StepFWD is the pre-accelerator program designed for early-stage tech startups with diverse teams. We strongly believe in helping founders to achieve their potential and we do so through several activities and mentorship sessions that take place during the 8-week program.
If you’re a startup that is considering applying to StepFWD 2021, we hope this article will help shed light not only on what goes on during the program but also on what to expect when joining a (pre-)accelerator.
At StepFWD, we understand how difficult it is to build your dream start-up. And we designed the program with first-time founders in mind – as a journey that takes you through all the topics that are fundamental for a start-up.
We also believe in role models and that we can’t be what we can’t see. Diversity is different for everyone. Our perspective can be easily shifted, and the balance feels altered based on our belief system.
Our core mission at StepFWD is growing and contributing to an entrepreneurship ecosystem accessible to all aspiring entrepreneurs regardless of their gender, race, ethnicity, age, gender identity, or ability.
From zero to one
Compared to other accelerator programs out there where everything is centered around mentorship, StepFWD gives you the basic tools you need for going from zero to one. In 8 weeks, you will be pushed out of your comfort zone through several activities such as:
- Hands-on feedback sessions
- Office hours
- Speed mentoring
- Pitch practice
Workshops and hands-on feedback sessions
One of our core activities are workshops that provide a 360-degree view on topics related to building a startup:
- Avoiding common legal pitfalls – “Startup legal mechanics” with Tudor Stanciu (Co-founder & Independent Lawyer at Digital 2 Law) and Paul Babus (Co-founder & Independent Lawyer at Digital 2 Law)
- Developing a relationship with your customers – “Customer development” with Raluca Apostol (Co-founder & CPO at Nestor) and Letiția Ștefan (Co-founder & CEO at Nifty Learning)
- Monetizing your product – “Business models” with Mircea Vadan (Managing Partner at Activize), Valentin Maior (CEO at Techmatch), and Ion-Gheorghe Petrovai (Director of Innovation at FreshBlood HealthTech)
- Handling the ever-growing list of product features on your roadmap – “Product development” with Monica Obogeanu (Startup Programs Manager at Orange) and Alexandra Anghel (Program Director at StepFWD)
- Creating a go-to-market strategy – “Product marketing” with Irina Scarlat (Chief Growth Officer at Bitpanda) and Andra Zaharia (Freelance Content Marketer)
- Selling to the first customers – Sales & growth hacking” workshop with Gv Freeman (Startup Coach, author, speaker, facilitator) and Ciprian Borodescu (Head of Algolia R&D Romania)
- Presenting your startup – “How to pitch” with Bogdan Apostol (Co-founder & CEO at Nestor) and Liviu Cadariu (Program Manager at StepFWD, Event Manager of TechHub Bucharest).
- Managing relationships with investors and raising funds – “Fundraising” with Ciprian Borodescu (Head of Algolia R&D Romania) and Mircea Vadan (Managing Partner at Activize)
Each workshop will be followed by a hands-on session, where each start-up will receive 1-on-1 feedback from the mentors on a chosen assignment.
We reached out to experienced entrepreneurs, industry professionals, and investors and asked them to become StepFWD mentors. Our mentors volunteer their time for the program and they offer their help generously throughout the activities. Mentors are what make this program unique.
During StepFWD, you will:
- Work closely with lead mentors, who are people who went through the same difficulties and have the expertise to advise you. Each startup will have a designated lead mentor who they will meet on weekly 1-on-1 calls during Office Hours. Lead mentors will try to assist with whatever problem the startup has at that moment and also help us, the StepFWD team, understand how we can further improve the program.
- Engage with a lot of mentors through speed mentoring sessions, in the format of a back-to-back meeting. These meetings are designed to be short and to the point, so you’ll have to speak up and show your startup’s potential in a time-effective manner, while also receiving feedback and gaining relevant intros.
Just think about speed mentoring as networking on steroids :). It can be overwhelming to meet so many people in so little time, but this is where you can create valuable connections that could help you months or even years in the future.
During the second half of the program, we organize a lot of pitch practice sessions. Their purpose is to expand on the “How to Pitch” workshop and help you polish your startup’s pitch in preparation for the final presentation on Demo Day. During these sessions, you’ll receive feedback from mentors who have either pitched their startup hundreds of times or have been part of juries and selection committees where they have seen hundreds of pitches. Either way, they will have something to say, so brace yourself :).
The program wraps up with Demo Day. Mentors, investors, community partners, corporates, press attendees are invited together with the broader community to the event. Each startup will showcase its products and businesses in a 5-minute pitch – hence the many pitch practice sessions before the big event :). In between, you’ll get the chance to connect with some of them during the event in networking sessions.
Let’s wrap up
The StepFWD program is designed as a challenge and will take you out of your comfort zone. They don’t call them “accelerators” for nothing :). In a nutshell, you will:
- Learn by doing – again & again
- Get super cool and dedicated mentorship
- Make meaningful connections – Connections to 50+ investors, entrepreneurs, and industry experts from the ecosystem
- Validate & build what matters
- Pitch without panicking