Founder Institute Stockholm has launched a new program and the best team that graduates will get 100k. Applications have officially opened for the accelerator that begins on Nov 21. We sat down with Joel Sunnehåll, Founder of Desifer and a Director of Founder Institute Stockholm to talk shop.
As a business accelerator, the Founder Institute program teaches aspiring entrepreneurs to be agile and to meet demands in the market. So what problem does your program address?
There are a lot of people with sharp ideas who never really get started. There are also too many people trying to become entrepreneurs and early businesses fail because they lack feedback and focus and networks in the early stages. More specifically we focus on three different categories. Either you’re in the idea stage, you may be in the prototype stage with an MVP or product demo, or you can be in the early company stage so you might have a product and customers and revenue but you’re pre-funding.
What sets you apart from other business accelerators in Stockholm?
We started this in 2009. Founder Institute was started by 9-time entrepreneur Adeo Ressi who launched ‘Mission To Mars’ with Elon Musk in 2003. Graduates of Founder Institute have built companies worth more than 20 billion dollars. A lot of our graduates go on to get funded directly by big venture capital firms or they proceed to later stage accelerators like Y Combinator. So if you compare us to other players in the startup ecosystem, there are a few actors that focus on the inspiration stage like Startup Weekend. There are growth-focused players who do not invest unless you have a huge revenue, we focus exclusively on the earlier launching stages.
What kind of outcome can participants expect?
The program is quite effective in achieving success. For the typical Founder, the first year failure rate is 50% at least if you look at it at an aggregate level. For Founder Institute graduates, we have more than a 70% success rate. We focus on tech-enabled companies that make it possible to scale so we don’t do consulting or restaurants even though our mentors come from very diverse backgrounds.
This is a bit of a chicken and egg question. Investors always look for great teams while first-time startup founders put so much energy into protecting their idea. What would you say is more important – the idea or the execution?
Almost all ideas change radically during the journey of the company. It’s not that ideas don’t matter, but the execution is so much more important. So who is doing the actual execution? It’s the entrepreneurs and their team so we search for people who can become really good entrepreneurs.
What makes a great entrepreneur? How do you assess applicants to find those with the most potential for success?
We use some unconventional methods. We’ve developed our own proprietary Founder DNA test that is about 1 hour long. It’s been taken by more than 10,000 people and we’ve correlated key traits with successful graduates that we believe are truly important. First off you need to be a strong problem solver. Entrepreneurship means you need to constantly solve problems and be quite creative and be able to find new solutions and be ready to challenge accepted norms. You also need to be quite agreeable and strike the right balance. It’s quite interesting. You can read more about this and take our DNA test and use it to form a team with complementary skills.
Many entrepreneurs who have gone through the program talk about how great it is to be a part of the network…
Each cohort is a cluster of high potential entrepreneurs. Great companies are not built alone. joel describes the common assumption that successful entrepreneurs are geniuses who sit alone in their basement, creating million-dollar products. He says it’s simply not true. Of course, mentors are a key part of this. We have over 50 mentors here in Stockholm. Most of them are serial entrepreneurs. We also have experts in other areas. We have Randy Cotton, Josep Nolla, Annette Nordvall – one of Sweden’s more famous angel investors, we have Michael Lantz, Nedim Efendic and Jenny Lindblad who is a dedicated pitch coach.
How do you make sure you turn out successful entrepreneurs?
Entrepreneurship cannot really be taught, at least not classroom style. You have to learn by doing. That’s why we have a structured agenda broken into 3 main stages. It covers the business model, pitch training, finding your business model, positioning it towards your competitors, things like that, and it ends with mentor business review and a demo day where we invite some VCs to the review. After every week, you’ll be doing real company-building work and the week after, you’ll get mentor feedback. This isn’t university. It’s pretty hardcore.
Is there anything you wish you could share with people out there who are thinking about creating a startup or joining the program?
Startups are hard. Much, much harder than what is portrayed by the media these days. This program is really intense and really tough. You need to be able to commit at least 20-30 hours each week and you need to meet minimum threshold ratings to stay on. There are many reasons why you may drop out, but then you can re-enroll for free in the next program. Less than 30% actually make it to graduation. It’s by design but if you do, you make it with a vetted company and have a higher rate of finding an investor. These 14 weeks are just the beginning of a long journey.