Saturday 8 June 2013

Inside a Business Accelerator Programme - Lightning Lab

Lightning Lab is the first business accelerator in New Zealand! And I must proudly say that I was part of it! I have written about my lessons in another post, have a look!

The story starts before the Lightning Lab application stage, each team was doing their own thing trying to get their business going until they saw the opportunity of seed funding, an office space, lots of mentors, potential investors, perks, a schedule to help the business grow and an opportunity to expose your business to 100+ investors at the Demo Day at the end of the programme.

It is an incredible opportunity: only 9 lucky teams were selected to join the programme and we found out that the lab offered much more... we had an environment focused in making all companies grow and progress as quick as they could.

During the programme we had sessions where we could share problems (personal or otherwise) and each member could help each other. We had events to help reduce the stress such as yoga and massages! We had Red Bull! We had access to interns! We had the opportunity to have insights from real potential investors! We had valuable sessions around business development! We had 8 other teams going through similar hurdles as we were.

The first four weeks was filled with meetings with mentors (about 2-5 mentors per day) and speaker sessions around all sort of [awesome] topics to increase our entrepreneurial knowledge. Our day-time hours were filled, leaving little space for us to work on our business which meant early mornings and late nights! Must say that I saw a sleeping bag around the lab - several times :).

The mentor meetings and sessions gave us direct access to connections and insights that you wouldn't usually have access to. Each mentor can provide valuable insights around the business models and direction... at a cost: mentor whiplash. Making this first part of the programme the most intense (IMHO).

Then we had a little of a 'break'. The next four weeks each team focus on applying all the knowledge learned, connections acquired and progress made into laser point focus: making it happen. Because of the little time we had in the first few weeks, many aspects were falling behind by this time which meant again early mornings and late nights... but the advantage now is  the teams knows the know-how and are more focused!

Finally... the final four weeks. This was to further prepare the business by giving more atention to financial forecast, business models, business plans and finally most important: the Demo Day pitch - where we present our business opportunity and ask for money
The CEOs were the most busy team members at this phase of the programme as they were the one preparing the pitch. They had to practice the pitch. And then practice... and practice, and practice then practice a little bit more. Every day.

Each team was also being ranked scores on how good their pitches were. Scores were given by mentors and the lab's leading team. We all started with a score between 0-2 (of 10) and we were asked to have at least 8 if we wanted to be in Demo Day - no pressure (motivational constraint).
It was amazing to see each team's improvement on their pitch in short periods of time.

Pitch was one side, we also had various sessions about investment rounds & options, due diligence, how to be prepared for investment, legalities and consequences. Extremely informative.

Demo Day was the day that we had show how much improvement we did since we started the programme. It was each team's opportunity to meet investors and get their first round of funding. We had the morning to practice in the theater then we presented to a crowd of 100+ investors. After that we met them and attempted to schedule meetings to secure some investment!

The result? $3 mil of potential investment into the teams. Read more here and here.

The 3 months felt much more like 1 year worth of work. All teams were focused. All teams learned a lot! It is an amazing experience, totally worth.

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