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New Validator startup programme exceeds all expectations

Publication Date: Jun 02, 2019

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Five teams selected to join the rest of the YouStartIT cohort in SeptemberBorg Alex 552461M.jpg

The main mission of the MITA Innovation Hub (MIH) is to cultivate the Maltese startup ecosystem by organising events, workshops and programmes targeted at incentivising tech entrepreneurship.

Early this year the MIH introduced a new pilot startup programme, branded Validator.  The purpose of the Validator Programme, as the name suggests, is to help teams with a tech idea to answer important questions such as: Does my idea make business sense? What and whose problem does it solve? Is it feasible? Is there a market for it? How viable is it? What are the methodologies to assess the competitive landscape? In essence, test the business idea to assess if it is worth pursuing before going to the next stage: that of building a Minimum Viable Product, i.e. a basic prototype to use to get customer feedback and further optimise the product prior to launch.

An analysis of over 500 applications received for the YouStartIT accelerator since inception, has revealed that there are many good teams with good ideas for a tech business. However, very little effort is spent on validating it through thorough market research and analysis of the customer segment being targeted. The latter are skills that technical people generally do not possess unless they have already been through a startup programme.

61332071_2247242158675659_4274797240519753728_o mt.jpgAfter approximately one month of preparations, applications for the Validator Programme opened during the last week of February.   The programme was not intended to provide any funding to the teams, but to impart the skills and the right mindset to adopt before kickstarting a startup project. The best four teams who, in the opinion of the judging team, successfully validated their tech startup project, would be automatically fast-tracked into the fifth edition of YouStartIT accelerator, scheduled to begin on 2 September 2019.

Startups had until Sunday 17th March 2019 to send in their applications and by the deadline, 21 applications were submitted. After having reviewed and interviewed the eligible applicants, the MIH shortlisted 15 startup teams, of which 13 made it to the programme.  

The programme, which spread over five weeks, adopted a flipped classroom approach and embraced mostly Lean Startup methodologies, together with other techniques designed to help size and analyse the market, ask the right questions, formulate a business model, and so on.  In-house mentor at the MIH, Jarek Bialek, would provide all the necessary learning inputs and then put together a number of recommended assignments and guidelines for the teams to follow. Based on which, feedback would be provided both on a one-to-one basis, and discussed collectively as a cohort. This learning-by-doing approach meant that during the weekly two-hour sessions, the startups discussed the outcome of their tasks together as a group to learn from each other’s outcome.  Blockchain guru and gaming expert, Alex Pfeiffer assisted in the mentoring from an emerging technology perspective.

The programme ended with a full day bootcamp during which the teams were asked to produce a plan of their startup project (if selected) to follow the YouStartIT accelerator from September to December. A great emphasis was placed on delivering a quality 5-minute pitch, since this is so important for an entrepreneur. Delivered the next day of the bootcamp, the final pitch to be selected represents a culmination of the programme. It is an intense 5-minute presentation used to showcase the work done in polishing and perfecting each team’s tech business proposition. Beaming with satisfaction, Alex Borg, manager of the MIH, had this to say: “The outcome of the programme exceeded our expectations. All the teams worked extremely hard in validating their proposed startup projects. On top of the research and the number crunching – it was so inspiring to watch the founders put in so much passion and dedication. We’ll definitely be ploughing back these learnings to continue improving and perfecting our programme, which is very much in our style of always engaging in ongoing experimentation.”

The final pitching session, held on Saturday 11th May at the MITA Data Centre, was a closed event, attended by all the teams.  Out of the 13 startups who participated in the Validator Programme, 12 made it to the pitching session, since one team decided to step aside following their validation results.

All teams delivered excellent pitches and after an unprecedentedly long deliberation, the judges chose five teams to be accelerated by the MIH.  The chosen teams are Celuna, Reap, Riktig, SECURA and Smart Athletes, all of them featuring emerging technologies in their project.  Three startups have a business idea based on Blockchain, one on AI and one on AR.   The fact that one extra team was selected instead of the original plan of choosing four, is testimony to the hard and good work produced.

Zoe Gatt, co-founder of Reap, one of the selected startups, remarked that “I never expected to come this far. I had no previous experience in business strategy. Yet, in just five weeks, I became the CEO of a tech startup. The training helped us strategise our business model, identify revenue streams, and create scaling opportunities, none of which were possible without Alex Pfeiffer, Jarek Bialek, and Alex Borg’s mentoring.”