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Acceleration as seen through the eyes of fintech

Program: Huge Thing Sp. z o.o. – Huge Thing Accelerator

Technological innovation in the finance area is very popular in Poland. New solutions offered by startups from the fintech sector streamline payments processes, allow to observe expenses and reduce the costs of the money system. On the one hand, banks and large financial institutions are attracted by tech news, but also consumers themselves, appreciating the amenities proposed by young, innovative companies. The creators of BillTech had this last goal in mind. 

BillTech team from the beginning wanted to respond to the challenge of cyclical payments – such as utility bills. The new technologies could be used to automate payments and save time and even money in the event of delays and calculation of penalties. The idea quickly turned into the first prototype of the application. However, creating a large-scale, profitable business requires a huge amount of work over the years or getting external support.

Huge Thing

Such accelerated development is supported by acceleration programs. Startup applied to the Huge Thing accelerator, run in cooperation with Alior Bank and Speedup VC Group. Polish Agency for Enterprise Development (PARP) launched the Scale UP competition that enables creation of 10 accelerators throughout Poland, which facilitated cooperation and partner exchange of experience between young and innovative startups and corporations with a wide range of resources. Thanks to the initiative, over 220 new projects have been successfully developed and at least 59 implementations of new solutions in the value chains of large companies have been conducted. In this way, Scale UP completed the offer for small and medium-sized enterprises offered by the Start In Poland program.

The Huge Thing program was dedicated to technology companies from the financial sector. The main stage of acceleration lasted over 15 weeks and included a broad support package – up to PLN 200,000 non-returnable development grants, access to Brain Embassy Warsaw, meetings with experts and mentors from 500 Startups, Techstars or Berlin Startup Consulting, as well as workshops developing business skills – from defining problems through UX to pitching and obtaining financing. The accelerator also organized two trips abroad – to Berlin and London. Jędrzej Małolepszy, co-founder of BillTech, recalls: – "During each day of the visit we had two or three meetings with local startups, organizations and investors." 

Full speed mode

It may be said that the program started already at the application stage – the recruitment process itself required a lot of dedication and effort from the interested teams. Only 35 companies from over 200 companies, were invited to the interview, while 15 of them were selected for special pre-acceleration, during which the start-ups were working on their products. Only the nine most motivated teams – including BillTech – got to the right program. 

Over the next several weeks, startups were prepared for intense work on their skills. Four days a week – from Monday to Thursday – were filled with trainings, conducted with all companies that participated in the program (including pitching and designing customer journey), as well as those that were devoted only to selected technical details. However, as Małolepszy relates: "The most important thing besides the workshops was that during these four days, usually once a day or after the workshop, we spent an hour on a one to one meeting with the mentor alone".

Mentors, cooperating with startups within the program, represented many sectors. The support was offered by representatives of Speedup VC, fund portfolio companies or consultants from the financial sector and also by the specialists from the market of new technologies, such as: SaaS, digital marketing, analytics, conversion. Companies met about 50 mentors, some of which conducted training, and some visited the participants of the program to have free conversation and exchange of opinions.

The involvement of mentors in conducting trainings and their attendance at events or meetings organized in the course of the program proved to be crucial for the long-term development of innovative projects. Małolepszy states: – "Thanks to this, the mentors knew our business, they could specifically refer to our progress and suggest specific ways of implementation." Also Alior Bank – the accelerator's partner – provided mentors, tailored to the start-up profile. Thanks to this part, BillTech got to know representatives of retail banking in the institution. 

During the program, the startups also worked on the development of their products in the Brain Embassy space. It happened that sometimes there was no time for the current work because of an intense schedule of workshops and meetings, but as Małolepszy states: - "With hindsight, I see that thanks to the program, we learned a lot and changed our mindset. Without that, we would probably be in one place. " It was regularly checked how the startup spends the received funds received and whether it achieves the set milestones.

Thanks to the program, BillTech team also gained significant support in building recognition and opening further development financing channels. Therefore, companies took part in two foreign missions. Five-days visits in Berlin and London enabled participants to build networks with start-ups and key organizations from the fintech industry. The accelerator also supported companies in conversations with investors. Program attendees were also involved in conferences, including Fintech'17 Impact and other events that are key factor to become visible and they are a great opportunity to break out due to the successful offer presentation.

From scouts to gladiators

As the team members report, before they took part in the acceleration program, they did not have a ready product, and thus – business, it was still in the phase of creating and shaping. The program allowed them to gain know-how, which is an invaluable help at the stage of converting an idea into a functional model. "BillTech team has learned to build a business from scratch. We realized how many mistakes can be made; how easy it is to go in the direction of building an idealized product, and how important it is to solve problems that really exist, study problems, market, talk to suppliers, potential recipients, contractors – summarizes Małolepszy. 

A finished acceleration does not mean the end of all actions. The relationships established during the program continue to pay off. Nearly half of the companies that applied to the Huge Thing accelerator came from abroad. Part of them came to Poland especially for the program and they come back to Poland for industry conferences or in business and social purposes. BillTech team established permanent relationships with mentors or other cooperation networks, such as Techstars, that allow them to solve problems that an individual small company cannot overcome.

As participants used to call the acceleration program, it is a kind of "mini MBA about business from scratch". BillTech took the chance and today has an MVP, a business model, and carry on talks with investors. Maybe your initiative will benefit from acceleration?

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