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How to breath life into an international startup incubator during a global pandemic

Mar 31, 2021 11:58:26 AM

Incubators are great for skyrocketing your business in an environment where coffee machine chit-chat can turn into a once-in-a-lifetime business opportunity. Is it possible to establish this typical atmosphere of a startup community remotely? We found out by doing.

intro-RC

According to Charles Darwin “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent but the one most responsive to change”. This is what RootCamp has been all about from the start. 

RootCamp was born last summer in the peak of the pandemic. Hiring employees, finding and furnishing the office, building the network, meeting corporate partners and startups and creating a 100% virtual program were the major challenges we encountered. RootCamp was not supposed to be a entirely virtual program but rather a mix of e-learning and face-to-face interactions in Hannover. From the very beginning we had to adapt quickly and change plans in order to meet the unsteady circumstances. 

Compared to other businesses, it is very possible to have a 100% virtual acceleration program. Here is how we did it.



Selection Process

The initial application to the program is anyway online through the F6S platform. Startups that passed this first phase were invited to a video call and the finalists, instead of pitching live in Hannover in front of our jury, had to do it virtually. Because of the virtual format we were able to reach even more startups worldwide. In fact 20% of our applications came from out of Europe.

Communication

Specifically when people never met before in person, communication over a screen can be sometimes difficult. We used different tools to keep the startups connected and up to date with all activities. Our best friends during the program were Slack, Google Drive and a well-organized shared calendar. It was not just about having the right tools but also taking the time to re-create leisure and exchange activities to boost the group spirit. Our weekly standup meetings was the forum to share all updates about the week from a business and personal point of view.

Events

We organized different events from the Mentors Day, to the weekly Founder Story as well as the final Demo Day. Organizing an online event seems easier but it takes a lot of effort and good organization. On the other hand, we were able to expand our network by taking part in multiple online events like the Wolves Summit, the Food Tech Invest Days and many others - more than we would have otherwise done without the pandemic, as we could easily join from home.

Program

The essence of an acceleration program is learning. We have different types of learning opportunities. Thanks to SpinLab, our partner accelerator, we have an e-learning platform available for free to all startups in the program. Here you will find more than 90 learning units about all major business areas (sales, marketing, strategy & KPI, funding, HR, finance, IT) which comprise videos, articles, templates and quizzes. Moreover thanks to our pool of mentors, we were able to organize more than 30 virtual workshops and more than 100 hours of 1:1 individual coaching. Last but not least, the most important exchange platform for the founders was the weekly coaching within Philipp, our Managing Director.

Interaction with K+S

A fundamental part of RootCamp is the implementation of innovation. To do so, we connect agtech startups with established corporations like our founding partner K+S, a global player in the salt and fertilizer field. One of the deliverables of the acceleration program is a well-thought project plan between startup and K+S as the basis for moving on to the pilot project in the second phase of the program. The collaboration with K+S during the program was intense.

Every startup was paired with an "internal champion" from K+S. The "internal champion" is an employee of K+S that is the point of reference and mentor for the startup. These come from two very different worlds and doing it for the first time virtually was a bit of a challenge. The explorative nature of these meetings was a little bit limited by the virtual format. However, thanks to the commitment and motivation from both sides, they managed to come up with a project plan which successfully led all startups to the next phase of the program. 



After all, educating and networking online is not the same as in real life. But it has its own perks which we learnt to embrace. Whether it’s in our co-working space or from the comfort of our own homes - we’re more than ever passionate about disrupting the agri-food value chain and helping startups to grow.

If you want to join our next batch, you can apply here.

 

Gaia Amatteis

Written by Gaia Amatteis

Gaia is the Program Manager at RootCamp. She has extensive experience in project management working for companies like Techstars, Procter and Gamble and Bosch in different countries like Italy, Germany and Japan. She studied between Italy and Germany and has a Double Master degree in International Business and Economics.

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