When starting the job as acceleration programme manager for Maze X three months ago, I would have never guessed what happened next. Confronted with COVID-19, my team and I had to move the startup accelerator to online ASAP. Here are some of the main lessons we’ve learned throughout the preparation process. We hope they are useful for your programme, too.
#1 Become aware of your true colours
The current situation holds a great opportunity to reflect again on what your acceleration programme really stands for. What is our value proposition, and what are the values transmitted in your actions? How would the world be worse off if your programme was not there? Also, reflect on how you were doing things before corona and why you were doing them. This will help you sharpen your senses of what initiatives to offer and how to conduct them.
For us at Maze X this self-realization channelled into reinforcing our true colours: We want to contribute to environmental and social impact. We want to create an exchange and support between the members of our community. Last but not least, we want our startups to have business success.
#2 Avoid long meetings and give context
Sorry to rip off the band-aid, but you gotta dump what doesn’t fit the online format or what is not aligned with the outcomes of the reflection process you thoroughly conducted earlier (#1). Here are some quick tips on what doesn’t fit online: meetings of more than 2h (only exceptional), presentations without interactions, meetings without a clear agenda nor purpose coming out of it. Therefore, send out the agenda of the meeting in the meeting invite already. In the invite, you can also send an overview of important people that will attend and give a little bit of context why they are important for the meeting. Also, tell each group of participants (mentors, startups, etc.) what is expected to prepare for the meeting. It’s best to send this right in the invite to the meeting.
Highlight the agenda of the meeting again at the beginning of it and dedicate time slots for each part of it. After a certain time, be determined to move on to the next point with little exemptions.
#3 Create engaging events and get feedback
At Maze X, we did intensive research and attended events of other accelerators to see what works well. Events that do fit the online format are engaging, dynamic, and have a clear value-added. A recent study of accelerators shows that important events include networking, mentoring, and business skill events. Regarding the format of these events, be creative, and experiment with the following:
- Use virtual backgrounds to create a certain vibe that fits the purpose.
- Use breakout rooms to create intimate 1:1 meetings inside a big event.
- Use polls to make the meeting interactive.
When trying out different formats, always ask for feedback and learn from it. For that, prepare a feedback survey before the event that you can send out at the end of it. That way, the commitment is still high, and so is the answer rate.
#4 Be selective in the tools you use and understand them deeply
The more software you use, the more people get confused. Therefore, don’t use many software tools but use them thoroughly. Become an expert on the software you use. Watch youtube tutorials and read tips and tricks about them. This will make sure that you use the tools efficiently. If things don’t work out online, the whole meeting can fall apart. Mainly, because the programme should be more dynamic now than when it was offline. Be prepared, and make sure to pre-record content that might not work in real-time. We use the following software:
- Zoom for all group or individual meetings
- Slack for weekly updates, work-related conversations, knowledge sharing, and community engagement
- WhatsApp for fun, embarrassing photos and last minute or urgent announcements + off-work activities
- Google Drive to store all Maze X-related documents and startups’ data rooms
- Email for intros and contact with mentors and other exceptional exchange.
#5 Play it through from the receiving end
Design every interaction from the perspective of the recipient. Together with our service designer by heart, Ângela, we did this for all our activities. The user experience thinking should be applied for simple interactions like e-mails as well as more complex events. Here’s an example: “When sending this e-mail, what will the person on the other side do, wonder or need?”. Sorry to tell you the unsexy truth, but the nitty-gritty is really important when you run things online. Empathy and anticipation are essential to reduce extra loops. Do not expect everything to work perfectly, but try to streamline processes as much as possible and be on point.
Those lessons made us pumped for the start of Maze X on June 22. We’ll be continuously communicating how the programme runs and further lessons learned with this new format. If you liked this article feel free to give it a hand. Also, happy to get some comments below 🤹♀️