Orange Sputnik continues to track the most relevant and exciting startup accelerators and incubators in Europe. Today, we want to tell you about an unusual startup program from Estonia, Tallinn – Elevator Startup Labs.
Many startup programs offer not only training, mentoring, networking, the opportunity to get funding and participate in demo days but are also focused on specific industries, such as digital education and green technologies, to offer participants targeted resources and experience. In the case of Elevator Startup Labs, their primary area of interest is advertising, media technology, e-commerce, and entertainment software.
We were lucky to talk to the graduates of this program and find out their opinion on some aspects of participation in Elevator. Let’s start!
What do startups think about the Elevator Startup Labs accelerator?
Styleshark: “For us, it was mainly to get more connections within a startup ecosystem, become more visible on the market, and gain more attention from potential co-founders and investors.”
Co-founder – Taago Kilter
idea: mobile shopping app that helps users find new clothing items that match their unique style and favorite clothes
Some companies, manufacturers, and fashion retailers, will not survive the current crisis, while others will find themselves in a winning position. Much will depend on the readiness of the fashion business for a full-scale digital transformation.
Even though the digital revolution in the fashion industry began years ago, the current crisis has given impetus to more extensive changes, which led to the emergence of new innovative solutions and significant transformation in customer behavior, particularly to a massive transition to long-term sustainability.
Taago Kilter, the Co-founder of the Styleshark startup, confirmed our thoughts and shared with us the idea and purpose of their business: “Styleshark is a mobile shopping app that helps people find new clothing items that match their unique style. Our solution gives users multiple outfit suggestions built around their favorite clothing items.” He continued and shared with us their primary goal: “Styleshark aims to help people save time and reduce buying unwanted clothes.”
Startup ecosystem as the reason to join Elevator
Business experts argue that it’s not enough to have an excellent or revolutionary product/service to grow and scale your startup. Suppose you want your business to be successful. In that case, you need to create networks that will allow you to find the right contacts with investors, potential clients, industry experts, and talented employees. Incubators and accelerators are an ecosystem that provides unlimited access to networking.
But let’s find out the opinion of our interviewee, and in particular, why they decided to become participants of the Elevator startup program.
“For us, it was mainly to get more connections within a startup ecosystem, become more visible on the market, and gain more attention from potential co-founders and investors,” started Taago. He continued and shared the reason why even experienced entrepreneurs may need to join a startup program: “My co-founder and I already had enough knowledge on how to launch a startup and attract investors. However, we lacked the necessary team to execute our idea. So, Elevator became a place for us where we got to know some excellent experts in software development.”
Non-standard selection criteria
Each startup program has unique features, both in terms of the training program and participation. It’s not like applying for a regular job where you submit the same resume and cover letter to dozens of positions. Each accelerator and incubator has its selection principles. We asked Taago to share with us how they got to the Elevator.
“It was rather an easy and simple process,” our interviewee surprised us. As it turned out, the Elevator startup program had quite non-standard selection criteria. Taago said the following: “They were mainly interested in our idea and team than the stage of the development, I mean product-market-fit, marketing strategy and customers/users.”
The change of the focus
So, the idea can be the primary selection criterion, or? We asked Taago what stage of development Styleshark was when they decided to participate in the program.
“We were at an early stage,” said the Co-founder of Styleshark. He also admitted the following: “Even if we didn’t get very far after the program, the participation in the program helped us to change our focus and get better feedback from our clients.”
After discussing the reason and conditions for participating in the startup program, we asked Taago to briefly share his opinion on Elevator’s mentoring and training part.
“Although the mentoring part was good because my co-founder and I already had experience in pitching, and we knew the basic aspects of launching a startup, it wasn’t relevant for us, personally,” said our interviewee. Nevertheless, he noticed the following: “However, if you are a first-time founder, the Elevator program will help you to take your first steps.”
After discussing the mentoring part, we wondered if the Styleshark startup received any benefits from participating in the training program.
Taago highlighted the following: “We had a three-day sprint to which they invited external experts from a software development company, and they helped us to create the demo version and the prototype of our service.”
One reason to join an incubator or accelerator is experience, not yours, but business and industry leaders who often act as mentors or guest experts. The advice or skill of an entrepreneur who has built a successful business can be invaluable when developing a startup in the same or a similar industry. And don’t forget, the experience of successful startup leaders is designed to help you avoid the most common mistakes in business.
The main reason to participate in a startup program
One of the main reasons to participate in an accelerator or incubator is the opportunity to receive funding provided by the program or through acquaintance with investors. We asked the Сo-founder of Styleshark on this matter.
“They provided funding for a few startups, but we were not the lucky ones,” admitted our interviewee. He shared some details with us: “Actually, it wasn’t Elevator itself. Investors who fund the accelerator got interested in some startups and offered them financial help.”
What about the participation cost? “It’s fully free of charge,” stated Taago.
A global vision
Another question that interested us throughout the interview was the possibility of foreign startups participating in the Elevator program.
“Elevator is quite international,” noticed the Co-founder of Styleshark. On reflection, he clarified: “We had guys from Ukraine, Belarus, Pakistan, Russia. Mostly from Eastern Europe and Asia.”
The pros and cons
If you’re thinking about joining a startup program, it’s essential to consider the advantages and disadvantages before signing up. To give our audience a fuller overview, we always ask our interviewees about the pros and cons they identified during their participation in the program. Here is what Taago, the Co-founder of the Styleshark startup, shared with us.
“As for the advantages, they have granted us access to their open-space and meeting rooms. We used them to meet with our investors and customers, and this was beneficial for us,” said our interviewee. True, the ability to use the office space for free during participation allows you to reduce costs on your startup’s launch.
However, Taago continued and highlighted the following info: “But, if we talk about cons in general, they were too much focused on pitching, but we needed more information on the business, like how to find and engage customers, raise capital, and revenue, create a marketing strategy and so on.”
At the end of our conversation with the Сo-founder of the Styleshark startup, we decided to find out if Taago is ready to participate in the Elevator startup program again.
“Definitely, yes,” stated our interviewee.
Styleshark: “We joined the program because they are focused on adtech, and our solution and business were involved in advertisement technology, as well.”
Co-founder – Ergo Kruve
idea: mobile shopping app that helps users find new clothing items that match their unique style and favorite clothes
A fashion platform for a sustainable wardrobe
We have already introduced you to the activities of the Styleshark startup. Still, to give you a more detailed overview, we would like to share the opinion of another co-founder and direct participant of the program – Ergo Kruve. But before moving on to questions about the program, we asked our interviewee for his definition of Styleshark activities.
“Basically, we are a fashion platform that aims to help people create a sustainable wardrobe,” stated the Co-founder of Styleshark. He added and shared their primary targets: “We want to give users the ability to find better new clothing items that match with their existing clothes and make shopping faster and more sustainable.”
Participation in an accelerator or incubator suitable for your startup can take your company to the next level and even more. Finding a worthwhile and relevant option will open the doors to new opportunities, more income and profits, and sometimes a new strategy and business model.
We decided to clarify Ergo’s opinion and how the company has changed after participating in the Elevator program.
“We joined the program because they are focused on adtech, and our solution and business was involved in advertisement technology, as well,” said our interviewee.
He continued his answer and shared with us the changes they went through: “At first, we wanted to make a B2B solution and sell it to fashion retailers. But during the program, we decided to change our focus to B2C. However, we are still in contact with retailers.”
Stage of the development
Having discussed the main directions of the startup’s activities and the reasons for their participation in Elevator, it became interesting to determine what stage of development a startup should be to participate in the program.
“All startups were at different stages,” stated Ergo. He explained: “Some companies were in a pre-idea stage, like us, some of them had already done some research, and others had already a business plan.”
One of the most significant benefits of startup programs is the opportunity to learn from a team of experienced executives or industry experts who are willing to mentor young entrepreneurs. Not only do mentors share their experiences and advice, but they help startups minimize costly mistakes, which accelerates growth and helps them find the right path.
Here’s what Ergo told us about the mentoring and training program at Elevator: “The program lasted for six months. We didn’t have an individual mentor. Once or twice a week, we had a one-to-one meeting.”
We asked our interviewee if all the mentors were from Estonia. Ergo answered: “Some of them were from Estonia, others were from the US and Europe.”
On reflection, he also shared with us the main benefits they got from the educational part: “The main benefit was the day with experts from the software development company who helped us a lot with our solution. Also, we received free access to the Elevator office space for another six months after we graduated from the program.”
For early-stage startups, one of the best ways to get funded and set out on the path towards growth and success is to join an incubator or acceleration program. Finding investors is critical for new startups, and many programs offer it either as a grant or an investment in return for equity. But what about the Elevator startup program? We asked Ergo.
“In some cases, they invest themselves, but they don’t help you to find investors, in general,” he gave us a short but comprehensive answer.
After discussing the educational part and financing possibilities, we, of course, became interested to know if the Elevator can provide you with networking and the opportunity to meet potential clients.
“If the startup is aligned with customers from your potential target group, then yes, they can introduce you,” stated the Co-founder of Styleshark. However, he noticed the following: “But in our case, it was complicated, as the fashion industry in Estonia is not big enough.”
One more thing
At the end of our conversation with Ergo Kruve, the Co-founder of the Styleshark startup, we asked what advice he could give to the Elevator startup program as the alumni of this incubator.
“We are not the first-time founders, and we know the basics. So, I would prefer them to focus not only on the fundamentals of startup development,” answered our interviewee.
The end of the 1st part.