Less known than accelerators and incubators, yet essential to the startup ecosystem, pre-accelerators are popping up around the globe as another way to engage young people into entrepreneurship. The first round of the pre-accelerator programme of Bulgarian Start It Smart seems to be in full swing, so inventures.eu talked to the organisation’s president and co-founder Petar Sharkov to find out more about the initiative.
Pre-accelerator vs. accelerator
In case you need to quickly brush up entrepreneurial lingo, pre-accelerators are the equivalent of a startup 101 course. They provide basic knowledge and concepts for anybody with an idea and the eagerness to make something out of it. The main goal of the programme is to prepare the environment and scale the idea, before startups even considering pitching it to investors.
According to Sharkov, the Start It Smart programme is different from accelerators in the way that, as a pre-accelerator, it does not fund the startups, nor does it take equity. “We are looking for ideas with or without traction – for us the most important thing are the people and their passion to make a change,” he said. While many pre-accelerators consist of lectures and seminars, Sharkov stressed the intensive aspect of the programme, and its focus on trainings and mentorship in the five main business areas: team, customer development, business model, product development, and funding.
The idea of undertaking an entrepreneurial journey seems to have resonated within the Bulgarian creative community. Out of the 24 teams that pitched their projects to a panel of investors, mentors and partners on 23 February, 14 made the cut: Dextrofobia Rooms, WizeCall, Praktrik, Jobzeeker, The Generation, 4Dimensional, Arduino, Fleezor, Playmore Project, Culture Responsive Code, Inox.bg, 7 Steps, SounDna and Digital Healthrecord.
Three main criteria were mandatory to qualify for the programme. The teams were required to have at least one member committed full-time to the project, to possess the technical skills to build the product or service, and to propose ideas with potential to disrupt a particular market segment. For its first edition, financed with the help of sponsors, the pre-accelerator attracted mostly web and mobile apps.
The perks of the programme
All the teams successfully enrolled in the programme now have access to a working space, almost 40 talks, workshop and trainings, balanced mentorship sessions with top Bulgarian entrepreneurs, perks and free services from partners Superhosting.bg, Telerik and Obecto, as well as visibility and support from the Start It Smart network. At the end of the ten weeks, participants will be expected to have gathered a complete team, to have developed a vision and a team culture, enhanced their problem-solving skills, launched MVP/beta and to be ready for an investment pitch.
“In other words, we expect from the startups to be ready to enter an accelerator programme, to start selling their own product without an investment or attract an angel investment,” said Sharkov.
Boosting the local startup scene
This initiative completes the project 3D Challenge, a mentor-led entrepreneurship tournament for innovative business ideas that Start it Smart has been running for the past four years. The purpose of the competition is to show how one idea can evolve within six months from just a concept to a sustainable and working business.
“The main reason that led us set up the programme was after observing the whole entrepreneurship ecosystem and realising that there is a gap between what accelerators and investors look for in a startup and the actual level of the startups, and with 3Challenge we were filling that gap,” added Sharkov.
Thanks to Nikola Yanev for pointing us to the story!