Jump start your startup with German Accelerator’s latest program for early-stage startups in Silicon Valley. German Accelerator Silicon Valley CEO Michael Meirer gives personal insights into the conception of the JumpStart program.
This summer, German Accelerator launches its new one-month, Silicon Valley-based program JumpStart. By expanding its portfolio, German Accelerator now takes German early-stage founders on a journey to one of the world’s startup hotspots and the epicenter of digital innovation: Silicon Valley.
With JumpStart, German Accelerator helps entrepreneurs establish a solid foundation for long-term success by avoiding common, costly mistakes. JumpStart is an intense program and learning experience that introduces participants to the Silicon Valley ecosystem and mindset. In this program, experienced startup mentors help companies make critical early decisions about product, market, and business models that will fundamentally improve their growth trajectories and ability to realize their full potential. JumpStart is tailored to each participant’s individual requirements and objectives.
Although the selection process is highly competitive, the program is free for chosen startups. There are no fees – neither equity nor cash – to participate.
Interview Michael Meirer, CEO German Accelerator Silicon Valley
Why did German Accelerator launch the JumpStart program? Why do German early-stage startups need it?
A key experience for me that led to JumpStart has been the Airbnb story. Airbnb is now one of the best-known Silicon Valley unicorns and it seems they are heading towards a large IPO. But in the very early days, they were just three founders who seemed a bit lost in the startup jungle. They were trying to make money by selling Obama-branded breakfast cereal at the time. A potentially nice try of a push for Obama’s presidential run, but for their business?
Then, Airbnb was accepted by Y Combinator. When Airbnb’s founders talk about their beginning, they credit their Y Combinator experience as an important catalyst. The insights they gained by working closely with experienced mentors and entrepreneurs helped them navigate a path to success. Of course, it wasn’t all smooth sailing, but the support and advice they received at Y Combinator was critical to finding their way.
For us at the German Accelerator, this is an illustrative story and the impetus for the JumpStart program. There’s tremendous entrepreneurial energy in Germany. German Accelerator has worked with more than 220 high-quality German startups over the past seven years, most of them mid- and later-stage. We’ve helped dozens of companies enter the U.S. and the Southeast Asian markets, increase market traction and raise critical venture funding. Several, like Celonis and N26, have already become unicorns.
Despite this success, there’s a question in the back of my mind that is always nagging me: How many technically brilliant, creative and energetic teams of German entrepreneurs are we missing since they never made it beyond the first critical steps? Nobody knows. I stay awake at night worrying that some of the most promising German startups are failing because nobody is there to help them make the right early decisions. Our primary reason for creating JumpStart is to find these high-potential, early-stage teams, help them improve their chances of success, and avoid early pitfalls. JumpStart was created in addition to our main program which is targeted towards mid-and later-stage startups.
There’s an equally important second part of the Airbnb story that I want to tell you about. A few years ago, I talked with my good friend Martin who started Airbnb’s international business. He’s Austrian, just like me. After Airbnb was having success in the U.S., Brian Chesky, the CEO, told Martin to come up with a strategy for international expansion. Martin diligently developed a plan, which he presented to Chesky. Brian responded: “This is good, now I want you to execute it just like you described, only ten times faster.”
Brian Chesky’s advice was absolutely critical for Airbnb’s success. When Airbnb started to expand globally, they encountered stiff competition, particularly in Germany. A group there had already copied their idea and established initial market traction. If not for the breakneck speed that Chesky demanded, Airbnb might have lost the battle for global dominance, or at least in large parts of Europe. The ability to take massive risk and execute at high speed was the deciding factor and the reason Airbnb won.
These two pieces of the Airbnb story had a big impact on me and have been catalysts to develop the JumpStart program. It’s specially designed to give early-stage startups exposure to the Silicon Valley mindset and ecosystem while helping them build the foundation they need to support rapid growth. We want to help high-potential German startups avoid the potentially fatal early mistakes that kill companies.
What type of company should apply for JumpStart?
It’s simple. We only have two criteria: First, the company has the potential for major success. They need to be capable of becoming a global leader in their target market. Second, the team needs to possess boundless energy and entrepreneurial spirit. We don’t preclude anyone based on industry or target customer segment, but we won’t accept companies and founders who aren’t willing to engage whole-heartedly.
Of course, Silicon Valley is famous for its tech startups and the German Accelerator Silicon Valley has an exceptionally strong network of tech-savvy mentors. Nevertheless, we’re prepared to help startups from any industry if we see the right business potential and team.
How does JumpStart work?
JumpStart is an intense program and learning experience. It won’t be right for everyone. Over the past seven years, we’ve tested and refined our tailored approach for German startups. We know it works. The fastest way for companies to learn is to engage intensively with customers. It’s difficult, but we coach founders throughout the whole process. From conversations with target customers and experts to interpreting and integrating this information into their business and go-to-market models.
We’ve put together a network of mentors, most of whom are startup experts themselves. These mentors teach the principles of ‘evidence-based entrepreneurship’. We help German founders shift their focus from technology and product to the customer and market. This primary market research and interaction with early target customers is the basis for developing strong business models, testing product/market fit, positioning products, and defining go-to-market strategies.
It’s hard work. It can be intimidating. In order to be able to effectively communicate with future customers, founders usually venture out from their comfort zones. This happens to the extent that their behavior would be considered unthinkable back home in Germany.
There’s a famous Steve Jobs quote that I like: “Stay hungry, stay foolish”. The Silicon Valley mindset might seem a bit crazy in Germany, but there’s value in it. It’s very open. Anybody in the Valley is ready to discuss interesting ideas and concepts, while also providing honest feedback. At German Accelerator, we help founders take advantage of this, but they need to be equally open to engaging. If not, it’s a waste of their time and ours.
Why is JumpStart different than other accelerators supporting early-stage startups?
Our biggest differentiator is that we’ve figured out how to combine the high-quality training and coaching offered by the best Silicon Valley early-stage accelerators with intimate knowledge of the particular needs of German startups. One of the key values of any accelerator is its network of alumni, mentors, and partners. The German Accelerator ecosystem, with locations and supporters across the US, Singapore, and Germany, is second to none when it comes to helping German startups become global leaders.
Any final message for German founders?
Silicon Valley’s sheer intensity, concentration of intelligence, technical and business know-how, grit and focus on action is unique in this world. A month here can be life-changing. We at the German Accelerator want to help German startups get the absolute most out of their time in Silicon Valley and JumpStart experience. Our mission is to empower high potential German startups to scale globally. It is our daily job to ensure the most promising German startups ultimately realize their full potential.