Everyday we receive questions from entrepreneurs wanting to participate in the Accelerator program. So we gathered the answers and listed the most frequent ones here:
A series of events were held on the rooftop of the USA Pavilion, at the James Beard American Restaurant in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II and at Copernico, the Silicon Valley styled innovation hub near the Milan Central Station. Please see “Events”.
What is a hackathon?
A hackathon is a gathering of capable development teams that, during a short period of time (in this case 36 hours), develop a new solution to a given problem. In this case the hackathon was about developing solutions for Internet of Things and Big Data. The hackathon ran from June 20-21 at Talent Garden in Milan.
What separates you from a ”normal” accelerator?
The quick answer is: ”Unique Context”. That answer also gives rise to another set of questions regarding how this context is unique.
First of all, this was the first time that the Universal Expo, held every five years, focused uniquely on the enormous issue on how to feed humanity in a healthy and sustainable way. If food is your interest and you like the global context, this was the ONLY chance. The next Expo will be about something else.
Second, the food system needs to be fixed. A lot is good, but a lot of it is in desperate need of improvement or fundamental change. People scout for change agents and since everyone who is anything in food hovers around the Expo, chances were good for them to come across new ideas.
Third, the food system is in its early days when it comes to adopting new technologies and business models. The Expo has been a fantastic opportunity of participating and showcasing ideas at a crucial moment in history. Everyone is looking for the processes and solutions that point to the future.
Fourth, the USA came to the Expo with the intent of not only exhibiting what was done already, but to proactively showcase how the food system could go from here, with methods developed in the US tech sector that have changed industry after industry. This leadership was brought to the Expo for the first time.
Fifth, knowledge. The Expo was a completely unique gathering of knowledgeable individuals and many of them came to mentor in the Accelerator.
Sixth, networks. Be it in the form of investors, experts, industry or academics, a network is what is going to make businesses succeed. Do you think there is a better place on Earth to build networks in the food sector? No, we don’t either.
Becoming a part of the Accelerator meant that businesses were selected as a direction pointing to the future. The Expo and USA Pavilion context meant a unique opportunity to show what that direction was capable of.
What we were looking for?
If we knew that we would have gone straight for those entrepreneurs. One of the best parts of running an accelerator is being surprised by great new ideas. That being said, we of course had ideas on which direction to look. We gathered a few of those in this blogpost.
What did the structure of the program look like?
This accelerator program was all geared towards participating companies being able to maximize the opportunities of the Expo and USA Pavilion context. During the first two months (July and August), there was a virtual program that one could participate in through webinars, online interaction and mentoring sessions over Skype. The goal of the virtual program was to get everyone up to quality and speed regarding areas such as technology, pitching, business models, strategy etc. so that they did not need to do that in Milan (see below).
But it was not like going to class. Since this accelerator had companies from various stages, we realized that many companies already had great capabilities and we tried to match them on an individual basis. For example, we wouldn’t try to teach a master developer how to code better, but rather see how we could aid him or her in solving specific problems.
During the entire program businesses helped their fellow accelerator teams. Building bridges and networks between them was one of our most important goals. They also helped each other practice pitches until they were as stellar as they could be.
In practice, this meant three to four sessions per week in the virtual accelerator, plus coordination with the accelerator mentors. In the physical accelerator the days were filled with coaching sessions, meetings and presentations both made by businesses and by the great flow of people in and around the Expo.
Who could apply?
The call for application was open to the entire world. We wanted the most interesting cases, no matter where they come from.
The following core dates were cruicial to the program. The program developed during the Expo so other events were added. This is an example of early core dates:
- May 31st, call for application closes
- 1st week of June, selected companies announced
- June 20-21st, Milan Hackathon
- July, Accelerator opening seminar at Copernico and online
- Aug 31st, Physical accelerator opening at Copernico
- Sep 29-30, Closing conference with invited investors
In addition to this calendar, there was a daily planning for the accelerator operations, mentoring sessions and related events/speakers.
Copernico, a high-end Silicon Valley modeled innovation hub and workspace and a platform for the players of the innovation game. Centrally located, a few minutes walk from the Milan central station (Milano Centrale) with direct connection to Malpensa airport (Malpensa Express), direct buses to Linate airport and easy access to the Expo area through the Milan subway.
Copernico is a workspace of 15.000 sq/m with 1300 work stations for big corporations, freelancers and startups. This included a social floor of 1700 sq/m with restaurant, theatre, club, lounge and fitness center, a 2500 sq/m park and 7 suite apartments.
The accelerator teams had access to the highest level of Copernico membership (black), which meant full access to all parts of Copernico, including the exclusive library and gym. It is a great place for you to bring potential business partners and investors.
Did the accelerator companies get any funds?
No. We offered many things but funds was not one of them. The Accelerator is part of the USA Pavilion, which ultimately represents the US Department of State. And while the USA is the home of entrepreneurship, the government cannot support individual companies with funds or investments, not even for travel and lodging. We are sorry about that.
On the other hand, the program was free for selected teams, the accelerator did not take equity, the mentors contributed their time for free, etc. And we believe it was highly value building for selected teams that seized the opportunity.
Who were the mentors?
Please check out our “People” section. Additional mentors were added continuously.