At the spring 2012 final selection of the Slovak Startup Development Program, we caught up with one of the representatives of the Plug and Play Tech Center, Mr. Fernando Gouveia
How did you like the selection event?
I enjoyed the set up here. We’ve had events where we would see up to 60 companies in a span of 3-4 days, which gives us limited time to focus on the companies. Here we reviewed a larger group remotely and had ten finalists present at the live event. This allows us to not only get a sense of the pipeline and caliber of applicant companies but also to determine which ones we would like to work with. Also, it was great that they opened up the event for the audience.
What do you think about maturity levels of the startups participating in the finals?
Majority of the companies are early stage. They’re at a point where they’re identifying their competitive advantages, finalizing the product and hitting their first milestone in terms of customer acquisition.
What team attributes will make these companies perform well in Silicon Valley?
The most important factor for a company is to be open-minded. While it’s clear that the product has to be differentiated and the market large enough, there is a bias towards choosing teams that are adaptable. The teams that will go farthest are those willing to listen to the market and their customers, and pivot if needed.
What stage of product development is most suitable for the Plug & Play program?
Ideally, companies will come here when they have launched the product in their domestic or regional market. If you have a demo or can show growth metrics, you will get much more support and targeted feedback. People need to understand what your product is meant to do.
How competitive are Slovak startups compared to their peers at Plug & Play?
Slovak startups have a great chance to succeed as they are born global and knowing they will eventually have to outgrow the relatively small Slovak market. This helps them adapt to the market and change. Also, Slovak startups are known to have great design and typically build beautiful and aesthetically pleasing UIs and products.
What is critical for business development strategy?
They need to ramp up customer acquisition before they arrive in the US. Partners, customers and investors usually want to see that there is traction and that the product was validated in the home country first. Many international teams believe that selling will be relatively easier in this bigger market. What they tend to find out is that there is an abundance of strong competitors. Testing it in the home market gives you more breathing room to identify where the largest opportunities are.
What is your suggestion for further support of aspiring entrepreneurs in Slovakia?
Startups and innovation hubs are an outcome of smart people getting together to exchange ideas. I would suggest focusing on creating more startup events and co-working spaces such as The Spot, holding business plan competitions at universities to entice engineering and business students to collaborate and continue to foster this exchange between entrepreneurs in Slovakia and Silicon Valley.