Chalmers Innovation celebrates its 15th anniversary this year and has over the last two years radically changed the way they support startups. Based on the experience of working with around 125 companies and 200 projects, where the top five companies are valued at approximately one billion SEK, they are now increasing the pace extensively. I asked Per Sahlin, business coach, about the organization’s startup camp.
Today there are 11 employees at Chalmers Innovation and four of them are dedicated business coaches. Per describes:
”Chalmers Innovation is a full service player including capital, office space and business support for startups. Since we own the buildings we can create flexible office space and our seed fund of 170 MSEK has made it possible to support a wide range of entrepreneurs. We also have an extensive network of mentors, supportive tools and partnerships. We always try new stuff and last year, for example, we sent three of our youngest companies to San Francisco to get feedback on their business model.”
We always try new stuff and last year, for example, we sent three of our youngest companies to San Francisco to get feedback on their business model
The organization targets tech-based startups with the potential to build something big and successful. Entrepreneurs do not have to stem from Chalmers and the majority of them do not.
Chalmers Innovation Startup Camp
The first step in the process is the Chalmers Innovation Startup Camp that spans over a ten week period:
”We are proud of all the successful startups we helped during the years, like Immunicum (listed on First North with a market cap of around 500 MSEK), System OK (sold to a NASDAQ-listed company) and Vehco (a 166 MSEK revenue in 2012) etc. But about 2 years ago we felt that our processes needed to be remade and we created the startup camp.”
By using new processes, Chalmers Innovation has gone from working with about six to ten startups per year to 25-35. Per explains that the organization receives around 50 to 80 applications to each camp, which takes place two times a year:
”To participate in the camp is free of charge and after ten weeks we choose the best teams and offer them an investment. There is usually a great mix of startups participating, from first-time entrepreneurs with an idea on paper to serial entrepreneurs that have launched a product on the market. We have two criteria: the team must possess the necessary skills about the technology and be very driven.”
We have two criteria: the team must possess the necessary skills about the technology and be very driven
Inspiration, networking, mentoring and hard work
The set-up looks like this: After ten weeks have passed there is a demo day. The focus is on three aspects, namely customer, product and pitch. Every team aims to validate that their business idea solves a substantial problem and to also show how they can do it as easy as possible. Chalmers Innovation uses a number of Lean Startup tools and processes. During the camp the participants get inspiration from or work with serial entrepreneurs for one to two days a week. Among those entrepreneurs last fall was, for example, Johan Attby (Tific, Fishbrain), Anders Hallin (Duego, Saltside, Skype etc.) Alexander Hars (Let’s Deal, System OK) and David Brudö (Destly, Remente, Fyndiq etc.).
During the 2013 Startup Camp Chalmers Innovation chose 14 ideas out of 50 applicants. Eleven of these survived the ten weeks test. An interesting fact is that 50 percent of these startups got revenues from customers before the demo day.
An interesting fact is that 50 percent of these startups got revenues from customers before the demo day.
I asked Per if Chalmers Innovation has gone through any difficulties and this is what he had to say:
”It is always hard to find the right focus and to deliver an outstanding product, but we have iterated four times now and keep on improving the camp every time. There is a lot left to do but we look forward to it. Another problem is of course to get the message across to some potential investors, since we skipped the business plans.”
There are several advantages to do a shorter program like this in a class format. According to Per it produces a clearer dedication, competition and collaboration as well as a clearer focus. One of the most valuable aspects is the fact that there are 15 startups in the same rooms struggling with the same things and pushing each other forward:
”We wanted to counter-balance the business plans, which are not suitable for the majority of startups in the earliest stage. Many entrepreneurs put too much time and effort into doing desktop analyses of the market instead of meeting with and understanding their customers. We looked at many of the US-based accelerators but realized that we needed to do our own version, since the ecosystem is so different.”
Chalmers Innovation just started reshaping their offering, and will continue to launch and try new activities in the coming years.
”Our objective is to support entrepreneurs in building successful and valuable companies, where we can get a good return on investment and then invest further. I think we will see fantastic startups during the coming years in Gothenburg, but not only ours since the startup community is growing fast and is getting really interesting.”