Startup Wise Guys (SWG), the Estonian-founded international startup accelerator, is running startup programs online and finding ways to keep up the accelerator vibe online.
„At Startup Wise Guys – we are moving our current accelerator programs fully online, keeping the promise of investments to the newest teams, cutting some of our operations costs and activating the whole portfolio to join hands together and help each other pass this crisis together,“ SWG management team wrote to their portfolio founders in March, around the time when the Covid-19 crisis escalated.
The move to online wasn’t too dramatic for SWG, since they have been running an online pre-accelerator program for 18 months now. The organising team was well acquainted with the challenges managing 30+ teams online can bring. „In the short term yes, things have moved online, but that has not changed the business, we can still do many things online,“ said Dag Ainsoo, the CFO and general partner of SWG. He added that the move to online was rather fast and efficient.
Accelerator experience without the karaoke
„While tech and scheduling wasn’t much of a problem for us in terms of bringing the accelerator online, we see great challenge in bringing the ‘experience of an accelerator’ online,“ said Zane Bojare, head of marketing and communication, and added that the accelerator experience is enhanced by peer-to-peer communication.
According to Herty Tammo, the co-founder and general partner of SWG, moving accelerator activities online does not allow for human interaction, which is essential for boosting development in an accelerator program. „The small talk at coffee corners, sauna events and common karaoke nights help along teambuilding,“ said Tammo.
While the ‘CyberNorth 2’ program in Tallinn managed to run on-site for 2 weeks before the lockdown, the Riga program ‘SaaS Batch 18’ started fully online. The SWG team has done maximum effort to introduce a number of social gathering traditions online, starting off with an online Batch Launch party with 50+ people.
Several off-work online call options have been put in place – common coffee breaks, cyber pub quiz, Friday wine call and even shared screen movie nights.
The SWG team has come up with a set of house rules for online communication, requiring all participating teams to call in 10 minutes before workshops to mingle before the session starts. A fun challenge, in Bojare’s words, was to carry out weekly wrap-up and feedback sessions online, which normally include post-it notes in the office.
A big connecting factor during the on-site accelerator has been the weekly mentor dinners to allow international mentors to mingle with each other. „Now we have online dinner-parties scheduled, where mentors and our CEO can cook together and share recipes to substitute the live mentor dinners,“ Bojare explained.
Startups used to remote setup
Startups are certainly not overwhelmed by the situation and rather welcome the shift to online. "It is the year 2020. Our company works in a remote setup and develops digital products for customers worldwide. I actually think that acceleration programs should be done online! This is how the future looks like," commented Priit Pedastsaar, CEO of Idyllum Labs, startup from the current Tallinn CyberNorth 2 batch.
According to Ainsoo, startups are pivoting to take advantage of the new situation as more activities are rapidly moving online. In his words, most of the teams reacted very quickly to the crisis, creating new strategies to survive next 9-12 months in the situation of falling revenues and a more difficult fundraising environment. Early stage companies will always need funding and help in building their business. "As long as there are new companies created and technology keeps evolving, SWG will be running, online or not," Ainsoo concluded.
Note on the tools used for running the accelerator online: The online pre-accelerator program is run on Key2investors platform and for day-to-day communication, Slack is used. Zoom and Google hangouts are useful for video meetings. Teamretro.com and Miro platforms are being used for onine social gatherings.
With 185 investments in early stage startups, Startup Wise Guys is one of the most active investors in the broader CEE region and Nordics. Founded in 2012, SWG focuses on B2B SaaS, Fintech and Cybersecurity early stage startups as well as follow-on investments in accelerated startups. SWG’s portfolio has had 2 major exits (including Estonian VitalFields), with an overall startup survival and success rate above 77%.