When you are starting a company, especially a bootstrapped one, every cent counts and all efforts have to be lean. So how to tell what event is worth the admission price? One way would be to look at its track record and the Pioneers Festival has already established a pretty good one. “For example, from last year’s Pioneers we know from 40 startups that got an investment and the number that we don’t know is definitely higher,” the festival’s co-founder Andreas Tschas boasted. A number that serves well to highlight Tschas’s focus on connections: “this is what we are working on now – to make this matchmaking so that you meet the people you want to meet and get value out of it.”
Winners in more than spirit
Looking at the eight startups that made it through all the hoops of the Pioneers startup challenge in the last year for a chance to pitch at the big festival stage, one thing is evident – they have made big strides since October. The winner – Croatian Oradian – announced just a few days ago that have secured an undisclosed amount of seed funding to continue scaling. Three of their backers, Credo Ventures, Playfair Capital and Day One Capital were present at the Festival.
The winners in 2013 also saw some great follow-up. “At Pioneers Festival we made the amazing connection to Y Combinator,” BellaBeat founder and COO Urska Srsen said in an interview for Pioneers after the win. Less than a year later, the company closed a $4.5M seed round.
But in a way, everyone wins, because after the grueling, and no doubt intimidating, sessions with some of the top investors out there the companies end up with not just great contacts but a fine-tuned pitch that leads them to further victories. One such example is Bulgarian Transmetrics, whose ranking among the finalists in the 2013 Pioneers Festival was capped with a 30,000 euros win at he EIT ICT Labs Startup Activation contest just over a month later.
The Cisco EIR winners; Photo credit: Pioneers Festival
Apart from just being the place where investors meet startups, the festival of the future is also the place to learn exciting news and announce more funding opportunities.
Cisco’s decision to bring their Entrepreneurs in Residence incubation programme to Europe was first announced at the 2014 edition of the festival with six startups walking away with strategic funding, coworking space, and strategic relationships with the right teams within Cisco. “For the startups, it is essential to have a great network and the Pioneers cooperation is the right way to source our programme,” Martin Bittner, Director, Business Development Cisco EIR EMEAR said at the time of the launch. “Pioneers was instrumental to our matchmaking and partnering with Cisco, which helped provide further validation to our VC (3TS & Empower Capital), thus accelerating our funding process,” Boyan Benev, CMO of MammothDB, one of the winners of the challenge, commented for inventures. The fact that big corporates have started opening up more and more to the festival cannot be overlooked as George Cotsikis, CEO of Mentat Innovations, another of Cisco Innovation Challenge winner pointed out: “We thought this is a unique programme for startups because Cisco, together with Pioneers, have the right idea what startups need: access to customers and access to very large companies, which are very hard to get.”
Speaking of announcements and matchmaking, the festival’s organizers are promising another exciting announcement this year, besides the fact that they will now partner with SpeedInvest to offer direct investments on a smaller scale, they have one more ace up their sleeve that they will reveal at the festival.
A different kind of ROI
Even if you only got a small booth, [with] Pioneers internal communication system you can reach out to dozens of media outlets…
Marcell Pal, CEO of Brewie.
While funding is the top issue for most startups at the beginning, market testing and client feedback cannot be overlooked either. The Pioneers Showroom offers startups just that and former exhibitors are more than happy with their return on ticket investment. “Pioneers Showroom gave us a lot of feedback on our pivot back then. We met a very influential CIO of an Austrian energy agency who since then is supporting us,” Dietmar Gombotz, CEO of collaboration and integration service SPHARES commented. “If you are a small startup and not sure how to hit the spotlight, Pioneers is the perfect place for you. Even if you only got a small booth or you are just an attendee using Pioneers internal communication system you can reach out to dozens of media outlets including top newspapers like The Washington Post,” Marcell Pal, CEO of Brewie said, convinced that the international media coverage helped double the waiting list for their crowdfunding campaign right after the festival. “It is great place to take the first step from being small to becoming big. Top investors, huge media outlets, great shows; everything at one place. It is amazing how much your business can benefit in just two days.”
In the end, however, it all comes down to being able to make the most of an introduction, a chance meeting, or an opportunity and there are far more ways than one to do so. Take the people who joined the Pioneers team as employees to learn the ropes and then went on to found their own companies, for example. “MySugr, Codeship, Robo,” Andreas Tschas named a few. “I think last time we counted 16 startups founded by former employees.” “We always used to joke that we are a post-graduate entrepreneurs programme,” Pioneers cofounder Jürgen Furian added.