IT Arena Startup Track 2018: Behind the Scenes

18 Apr, 2019
IT Arena 2018 was magnificent. Bigger, better and even more inspiring than before. But what made this year really special was the Startup Track. Ivan Dmytrasevych, CEO at Startup Depot and a co-organizer of IT Arena, shared his thoughts on the Startup track, the Ukrainian startup community, and the Startup Competition.

The brand-new Startup track

At the last year’s Startup Competition at IT Arena, we noticed that lots of the attendees are somehow connected to startups. Some of them owned a startup, others worked at one or were just considering to launch their own business. So, we decided to arrange an exclusive conference track for early-stage startup owners who either already have their first traction or are very close to gaining it.

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The main idea behind organizing the Startup track was simple: we wanted to give the attendees the value they came for. This includes providing useful content and networking opportunities, creating favorable conditions to meet other startuppers, investors, people from Ukrainian and foreign startup accelerators, startup event organizers and more.

The Startup track included the Startup Competition, the Startup Alley and presentations by brilliant speakers like Martin Villig, Co-Founder at Taxify and Rune Theill, Co-Founder & CEO at Rockstart. Their experience and knowledge plus the tips they shared were enormously useful to budding entrepreneurs.

The Startup Alley is an exhibition of innovations by Ukrainian startups. When you stroll down the Alley with more than 50 startups exhibiting their highlights, you can see the cross-section of the Ukrainian startup ecosystem and witness the general market situation.

The attendees could observe and try out various VR headsets, bionic parts, lifelong backpacks, useful business optimization apps, backpacks with a screen and so much more. Each IT Arena participant had a chance to explore some of the most progressive Ukrainian tech startups, find out the details about their product development process and chat with startup owners.

The Startup Alley was a huge success! Seeing how many people wanted to get in, we’ve decided to make the startup expo much bigger and extensive next year.

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“I know some people who are building a startup”

For the 4 years in a row, the Startup Competition at IT Arena has been giving young and ambitious companies a chance to present their ideas, solutions and products to the world.

You’d think that since Ukraine has a lot of startups, finding the ones that are right for the Startup Competition would be easy. But there were some difficulties along the way. Our requirements were fairly simple: regardless of the industry, the startup had to be no more than two years old and if it already had some investments, they weren’t supposed to exceed $100k.

As we launched the registration for the competition, we started searching for candidates using AngelList, Product Hunt and local channels like AIN.ua. Also, we used social media ad campaigns, spread information via our partners, friends, colleagues in Lviv and other Ukrainian cities.

This approach was certainly rewarding. But not as rewarding as asking around in the community. “Yeah, I know some people who are building a startup,” was the typical answer. As a result, we received 150 registrations for the Startup Competition – a record number of startups compared to the previous years.

The screening process was one of the most interesting challenges for me in 2018. Talking with 2-3 startups a day during the UnicornMe acceleration program was fine. Watching pitches from 10-20 teams one by one was bearable. But the two-week marathon of evaluating 150 teams was tough: interviews, Skype calls, meetings, studying each application in detail and, of course, doubts and difficult choices to make. In the end, we selected 50 out of 150 startups.

How to tell your story

Startup pitches are usually a pain. You have no idea how long and detailed the founders’ pitches can be. We get it, you’re proud of your idea, you find it special, your processes – exciting and your ideas on business development – progressive. But pitching is an art you have to master if you’re looking to raise some serious money. You have to sell your idea to the jury, make them believe in whatever you’re doing, not tire and bore them.

Being the organizers, we wanted to make sure the startups we selected looked competent on stage. So, a couple of days before the presentation, we arranged an online-workshop for the semi-finalists together with Speak2me, a team of professional public speaking and pitching trainers. It worked out great. The teams brushed up on their public speaking skills and enhanced their presentations. The second workshop was held with the finalists before the Startup Competition grand finale.

Out of 50 teams who presented their ideas on the first day of the conference, only 11 made it to the finals: 10 were selected by the jury plus the winner of the People’s Choice online competition.

13 juries and $70,000  

We managed to get trusted investors from around the globe on board. They included Semyon Dukach from One Way Ventures, Nick Bilogorskiy from Juniper Networks, Matt Wallaert from Clover Health and others. To help us evaluate teams at the semi-finals, we invited partners from Rockstart Accelerator, Starta Accelerator, 1991 Open Data Incubator and the CDRF entrepreneurship fund.

The startups were evaluated against the five main criteria:

  • Idea. Is the idea validated well enough and what is the point of market entry?
  • Market. What are the market size and the company’s strategy of expanding the market?
  • Business model. Do they have a verified and scalable business model?
  • Traction. What’s the number of the startup’s active users, income, profitability, etc.
  • Team. Does the team have enough experience to grow?
Our goal was to reach a $50,000 prize fund. We started out with the main prize from IT Arena, $10,000, and then talked with some local and international partners to raise more. After sharing our previous results and plans for the next year, we managed to collect $70,000 and attract 20 local and international partners.

Other prizes included

  • $5,000 from CRDF Global
  • three $2,500 travel grants
  • a two-week trip to the Silicon Valley from the Startup Embassy
  • mentorship programs from Techstars Berlin, Rockstart and 1991 Open Data Incubator
  • membership at the Sputnik Coworking Space in New York
  • an educational program from KmBS

…and so much more.

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Above and beyond

This year, the Startup Competition impressed everyone with loads of exciting and innovative concepts. The main prize, $10,000 from IT Arena, was given to the team of Liki24, a platform that brings medical products, doctors, clinics, pharmacies, insurance companies, and clients together. They also claim to eliminate the problem of medicine search and delivery.

Other prizes went to

  • UATAG who designed a unique physical tag to verify that a product is original, protecting it from counterfeiting.
  • StudyDive, a peer2peer network for offline learning and certification.
  • Esper Bionics, a bionic prosthetic arm and a solution that helps to control all types of prosthetic hands.
  • PIX Backpack, a customizable LED backpack and a mobile application.
  • AXDRAFT who are building an AI-driven document automation system which allows drafting a perfect document for lawyers and non-lawyers in just four minutes.
  • VRnet.io, a platform for converting 2D images into CAD models and AR/VR experiences.
Developing and maintaining the startup culture is essential for the Ukrainian tech community. By holding events like the IT Arena Startup Competition, we help young companies go a step further in making their topical, progressive and sometimes wild ideas a reality. So, if you are a startup owner, don’t hesitate to join the competition in 2019.

 

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