An Inside Look at the Successes and Struggles of the Inaugural Accelerator in Cape Town
2017 marked a significant milestone for Startupbootcamp (SBC), a global family of tech industry accelerators. The cohort launched its first ever Africa-based programme, attracting cream-of-the-crop talent with the potential to scale globally.
“In total, there were 32 corporate agreements, including pilots and proof-of-concepts, signed during the accelerator.” said Philip Kiracofe, co-MD of Startupbootcamp Cape Town.
“To sign 32 agreements is above average for any Startupbootcamp programme in the network. However, when compared to other first-time programmes, we are the top performing SBC programme. Even in very mature markets such as the US and Europe it generally takes 3 years for a programme to find its stride. We surpassed expectations in our very first year and this is unprecedented across the global Startupbootcamp footprint.”
Kiracofe adds that SBC Cape Town was unique because as much as they were teaching the startups, they were learning themselves.
“Being a startup ourselves, we were actually taking a huge risk. Our first year was the perfect illustration of the SBC methodology as we took this entire programme from inception to launch day to Demo Day as a learning experiment.”
“We were literally living, breathing, eating and sleeping the guidelines we were teaching our startups every step of the way. We completely embrace what we teach here, and that is what set the 2017 Accelerator apart,” states Kiracofe.
To find the top-tier tech startup talent, the SBC Cape Town team hosted one day Fastrack events in cities across Europe, Middle East and Africa, including 8 countries on the continent.
“Being out on the continent was incredibly important,” comments Kiracofe, “This is the first time a programme like this is committing to visit the startups’ countries of origin, where their businesses are based, where they understand the issues their customers face and the cultural nuances.” he continues.
Kiracofe recounts one particular experience in Accra that truly stood out. A startup from nearby Togo made it through the application process and maximized his time at the FastTrack working with our industry mentors.
“During our follow-up, he shared that in order to participate, he’d travelled four hours on a bus, including a border crossing, a round-trip journey that cost him $140. During the FastTrack, we had discussed revenue with the startups, and that particular startup had generated $300 in most recent month. This meant that he had spent nearly 50% of his monthly revenue just to attend. Yet he made a point of telling us that it was totally worth it because it was the most valuable business feedback he’d received in his career. That was incredible validation,” adds Kiracofe.
“We want every startup to know that even if you don’t make it into the final Accelerator, our FastTrack events can provide incredible guidance and mentorship and can fundamentally shift a growing business. Long before the Accelerator starts, FastTrack participants can already start forging partnerships and connections with investors and corporate sponsors.”
When asked about the hurdles faced in 2017, Kiracofe acknowledges that being in its first year, the entire programme was a challenge from the get-go.
“As a first-time programme, we were learning on the fly,” says Kiracofe, “We are a startup, which means we were pulling together many elements at the last minute. It was both stressful and exciting and there were more than a few late nights and a couple of situations when we weren’t quite sure how it was going to work out.”
Having come out the other side, the executive team is looking forward to 2018 now that all systems are in place and there is clarity of vision.
“We learned a lot in year one, and we’ll get even better in year two. We’ve set a high expectation for year two but we managed well what we ultimately set out to do: We demonstrated to the SBC family and tech ecosystem looking at Africa that there is something very special happening here. And we can amplify the stories that originate here.”
“During the 2017 programme we were still figuring everything out which made it challenging and exhilarating,” continues Kiracofe.
“So much of what we did was brand-new to us as well as to the startups. As a result, the startups went on an emotional/psychological journey that was perhaps even more intense than the journey to scale their businesses.”
The Startupbootcamp Cape Town programme was unique in a great many ways.
“SBC has an international footprint and we have had first-time programmes elsewhere before, which is super helpful, but none of that prepared us for a programme of this scale – the Cape Town Accelerator,” comments Kiracofe.
“So much work went into this programme. We needed to hustle to get these 10 incredible startups to the table and ready to deliver. For any startup entering this business, there is an incredible amount of work that needs to be done in order to get them to that place. But with hard work and dedication from the SBC leadership team, mentors, sponsors and the startups – the end product was unbelievable.”
“Expectations for the programme were incredibly high. We would once again like to acknowledge our sponsors for making possible a first-of-its-kind for the continent. We knew that we could let them down, and I believe we exceeded their expectations,” he concludes.