With the 8th edition of the GTEC Startup Academy quickly approaching, I’ve been thinking deeply about the key learnings our team took away over the years. And I’m ready to conclude that any incubator or accelerator of startups needs to factor flexibility into their programs if they want to protect the best interest of founders.
Since its inception, our mission with the GTEC Startup Academy has been to make it possible to everyone with a good idea to find top guidance and access to funding. We’ve created what’s probably the only accelerator in Germany fully operated by founders. That means, most of our team and network are founders themselves, which sets us apart from most organisations in this field: almost all run their program with salaried employees. Not that there is something wrong with that, but we do believe that creating a place and academy by founders for founders give us a better chance to understand their challenges and be of real help.
With that in mind, we made sure over the years that the around 130 mentors we have gathered not only represent the who is who of the Berlin startup ecosystem, but also they know what it means to risk it all and lead a project on their own. Nearly all of them are CEOs, investors and experts who have been where our accelerator participants are at the moment. We’ve steered away from consultants, agencies or corporate managers without a founding experience. Best examples of our mentors’ profile would be Constanze Buchheim, Stephan Schambach and Gero Decker, just to name a few.
Our model has also made a point of staying independent – even if GTEC aims to bring together startups, corporations and academia, we are independent and we guide and fund startups from any industry. We believe that remaining agnostic about the field our participants want to tackle helps us to propel the best ideas, not the ones that fit a specific agenda or framework. Same with the background of our participants: we work hard to not to fall for the prototype of startup founder. We want to champion minds regardless of what they studied or worked in the past. Even if they never heard about the startup lingo or have no idea how venture capital works – we’re here to help them navigate a new world and open the doors needed.
The founders of Seniovo, Forexfix, Chatshopper and Medizintechnikmarkt are proof that challenging the status quo when choosing whose ideas to support is a paying bet. Their companies, with the support of GTEC, got additional funding from our network of mentors, are dominant players in their respective fields, entered innovative markets and they made all that happen coming from very diverse backgrounds.
Still, after experiencing how enriching for our startups this setup is, we are surprised when we take a look at the landscape of accelerators and incubators around Europe and the US. What we see is lots of rules and impositions, many driven by the will to build a big brand, to get the funding from a big partner and what’s best for the investors. Being our focus the founders, we’ve dropped most of the conventionalities of deadlines and program structures in order to cater to the best entrepreneurs of today and the future. Our deal involves a commitment for 2 days a week, offers free co-working space during 3 months, a network of top mentors, investors and corporate partners plus the chance of 25k investment at the end of the program in exchange of 4% equity.
After 3 years and working with over 65 startup founders, we truly believe our model based on flexibility and openness is the right one for entrepreneurs and their projects for several reasons:
#1 ¬ The future of companies is already flexible, open and digital: new companies are focused on automatisation, with remote teams, decentralised and not constrained by the traditional structures. If we want our founders to disrupt industries and think outside the box, we feel it’s counterproductive to put them inside one and churn startups as if they were a mass produced products. We offer our help all year long, 24/7 and untied to politics.
#2 ¬ Successful startups come from diverse founders. Not everyone can drop everything to work on their ideas full time during months, so in order to support entrepreneurs from all social and economical backgrounds, we need to offer flexibility. With our requirement of committing only 2 days a week to your startup, we open the door to those entrepreneurs who have a solid idea but have no family support, just became a parent or for whatever reason cannot quit their job just yet. We also make sure to keep our doors open to anyone who never heard about VC rounds, never went to University, don’t hold an MBA, spent their career only in Academia or Corporations and many other cases outside of the founder prototype.
#3 ¬ Starting and building your own company is a process, it doesn’t happen from one day to another. After going through the GTEC Startup Academy, we still host our startups through the GTEC Lab for additional months. We give startups the pushes they need during the long marathon that’s kickstarting and creating a successful companies with true impact and chances to make it over decades. Our alumni remain in our minds and receive continuous support – we are there for the long run, not until Demo Day.
#4 ¬ Fields are hyped in cycles, and many times the oldest problems find the best solutions through tech. Being open in regards of industries and not following what’s hot each season helps to truly fund the best ideas. If we went for constricting verticals to rule our decisions, we’d end up choosing from a more limited pool and funnelling funds to the best startups in the one trending field, not the best solution to a local or global problem that passes our filters and standards.
#5¬ Opening our space and having flexible deadlines makes it easier to scout all year long the whole Europe and bring knowledge to our startups from everywhere in the world. Even if we operate in Berlin, we make sure to check out what’s going on in countries, cities and startup hubs still under the radar or far far away. We have been bringing our philosophy everywhere we could, and we hosted and welcomed startups based continents apart. No matter if Kiev, West Africa, Hong Kong and beyond.
#6 ¬ Making the funding phase the last part of our program gives entrepreneurs the chance to try their ideas without burning money or experiencing a damning crash. We allow our founders to fail and drop out at any point during their time at the GTEC Startup Academy, taking away the pressure while they learn, pitch and create a network through us. We don’t foster instant financial rewarding but give a taste of the normal path when founding your company: the money comes after building the grounds and scaling up, not before things start.
#7 ¬ Having the GTEC Startup Academy as a running program in combination with the GTEC Lab provides constant lessons to us and to the entrepreneurs who participate. It allows us to remain above all a learning center for startups, academia and corporates – and gives us the due time to create connections between them all, close deals and set up founders for success.
With the next batch of GTEC Startup Academy coming up on 14th of September, the team and I are excited about fostering the entrepreneurial minds of the future: but always keeping our focus on the founders and the people who are there to support their innovations all along the way, not only for a few sprints. We find that our model gives founders the best platform for long running success and a more realistic approach on what starting up actually means.
If all that I just exposed fits your mindset and how you want to create and run your company, we invite you to apply to the next cycle of GTEC Startup Academy – and also to meet us personally if you want to get a taste of us before you make the jump. Just leave a comment and I’ll personally follow up!
One last thing before you do so: as the Managing Director of GTEC, I’m notorious for giving the most honest and sometimes harshest advice out there – I built my reputation on that. I make sure our network is as helpful as I am, and also as sincere and honest. And I assure you that’s the kind of partners and mentors you want to have when starting in this path – the ones that keep the best interest for you and for your project in mind.