hardware for a change? Founded in June 2013, Estonian accelerator Buildit announces a call for its first class and prepares to begin investing in startups dedicated to producing hardware. The deadline for submissions is 25 February.
Having recently published a feature about some of the most successful hardware-related CEE Kickstarter campaigns from the past year and highlighted some of the most promising projects originating from Slovenia, we thought the opening of a hardware-specific accelerator for the CEE region sounded like an intriguing idea. We therefore caught up with CEO Aleksander Tonnisson to find out more about the team’s plans.
Founding hardware startups is hardly a new concept, as a number of CEE-based teams managed to hundreds of thousands of dollars through crowdfunding within just the past year. The number of successfully raised campaigns is perhaps proof enough that there is a considerable level of demand for hardware projects, and the launch of Buildit only indicates that such ventures do not necessarily need to crowdfund to find financial backing.
Buildit, which is currently funded both by Enterprise Estonia and its co-founders, was established to provide a structured programme for building hardware startups in Europe and Russia. “We strongly believe that the hardware is the next big thing,” Tonnisson told inventures.eu. “Our mission is to develop a hardware culture in Estonia and in the startup community in general by bringing experienced mentors here to work with our startups and do a seminar for a wider audience.”
With the country having already churned out companies like Skype, Fortumo, TransferWise, and GrabCAD, Buildit aims to create a strong domestic hardware culture. Tonnisson said it’s among their priorities to raise the awareness of potential investors, and they have already taken steps in this direction – the Buildit team helps organise a hardware panel at the Latitude59 conference, and is planning to open the first publically accessible techshop in the country. In order to be able to invest in future startups, the founders of Buildit are currently raising a fund of 500.000 euros, which includes contributions from each member.
Although Buildit is open to applications from around the globe, the accelerator is particularly interested in mentoring startups from neighbouring countries. “We accept startups globally, but are more focused on European and Russian startups,” said Tonnisson. “We find that it’s just more realistic to get the attention from the nearby regions, as opposed to across the ocean.” Buildit expects to begin with eight teams, with more than half of participating teams to come from outside Estonia, Tonnisson added.
What’s in it for you?
The accelerator offers 5.000 euros per team member, with a 15.000-euro limit, in exchange for 5-10% equity. The three-month programme brings in at least one foreign mentor per week and Estonian mentors on a more frequent basis. The mentors brought in are chosen for their specific expertise, and “teams can expect working with people who have succeeded doing a hardware startup, some who have done their exit, people who have industry background and experience working in bigger corporations,” said Tonnisson.
Following the mentoring period, teams will participate in a typical Demo Day and connect with potential investors. Participating teams will receive free access to tools and prototyping facilities and a free, open office space to carry out their work.
Again, the deadline to apply is 25 February – don’t miss it!