From Kickstart to Market Entry: How a Startup Can Benefit from Two German Accelerator Programs

Written by German Accelerator

Founded in 2018 in Hamburg, YOU CANDY is a food tech startup that produces vegan vitamin gummies rich in nutrients and rich in flavor. Soon after their founding, YOU CANDY products were available in leading German retail stores such as EDEKA and REWE. They expanded to Austria, followed by Switzerland, in addition to a major collaboration with Mr. Vegan, an online vegan retailer in the DACH region.

YOU CANDY products are a premium functional food with a higher price point than normal gummies. However, with exceptional quality comes more nutritional enrichment.

Prior to joining German Accelerator, YOU CANDY had recently closed a new funding round worth US$492,000 (€500,000). This investment allowed them to pre-finance the production of their product as well as invest in marketing and building the team.


How YOU CANDY Got Started on Their Expansion Journey with Kickstart

In 2021, the YOU CANDY team first participated in German Accelerator’s Kickstart program, where they learned about a variety of overseas markets, including the U.S. and Asia. During that time, they heard about the success of a similar vitamin gummy brand in the South Korean market, and that piqued YOU CANDY’s interest in the market.

“YOU CANDY’s founder knows the founder of Beauty Sweeties, and they were selling well in South Korea,” said Nikolaj de Lousanoff, the Chief Sales Officer of the YOU CANDY team.

Given the popularity of skincare and healthcare in South Korea, YOU CANDY’s focus on health made it a potentially high-demand product.

In 2022, the team decided to apply for the South Korea Market Discovery program.

“We wanted to get in touch with the right people to get access to the market, and we wanted to see how we could achieve product-market fit.”


Nikolaj de Lousanoff | Chief Sales Officer of YOU CANDY

How German Accelerator Helped YOU CANDY Find Their Way in South Korea

During the South Korea Market Discovery program, the YOU CANDY team faced some major hurdles.

“Product-market fit was the biggest challenge of all,” said de Lousanoff.

The team’s experience in the DACH market was totally different from South Korea. In Germany, gummies are normally sold in packs of 200 grams. However, in South Korea, gummy packs are often sold in packs of 40-60g. So YOU CANDY’s 100g vitamin packs – sold at triple the price of the competition – were too big and too expensive for most consumers. This hurdle required the team to rethink the size and price of their product for the Korean market.

Like most German startups during internationalization, YOU CANDY is also still exploring the right legal setting for their business in South Korea – such as setting up a subsidiary versus working with a local partner. The German Accelerator program educated them on the trade-offs of each option and connected them to mentors who could help them navigate the legal environment.

In fact, the startup mentors were one of the most valuable aspects of both German Accelerator programs, according to the YOU CANDY team.

“I definitely need to highlight Chris Lipp, author of The Startup Pitch,” de Lousanoff said.

“During our one-to-one sessions, [our mentor] helped us to improve our pitch so we could adjust, pitch again, and then receive feedback on our startup pitch.”


Nikolaj de Lousanoff | Chief Sales Officer of YOU CANDY

The Kickstart program prepared YOU CANDY for internationalization, including tips and advice on everything from how to behave during business dinners or other formal meetings. Then, the South Korea Market Discovery program took them deeper into the Korean market, its food industry, and culture in particular.

“The trip was packed with fairs – visiting startup hubs and centers, and the presentations were really interesting too,” said de Lousanoff.

The team’s lead mentor was Eunielle Yi – an entrepreneur and experienced retailer from Seoul. According to de Lousanoff, the mentoring sessions were very hands-on and helpful.

“We had one-to-one sessions with her in Seoul and another session online after two to three weeks,” said de Lousanoff. “There was a lot to learn from her.”


Life After the Market Discovery Program

Since starting the program, YOU CANDY had the opportunity to close two deals in Seoul: one with GS Retail, which owns 15,000 stores across the country, and another deal with, which sells medical and health products.

“The CEO of KoreaHealth is a pharmacist, and he saw potential in us, so he ordered the first batch and sold it online,” said de Lousanoff.

The biggest takeaway for the YOU CANDY team was that product-market fit is crucial to any international expansion. Both the Kickstart program and the South Korea Market Discovery program helped YOU CANDY find their perfect product-market fit.

“When assessing a new market, it’s crucial for startups to gauge whether or not they can expand their business operations into the new geography,” said de Lousanoff. “Success in your home market isn’t a guarantee of success overseas.”

de Lousanoff also shared his advice to other founders who are considering various startup expansion programs.

“Every startup should check out existing programs and choose what best fits them,” he said. “When we participated in the German Accelerator programs, we got to expand our network and horizons. It’s definitely valuable for your entire journey to come.”