In March our new Kickstart International Program from German Accelerator took off to take startups on their journey to international success. Time to sit down with Dr. Christopher Smolka, Program Director, and see how things have lifted off, which startups had the chance to kickstart their internationalization and what challenges there were on the launch pad.
Hi Christopher, in March the Kickstart International Program was officially launched after three successful pilots. From your perspective as Mission Control: How was the start?
The first two batches took place in May and June/July and we had a fabulous start with really committed startups that worked hard and made great progress throughout the program. Thanks to our international network of mentors and speakers from the US, Asia and Germany as well as our GA Alumni, who shared their vast experience, we could give the participants invaluable hands-on insights regarding their individual needs and priorities with internationalization. From my personal perspective: It was a great joy to work with the startups and seeing them making their next steps in their expansion journey. And who knows? Maybe we’ll see them again in other German Accelerator programs!
Which startups did participate and why?
Preparation for internationalization is key, but that takes time. It is important that founders and startups build a scalable business model and do their homework on topics like: business model, product, team, finding and potential target markets. If they do it right from the very beginning, they are able to establish a competitive advantage and don’t lose time and money in the process. As this applies to every early-stage startup, our program is open to all industries. We had seed startups that successfully prepared the building blocks of internationalization and of a scalable business (incl. strategic intent to internationalize, beachhead market overseas, product-market fit overseas). But also startups up to post-series A participated. They were able to move forward with their individual strategic or operational topics to better execute their internationalization e.g. securing first pilot projects or first customers in the U.S. and Asia. Participants came from all over Germany including e.g. Berlin, Leipzig, Hamburg, Munich, Karlsruhe and Cologne. Their solutions ranged from work management & collaboration tools, fitnesstech and FMCG over logistics & supply chain, fintech and edtech to industry 4.0, travel e-commerce and healthtech.
Houston we have a problem – what main challenge did you face?
Quite a challenge – but one that we enjoy very much – is the constant adaptation of the program to the individual goals and needs of the participating startups. Our aspiration is a tailor-made setup for each participant to tackle specific topics and offer sustainable solutions. For example: when you have a balanced number of B2B versus B2Cstartups, it is important for certain sessions to have B2B and B2C breakouts to discuss topics in an even more customized way. Another example is how we frame the sessions: we need to consider what the startups are actually interested in for the particular group and individual mentor sessions and shape these accordingly. We do this through onboarding and deep-dive calls and questionnaires before and during the program so that we and our speakers and mentors can understand and consider the startups’ individual interests and priorities. And of course, there is the obvious challenge of creating such a program in a virtual setup. Face-to-face interaction is very valuable especially in the mentoring sessions and we put a lot of thought into how to make up for it.
Major Tom to Ground Control: What was the feedback of the participating companies?
There is a statement from one of the startups that sums it up very nicely: “The program showed us opportunities and risks in the various regions and revealed to us where we still have to re-adjust: Don’t exclude regions because you think they are too small, sometimes smaller markets can be just the right setting for you.” In this way, we could help the startups set the right focus for their international expansion journey. And we are glad that the participants would recommend the program to other startups as well: “My advice to other startups is: If you are certain that you want to address a new market outside of Europe, start with the Kickstart program and then decide whether to take the path of the U.S. or Asia. It will be worth your time!”
What are the next steps?
We are on our way to the launch pad again! We currently have the applications open for our upcoming batches in September (deadline August 17) and October (deadline September 2). While the September batch is open to all industries like the batches before, the one in October focuses exclusively on Life Sciences startups. I am looking forward to meeting our new participants and designing their special flight route to internationalization!
Thanks you for sharing your experience!
Do you want to kickstart your startup’s internationalization? Then apply for the next batch of Kickstart International!