On Thursday, 11th of February 2016, I was the first speaker to be invited to the Family & Friends event series that was about to be launched at DB Accelerator, in their Mindbox spaces. I was introduced to Onno Szillis, the program manager through a friend who participates as a startup founder in the current batch and I had visited the at that time still empty office spaces early January. I had an interesting conversation with Onno and he had invited me back to meet his team and share our learnings from the research so far.
I had expected to be speaking to a small group of people yet what expected me was a room filled with entrepreneurs and Bahn employees. The Mindbox office space lies in the Jannowitzbrücke S-Bahn station and is a newly refurbished office of three connected open rooms. One accesses the middle room by descending a glass staircase and can see through huge windows the river Spree and the other side of the water. In the middle room a kind of fair had been built up: The six startups that are part of the current batch had arranged themselves so that visitors could walk around and visit their booths, see products if anything physical was available and read through the descriptions on big roll up posters. The startup that took the most place was eMio as they had brought one of their trademark Scooters and were exhibiting it in the space.
As I walked through the room and greeted people I took in the different scenarios and caught glimpses of conversations. It was a relaxed atmosphere and only few people were still in front of their computer screens. I got to talking to different people and learned that it was the first time around for them doing this ‘Family & Friends’ evening and that the idea indeed was to bring in people from outside to get to know what they are working on, what they are thinking and simply to give room for them to connect. In a way to have impulses from outside the accelerators but also to give the accelerator visibility to the outside world.
We remained in little groups talking and playing Kicker for quite some time until people came over and sat down on the chairs that were provided. Instead of using the stage I had proposed to do a rather informal sitting arrangement in a group so that we could hold a conversation. After a brief introduction outlining my background and my current involvement in the startup accelerator scene, I opened the round for questions. And they had many questions.
What different accelerator in models do you see? What works well and what doesn’t? How to fill the pipeline? We received many applications but we would like to have a current stream of startups lined up to join our program? Are accelerator and startups aligned in their goals? Are there mostly international people? What role does the working space play? How are the relationships with alumni? Did you see any model of relationship with alumni that worked best? What role do universities play? What accelerators are perceived as strong? What is the optimal length of the acceleration? It was both the Program Manager Martin and the startup managers as well as the startup founders that asked questions and so an interesting conversation evolved.
After the questions were slower to come we said our ‘thank you’s and applauded each other. We then mixed in little groups again, played a round of kicker, talked some more, exchanged business cards and then at 9pm while some were outside smoking, others still playing and the executives talking in the boardroom I left the Mindbox.