Two years ago I was in Moscow for a week attending GEC 2014 at the same time as Putin, and a group of senior followers was celebration the takeover of Crimea at the square outside Kremlin. After many trips to Russia over many years, I could feel that there was a dramatic change in the air, and the rest is history. When I the stumbled over Starta Accelerator on LinkedIn it created an interest and an urge to learn more. Many of my investor’s friends and entrepreneurs in Russia have been escaping the country the last years.
Starta Accelerator (www.StartaAccelerator.com) was initiated by Starta Capital VC fund and its founder Alexey Girin. Starta Capital is one of the leading VC funds in Russia. It has received prestigious awards granted by Russian Venture Capital Association, National Venture Industry Award, and National Association of Business Angels award, so they have a quite a reputation to bring to the table.
The Accelerator’s main mission is to introduce startups with East European R&D roots to best practices, trusted advisers and mentors, and overcome cultural differences through a customized educational program that help startups to gain traction in U.S. and become part of the local startup and investing ecosystem.
I have been a coach for several companies from Russia through Seed Forum International and have observed that there can be serious cultural challenges involved. Just to be clear, it is the same challenge for us heading eastbound and maybe even harder.
My chat with Ekaterina (Katya) Dorozhkina;
Katya is the Managing Partner at Starta Capital & Accelerator. The author of Zero Budget Marketing and Making ArtWork, A ROI-Based Marketing Guide for Entrepreneurs and Startups. Co-founder of @DenArtStudio.With over ten years of experience in the field, she has been on both sides of the brief, helping large corporations and small start-ups with marketing, business and product management. Past clients include Samsung, Casio, American Express, American Airlines, and others.
Katya received her Master’s in International Economics and currently finishing up her Ph.D. She lives in NYC, where she spoils her adopted dog, Bucks and her goldfish, Cash. Katya donates all of the income from her books to a charity fund called Change One Life, which helps connect orphans with families.
I have a strong hypothesis that the entrepreneurial environment in Russia is a little bit difficult right now. Are there many Russian entrepreneurs fleeing the country?
-Indeed, the economic situation has recently declined dramatically. The market liquidity along with the prospect for the future is questionable for many startups and entrepreneurs in general. This pushes entrepreneurs to get out of their comfort zone. They are forced to consider new strategies for their businesses, or they try to move towards more attractive markets that can provide a better future for their businesses and products.
I imagine cultural barriers are an important consideration for these entrepreneurs. What are the main challenges?
-As with any cross-cultural exchange, it takes a time to get used to the new cultural rules. For businesses, cultural differences can present an obstacle to developing and growing business. The challenge that we face at Starta Accelerator is to help Eastern-European founders adapt to a U.S.-oriented mindset within a short time. In general, it takes years to adjust culturally to a new place, but adapting to U.S.-business culture is our focus for the first month of the program.
-One of the main cultural differences between U.S. and Eastern European founders is how the path to success is imagined. European founders are more careful and cautious. They still live in the “waterfall product development” process—they’ve been taught to create the product first, then sell it. However, in the U.S., startups are all about being lean and agile. U.S. founders market and test ideas first, and then create products and raise money. In both scenarios, making mistakes is unavoidable, but it should not prevent you from trying.
There are many accelerators in NYC. What make your initiative unique?
-For startups, our business model is narrowed down to the particular challenge of Eastern-European companies entering the U.S. market. There simply is no other accelerator with this focus. The accelerators in NYC do a fabulous job, but they are only accessible to local startups or companies with sufficient local experience. These startups already participate in the U.S. startup ecosystem, and they are familiar with the local rules. Other accelerators just cannot predict or assist with the challenges facing Eastern-European companies that are trying to join the U.S. startup ecosystem.
-Our one-on-one coaching program also sets us apart from other accelerators. In addition to mentoring by industry leaders, our founders receive individual coaching on Business Communications, Marketing, Business Development & Sales, Product & UX, and Investment Relationship.
-We also provide more value to investors as we select more mature startups with MVP, traction and powerful R&D teams that operate from Eastern Europe usually at a much lower cost than in U.S.
You have a demo day coming up. What kind of startups will we meet?
-At our demo day, you will meet startups from various industries in multiple stages of growth. As I mentioned, we have companies with proven traction in Europe. Some have already raised sufficient money, and some are in the early stages of looking for seed and pre-seed funding. These companies span various tech products and services—from deep techs like VR or navigation technologies to fintech apps and much more. You will have to check it out to see them all!
Working closely with startups on a daily basis can be a challenge. Where do you get the energy?
-Good question. Sex, drugs and rock-n-roll?
-Joking aside, I just love what I do—and in a way, my passion for startups is a kind of drug. Working with startups comes with a whole slew of emotions—from frustration to excitement—but ultimately it is rewarding. Seeing the determination and hard work of these startup founders is inspiring. It keeps me going and makes me do my best to help these guys succeed.
-Plus, I get some kind of peer-to-peer auto-recharge. Our accelerator is like a solar panel, when our group of energetic, smart and determined founders work side-by-side on a daily basis, they give each other—and me—a special natural energy and support. They are not competing against each other. Rather, they are all united by the same goal, and that lifts everybody up.
Where do you see yourself in three years? What are your personal goals for Starta?
-My personal goal is to create a new form of accelerators that will create a new player in the market or change the VC/Startup world completely.
-Right now, it looks like a zoo: unicorns, cash cows, “foxes” and “hedgehogs.” (A study from Columbia University placed VCs and angel investors into two categories, “foxes” and “hedgehogs.”)
-Instead of breeding a new animal, I would like to create a feeder for all. Or, better yet, convert the zoo into an amusement park with positive experiences for each of the players, not just a rollercoaster for startups.
-My professional goal is to finish fundraising for Starta Accelerator Fund for the upcoming four classes over the next two years, which will help to support about eight startups per class and increase the chance of creating an Eastern-European unicorn success story.
More info on the companies presenting and registration for the Starta Demo day at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/starta-accelerator-demo-day-tickets-22171956920