Staking on Unique: ITMO’s Startup Accelerator Revamps its Approach
This September, ITMO University’s business accelerator Future Technologies has switched to a new working format. Instead of banking on short-term acceleration programs that didn’t fully cater to each individual startup’s distinctive features and needs, FT’s novel plan involves experts and startup teams interacting on a one-on-one basis. There are some changes to the participation rules, too; any project big or small can now apply for the Future Technologies’ resident status and work its way up from developing product prototypes to upscaling the company.
About Future Technologies
Future Technologies (FT) is a business accelerator which provides all kinds of hi-tech and IT startups with continuous support. Based on the Customer Development approach, the accelerator supports startups’ growth by drawing up bespoke business development plans in collaboration with the participating teams. The acceleration program’s experts help promising businesses expand and enter their goal markets faster and with more impact.
Launched in April of 2015, the accelerator initially operated in a format traditional for its American and European counterparts, says Andrey Myaskov, head of Future Technologies. Once in six months, FT’s coordinators held an open call for startups; chosen projects’ teams received expert training and reported on their results at a pitch-session during the final Demo Day, as exemplified by a Demo Day that was hosted as part of St. Petersburg International Innovation Forum (SPIIF).
According to Andrey Myaskov, this working format proved to be highly effective, helping the FT experts train five intakes of more than 80 teams which attracted over 100 million roubles in investments upon graduation. But despite such impressive results, the changing circumstances called for a new and improved model with a more personalized working approach, adds FT’s head.
“We have done some minor tweaks here and there over the course of the past three years of the program’s existence, but the developed hindsight brought us to the realization that we have to switch to a new format of the continuous residency to enhance our accelerator’s efficiency. Even though some projects may revolve around a similar topic, each startup is unique, so it was difficult to work with everyone simultaneously,” comments Andrey Myaskov. “We used to have one general program that included a set of lectures and workshops and lasted for three to four months. But we couldn’t help but notice that part of these workshops was of no use to some startup teams, for example, industrial design was understandingly only relevant to industry-related projects, while other teams needed other skills to help them grow.”
How the accelerator will work now
Under the earlier model, all of the accelerator’s classes were compulsory for each and every participant regardless of their specialization. The improved Future Technologies residency gives teams the opportunity to pick the courses they find the most suitable for their current goals and stage of development. Startup novices who are only just starting to sell their products online may want to learn more about landings and SEO optimization, while those interested in boosting their team or be more successful in negotiations with partners can enroll in courses on team-development and negotiation techniques.
Apart from introducing course flexibility, the new model implies that a project team can become a Future Technologies resident at any moment they like, without being limited by the open calls’ timelines.
“We kept all of the opportunities we offered before; what changed is the way we interact with participants: we moved to a more personal approach founded on the best practices we developed over the years. Before we operated on an intake basis, now we work with teams as and when they approach us. From the very get-go, we try to provide startups with timely feedback to let them know where we want to go with their project,” says the expert.
All residents of the revamped accelerator have access to the following opportunities:
- Traction meetings
Traction meetings are at the heart of the Future Technologies’ new format. Participants, program coordinators and experts meet to work on a common vision of a project’s future, monitor its development, and deal with arising problems. The experts set two-week action plans and follow up on the previous work, identifying aspects to improve upon. The feedback provided by teams allow the accelerator staff to keep track of the project’s dynamics and adjust goals if needed.
- Individual consultations with experts
Depending on their needs, Future Technologies’ residents can get an expert opinion regarding all aspects of their business. Apart from the business accelerator staff, external experts are also invited to take part in such meetings. Andrey Myaskov explains that because of their highly targeted approach, individual advisory sessions can help startupers notice problems earlier and thus solve them faster. For instance, you want your company to have a good website but don’t know how to make it effective. In this case, you can meet with an expert to discuss this issue.
Other topics that participants can talk over with the accelerator’s staff include key business tools and strategies, industry analytics and management, and marketing and communications, among others.
Business crash courses and expert sessions
Business crash courses present a great opportunity to boost your knowledge in one or another field. Several courses have already been launched including the ones on teambuilding and SEO tools.
Profile events and partners’ services
Apart from business courses and expert sessions, Future Technologies organizes various networking events and pitch sessions aimed at creating a platform for residents to exchange knowledge, share experience, communicate with experts, establish useful contacts and attract new participants.
To facilitate communication between residents, they are invited to participate in the accelerator’s coworking network.
How to become a Future Technologies resident?
To become a resident, fill in the application form here (in Russian). In the application form, you have to leave your contacts and provide a short description of your project. After your application is submitted, FT experts will set up the first meeting to discuss the project’s prospects. However, you don’t necessarily have to have a thought-over project to participate in the accelerator; an idea is enough to join the program, as experts will help you understand if your project will be successful or not and adjust your business model.
This business acceleration is aimed first of all at ITMO residents, but if you’re not one, you still can apply. For example, if you are a researcher and you’ve got an idea but don’t know how to bring it to the market. Or you’re working on your own product but have no idea how to find investors. After joining the accelerator each resident is assigned a mentor.
“The Future Technologies accelerator plays a very important role in the structure of ITMO's Entrepreneurship Center: it is responsible for staff and students’ business projects development, and it also helps students acquire entrepreneurial skills that may come in handy in their future career. But the accelerator’s main focus lies in on training highly-qualified entrepreneurs,” comments Elena Gavrilova, head of ITMO’s Entrepreneurship Development Department.