Elevate Accelerator: The Journey

A year ago, the second season of the Elevate University Accelerator program began. Since then, a lot has happened. Our team is beyond proud of what we achieved and we wish to share with you our experience, challenges along the way and what we learned during the program.

The program initially started as a collaboration between Eleven Ventures and the American University in Bulgaria (AUBG), establishing the first and only university accelerator on the Balkans. As the second year rolled by, the benefits to the community that Elevate inspires became even more visible — both in the context of education and investments. This season we had 7 startups, managed to deliver more than 35 workshops, mentorship sessions and founder talks — and not only this — we helped the teams raise more than 40 000 BGN in investments. Elevate’s startups spent more than 90 work hours with mentors and our own managing team — all in efforts to create more value, to develop efficiently.

SEASON TWO: Welcome to the world of online entrepreneurship!

In the middle of Season 1, due to COVID-19, we had to switch from physical attendance on the AUBG campus to an online format. We had to entirely scrap the then-known work structure and reinvent our whole work process.

We were — not so secretly — hoping that the pandemic situation would be over for the start of the second season, but we did not entirely rely on that. After gaining knowledge of what works and what doesn’t, we created a plan of how the program is going to be accommodated online.

We redesigned the entire accelerator so it could be conducted from home. Thankfully, all of the participants and mentors were ready to work virtually. Everything from applications, Selection Day, workshops, and final presentations was done through Zoom.

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

What went really well? The awareness of the program, especially within the AUBG community, grew immensely. The amount of people willing to participate either as mentors or investors substantially increased as well. As a result, Elevate established a mentor partnership with AUBG’s EMBA program, which allowed us to introduce new (and more excited than ever!) business professionals as mentors.

What could be improved? After taking into account the feedback we received from the participants and our own observations, Elevate’s Season 3 will have a stronger emphasis on the 1-on-1 mentorship sessions. This type of learning proved to be the participants’ favourite and most useful format in the program!

Some key lessons: Transitioning to an online format is often responsible for decreased participant engagement. Having this in mind, we took the time to provide the teams with access to various relevant resources and to communicate with just the right attitude to ensure everything runs smoothly! The right strategy for us: choosing proactive and eager to learn participants with astonishing ideas!

THE ASPECTS OF THE ACCELERATOR PROGRAM:

Selection — Briefly after the beginning of the academic year in AUBG, the most prominent applicant teams are admitted to Elevate. Before becoming a part of the program they have to go through a rigorous application form, screening process, and an interview.

Mentors — Our mentors are the pillars of knowledge in the program. They work with the participants both in program-scheduled and at individually specified timeslots.

Work Sessions — Each team goes through various work sessions every week, as a part of their entrepreneurial education. This includes Scrum Meetings, Founder Talks, Workshops, and one-on-one Mentorship Sessions.

Networking — Besides the professionals that the teams meet in the work sessions, they are also provided with constant networking opportunities. This allows them to communicate their idea to interested parties and raise awareness in the regional startup community.

Eleven Ventures — Eleven Ventures is one of the two partners that enable the Elevate accelerator program to function. They assist us with know-how, industry professionals, and raise funds for the program.

American University in Bulgaria — AUBG is the second partner that tremendously supports the Elevate accelerator program. They assist us with guidance on behalf of university professors, administrative support, a location where to conduct the program, and most importantly — motivated participants!

Investment — The most prominent teams have the chance of receiving investments from interested parties and access an even broader network. This season only, the teams managed to raise more than 40 000 BGN in the context of a global pandemic!

And finally….DEMO DAY:

Demo Day — Demo Day is the culmination of the program, it is where teams present the progress that they’ve achieved with the goal of securing investments or partnerships.

Season 2’s Demo Day was held in a hybrid manner: the Elevate team resided in the AUBG campus, while participants, mentors, investors, supporters and viewers joined us online. It was broadcasted live as a webinar through Zoom and the registration was free.

All seven startups that entered the program presented on Demo Day. The event was hosted by this season’s managing directors — Stoyan Rahov and Alex Mishev, and was carried out with nearly 300 attendees. The seven teams were:

CreativX — who specialize in video production and creative design outsourcing, aimed at content creators (vloggers, bloggers, influencers) and B2B videos;

Vendy+ — who install vending machines for sanitary products and promote health and sexual education;

AmeriCanGo — who create a unified platform that connects students on work and travel and local landlords, where housing offers can be uploaded and reviewed;

Lily B’s Botanical Soapery — who make hand-made cosmetic products with natural ingredients, aimed at solving dermal issues;

SeekingTraveler — who organize thematic interactive tours across the Balkans, conducted in cities with rich cuisine and history;

DIGI — who created and manage a platform where users manage their digital financial identity and portfolio;

Pate Mate — who produce specialty gourmet Mate Infusions that fuel energy and are a healthy alternative to energy drinks.1

STAY IN TOUCH!

Elevate’s team is always eager to connect with like-minded people; people who take interest in what we do and actively seek out opportunities to help the start-up community grow further. Whether you’re a business professional, a student, or simply like our work — feel free to reach out!

Season 3 of the accelerator program has already begun! If you have a business idea that you wish to develop, or you have already started but need additional help — send your application here.

Our progress so far has been recorded through Elevate’s social media channels (facebook, instagram & linkedin) and website — those are a great way to get a feeling of what the program looks like for participants! Follow us there to get updates on our upcoming events and initiatives!

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