In conversation with Patrick de Zeeuw & Christo Thekkel

Posted on January 19, 2018

We’re fresh into 2018, and exciting things are lined up for the Think Forward Initiative accelerator in the coming months – Demo Day for the incubator teams is just a week away (February 5th) and the growth track commences on March 5th.

Thus far, this accelerator journey has been all about exploring new frontiers – The partnership between TFI and Startupbootcamp (SBC) is a new one. The participants are undergoing a new program and different elements tailored explicitly for this accelerator, are also being tested for impact. As with most new explorations, challenges and learnings are all part of the journey.

A partnership for acceleration: joining forces with Startupbootcamp

Startupbootcamp is an award-winning global network of industry-focused accelerator programs. Together with corporate accelerator, Innoleaps and talent accelerator, The Talent Institute, Startupbootcamp in Amsterdam is on a mission to empower innovators and become the world’s leading growth accelerator. By 2030, they aim to support 10,000 ventures and empower 100 million people in innovation worldwide.

This drive to create scalable, actionable impact, is very much in line with TFI’s own goals. United in purpose, both organisations have joined forces to empower innovations at the intersection of finance and impact.

As we get closer to Demo Day, we were curious to hear more from the entrepreneurial minds within Startupbootcamp: Patrick de Zeeuw (CEO & Co-founder of Startupbootcamp, Innoleaps and The Talent Institute) and Christo Thekkel (Program MD). In the following sections, they tell us more about the partnership and running this unique purpose-driven accelerator!

Q: How did this partnership evolve?

Patrick: ING was already a partner with quite a few SBC programs such as Commerce, SmartCity and Fintech. In June last year, we got a request from Dagmar van der Plas (Global Lead, TFI) and Hugo Raaijmakers (Global Head of Innovation Management in ING) to help with running an accelerator for TFI. Eventually, Christo, Marc Wesselink (VP, Startupbootcamp) and I defined a strategy and wrote a plan, which ultimately led to the formation of our partnership.

“Startupbootcamp has run 60+accelerator programs over the last 8 years. At least 11 of these programs have been Fintech related. We have expert knowledge in the financial technology domain. Moreover, we are also as passionate about social impact and society. The combination of all these reasons and our mutual goals is what led to our partnership.”

Q: Regarding accelerating innovation and empowering innovators, where does SBC’s expertise lie?

Patrick: What you see is that there are quite a few accelerators out there across the globe – so much so that you’d be thinking that anyone could do it. But what we’ve learnt after running 60+ of these programs across five continents and launching 100+ corporate startups through our Innoleaps accelerator programs, is that this is indeed a profession. It is very easy to make mistakes if we don’t follow a particular process. Launching 3, 5 or 10 companies all at the same time is something that is unique. We need entrepreneurs, strategists and people excellent in running operations. Additionally, what we’ve done over the course of the last eight years is to really finetune our programs. The quality of our accelerators comes from the valuable ecosystem that we’ve built with mentors, investors and partners, as well as the organised platform through which we execute it all. Combining all that with a dedicated group people who do what they do for the right reasons, is what truly makes up our ‘secret sauce’ for running our accelerator programs successfully.

And so, what we have been able to do is to accelerate TFI (and ING) in this domain because of the knowledge and the global startup ecosystems we’ve built in the last eight years.

Q: What specific value does an accelerator bring to an initiative like the TFI?

Christo: The goal of the accelerator is to actually test whether ideas can be turned into reality. Startupbootcamp’s expertise lies in creating business propositions that are fit for the market. We add support in the realms of team building to validating customer pain points. Using real-world insights, we guide the teams in developing solutions that have impact potential. The ultimate aim for TFI is to impact the lives of people. During the pilot phase, we validate whether acceleration is the right vehicle to get to these goals.

“So far what has been unique is that we have built on existing research while validating things in the market. This process provides practical insights for creating solutions fit for purpose needs.”

Q: What are the different elements that SBC is mobilising, for this accelerator?

Christo: Startupbootcamp’s mission is: we empower innovators. We do that through guiding, teaching and supporting both entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs in building viable businesses. Phase 1, TFI’s incubator, is for the early stage of business development (testing propositions) while Phase 2, the growth track, focuses on helping scale existing fintech startups with impact potential. By mobilising a unique mix of coaches, trainers, mentors as well as the support of entrepreneurs, we’ve created a sandbox environment to test new propositions.

When working with people coming from various organisations, we have to emphasise building a solid team. This can only be achieved through guidance and establishing culture fit. To facilitate this, we use our network to build context and culture. We’re also continually re-emphasising the lean startup and design thinking approaches and methodologies.

Q: What has been some of the more challenging hurdles that have come up?

Christo: While we have a joint mission, it is challenging to consistently align different organisations with different focus areas throughout the process. However, we’ve learned that by actively engaging with our partners, we can overcome this challenge together.

Another challenge has to do with the ownership of pre-existing ideas. Typically entrepreneurs develop their propositions based on their areas of interest. With our incubator, we were already providing a focus area for teams which they had to execute on. That’s tough because you’re working with a pre-existing idea. We have learnt, however, that you can get people excited about an idea when they work well together and share ownership, irrespective of the theme/topic.

Assembling a team with different areas of expertise is also not easy. Each member comes with their own expectations and track record. This is why it’s essential to define their common objectives at the very beginning. The team should work towards a similar goal: to learn and evolve both individually and as a group. In the process, you will learn to work with people from different backgrounds and bring new insights to any other endeavour you pursue.

Q: … and what has surprised you the most?

Christo: The biggest surprise for me was the realisation we are making good progress in overcoming the challenges I mentioned above. What we always teach in the startup world is through friction, beautiful things can be created. And what we have built over the past few weeks is a sense of team spirit and ownership with the propositions. We also saw personal transformation among team members, as they embraced each other’s personalities, talents and viewpoints.

“The melting pot of cultures in all teams and how they’ve come together, to work towards building their solutions, has been a pleasant surprise.”

Q: Demo Day is just around the corner – what are your top 3 tips for the teams as they finalise their MVPs?

Patrick: I would advise the teams to first, clearly formulate what their next milestones will be. Think about what you would need to achieve those milestones. Also, if you already have an idea of how long you think it is going to take you to reach that milestone, add 30% more time. I’d say it’s always best to under-promise and over-deliver. It will be difficult, but try to manage your expectations as well. That will be helpful to you in the long run.

Second, keep doing your pre-mediation. If you continue with your projects, some time down the road, issues will come up – problems you find hard to discuss with your fellow business partners. Having someone there who knows your journey and has an outside view on things, can be valuable in helping to resolve issues you might face.

Lastly, I want you to celebrate your successes. Don’t forget this is a journey and as with all journeys, there will be ups and downs. So, remember even if it’s a small success – celebrate it. That is how we do it here at Startupbootcamp!

Q: From the Startupbootcamp perspective, what would a successful Demo Day for the incubator track look like?

Christo: We see Demo Day as the moment where we celebrate our teams: not only their progress but what they’ve learned and what will happen next. Moreover, we want to activate our stakeholders to continue their support for the next stage of development of GoTally, Fince, and Jarvis. At Demo Day, we illustrate the impact potential of the solutions the teams have been working and the acceleration process itself.

Q: Going forward, how do you think this collaboration will further evolve?

Patrick: We joined with TFI to create an incubator and growth track to drive their ideas into real business propositions. The incubator brought focus to the research TFI had undertaken for 2 years and proved their ideas had merit. After Demo Day, there’s potential for these propositions to continue on, through the support of the TFI network. In the growth track, we’ll help selected startups to scale. This is Startupbootcamp’s expertise – giving startups the tools and coaching they need to be successful businesses.

The social impact element of this accelerator is important to us. Helping individuals grow and learn about financial responsibility is of great value not only to consumers but also to society.

After this pilot ends, we hope to take this MVP to the next level, including working with a more substantial batch of early-stage internal teams – now we have 3, and maybe next time it could be 5 or 8. The same goes for the growth track – it would be exciting to expand this program internationally.

I look forward to all these conversations, to brainstorm together with TFI and its partners and how we can take this program to the next phase.