Cristobal Alonso: Diversity and peer support amplifies acceleration

Whenever we are asked, what are the main criteria for startup recruitment in a batch, we say – product, market and the team. But at the end of the day, it is always about people! Accelerator batch is just like a family, but in our case – we can chose the “siblings”.

We have just said goodbye to our Batch 8. And what a batch! 11 teams, 9 nationalities. First time ever we got Romanian, Armenian and Lithuanian teams. And lucky for us – we did a good judgment on the Indian team over Skype calls in the recruitment phase.

Although luck always plays a role in getting things right in selection, we put great emphasis on group interaction and observing our prospects as personalities during our finals – 3 day event with selected top 25 teams. Yes, some teams complain, asking why can’t we do it like other accelerators via Skype. But we strongly believe that nothing beats seeing the group together. Another important factor in setting up the batch is diversity. Apart from nationality mix, we also had a mix of different age groups and entrepreneurial maturity levels in Batch 8. We try combining some co-founders near their late 30s with the more usual youngsters (25+). The age combination proved to be a blessing having the most “veterans” really being strong contributors to the group self enhancing capabilities. Having also some second time founders and with experience in other accelerators, such as The Alchemist in the US, was a great human addition.

It was interesting to hear our COO Maris saying on the goodbye breakfast that other SWG batches have been more on going out together and hitting the scene, but this group was more coming together at “home”. Be it dinners or drinks at homes of some of the teams, especially, Indians and Romanians, or watching some movies or doing late-night pitch trainings right at the office.

You might wonder, why is this relevant for acceleration, if at the end of the day what you need is not a nice batch but return of investment via success of the particular startups?

Well it is clear that the management team and mentors quality matters big time for managing to accelerate the teams, but when you have on top of that 10 other startups that can both help you and push you forward suddenly the acceleration capabilities are amplified dramatically.

Some of that happens naturally, but there are also ways to foster peer-to-peer support and human interaction starting from well thought-through seating of teams in the large co-working, organizing peer-to-peer experience exchange circles, asking other teams to give input on pitch training sessions. But the best part is bringing the whole batch somewhere deep in the woods for a 24h team-building. It’s not as scary as it sounds, as the teambuilding challenges are usually rather intellectual and topped up with some sauna action, hot tub or half-naked jumping in a lake. BANG! And you get a totally different energy at the office after this. Along with some internal “fuck-up nights”, dinner party with myself cooking and Armenian vodka vs tequila challenges, you bond, you make friendships and the group starts to live it’s own life. One of our batch 7 graduates said that getting long lasting friendships was among top 3 benefits from SWG and he never saw that coming, as you usually think of your startup and business challenges, not the human factor, when coming to an accelerator.

In one of our last joint dinners in Vienna, during Pioneers festival, where we brought 8 of the startups to talk to several investors, suddenly the topic of how to change some of our countries came into the discussion. It’s great to think that experience in Tallinn and at SWG, has made some of our founders want to go home and make a change in their countries, where they already are at the forefront of local ecosystems. Extremely inspiring!

I could go on and on about it, but I want to finish with saying – keep an eye on these boys and girls from Batch 8, I predict we will see many of them on SWG hall of fame in 5-7 years from now! It was a pleasure sharing 3 months with you, guys!