Mid-term review at Kickstart Accelerator

Kickstart Accelerator’s second programme is halfway through for the 30 selected companies. What do the start-ups appreciate and what has really helped them? We asked four companies in Zurich’s Kraftwerk.

Attempts to describe the taste of food often end in flowery, incomprehensible descriptions. The fact that a start-up is trying to do this through digitalisation seems unbelievable. And yet FlavorWiki wants to develop a standard language for taste with the help of an algorithm and testers who will provide the data. The aim is to provide a tool based on the algorithm that makes tests of new foodstuffs easier and cheaper, and thus affordable for smaller providers. If enough data can be evaluated, the business area will be expanded. For example, food manufacturers could use the language provided by FlavorWiki to communicate their requirements to suppliers more quickly and accurately. In addition, it would also make precise, individual purchasing recommendations possible.

However, it is not ready yet. FlavorWiki was founded only in February and the founders are currently working in the Kraftwerk building in Zurich. They are one of the 30 start-ups selected for Kickstart Accelerator’s second programme and are now halfway through the programme. “The fact that we have an office here is certainly beneficial for us, and financial support of course is welcome to a company as young as us,” explains Paul Price, who is responsible for strategy and business development at FlavorWiki.

But the real benefit lies elsewhere. In the case of the young companies, the Lean Startup approach has largely prevailed. A core element is the formation of early contacts with customers in order to design the product according to their requirements. But how do you approach these customers as a very young start-up? Kickstart Accelerator offers a solution here. “We have found that our idea has been very well received in the food sector,” says Price. “But the question now is what our first product should look like.” It helps that industry companies support the Accelerator. “The contacts with Migros and Coop are invaluable for us,” says Price. One is already in advanced talks.

Identifying the first customer group
Thibault Castagne, founder and CEO of Spark Horizon, is in a very similar phase. During his MBA studies at the University of St. Gallen, the native Frenchman outlined a business idea that has now been adopted in a tangible form. It is a charging column for electric vehicles with a large touch-screen and equipped with various sensors. The idea is to rent it to municipalities and towns, shopping centres and stadiums. Thanks to its sensors, it can also provide data on air pollution and traffic flow as part of a smart city concept. At the same time, the screen can display information about the city or even personalised advertising. These additional services improve the ratio between installation expense and revenue.

A first functional column is already standing in front of Kraftwerk. “Now it’s about finding out which customer group is best for the launch and which data is of particular interest to towns and communities,” says Castagne. To find out, he is using the Kickstart Accelerator network, as well as advice from mentors.

Collaborations with other start-ups
Castagne appreciates the network of investors and start-ups. He has already come to an initial collaboration in this early phase with Rent’n’share. This young company rents out cars on a long-term basis, which can then be sub-let through the start-up’s platform. It offers an all-inclusive package service. “We offer a flat rate, which includes everything except petrol and parking space, and which can be reduced by car sharing,” explains Alexander Lehmann. The Swisscom employee is an intrapreneur: the Rent’n’Share project is being launched by a team of Swisscom and AXA employees. It is about bundling the skills of the two large companies – mobility on the part of AXA, ICT on the part of Swisscom – in a concrete business case. If it becomes clear that Rent’n’Share is successful on the market, the project will be continued as an independent organisation.

Intrapreneurs working alongside with start-ups
Rent’n’Share is also still at the start. The project team has provided its first car to the inhabitants of Kraftwerk – the electric car is powered by Spark Horizon’s charging station. And the team is in close contact with other young entrepreneurs. “We are close to the entrepreneurs here in the Accelerator in order to get into the start-up mindset,” says Nathalie Betschmann, who is part of the project on AXA’s side.

The collaboration with other Kickstart companies is an important issue for Sandro Schmid. “We’re working with two blockchain and bitcoin companies,” says AAAccell’s managing partner. The fintech start-up has developed a complex quantitative model for asset management based on scientific research. AAAccell is already a step ahead of other companies in the Accelerator: it has 23 people on its payroll.

Direct contacts to decision-makers
At the moment, the team is developing the model so that it works fully automatically in the cloud and is also scalable. At the same time, Schmid is looking for customers. “What I like about Kickstart Accelerator is that we get contacts directly to the innovation and strategy departments of potential customers.” The business has already presented its product at various locations and is currently running several pilot projects – proof-of-concepts (POCs).

Contact with potential customers and other start-ups are not the only advantages Schmid sees in the Accelerator, the mentors and masterclasses are also appreciated. He sums up his high regard for the programme in a few words: “I really have to give the Accelerator a pat on the back.”

Picture: Kraftwerk