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Is seven days enough time for startups to be on YEI’s accelerator programme?

Is seven days enough time for startups to network, learn and secure investment while on an international accelerator programme?

This is the question South African business people that took part in a recent accelerator programme in France asked.

With just under a week left before the deadline for this year’s Young Enterprise Initiative (YEI) Ventureburn looked at three startups that participated in YEI South Africa 2016 and how they benefited from the week-long programme.

Read more: TIA-backed startups have two weeks left to apply for Young Enterprise Initiative

This is the second year the programme will be running in South Africa. The initiative is run by the French Embassy in South Africa and the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA).

‘Had YEI programme been longer I would have had more time to follow up with contacts made there’

Last year four startups were selected and spent a week in France. The startups were Balancell, SanAqua, Clear Sky Energy and Ducere Holdings.

‘Insight into French business culture’

Pamela Alborough, a founder of water treatment solutions startup San Aqua, said she found the programme useful as it taught her company about French business culture.

She gave an example of how the French communicated differently and how prior to going to France she and her team would have perceived this as poor communication.

“The French have a different way of doing business than we do in South Africa, the seminars showed us these differences and taught us how to adapt to the business culture,” she said.

While in France, Alborough said the startup’s host RETIS, an innovation network, took her company on a tour of firms working in energy and water technologies and introduced them to a CEEI innovation hub in Toulouse.

While there she also held meetings with French investment bank BPI, where she discussed possible funding, and PwC on taxation and accounting. Albourough however mentioned that she was unable to raise any funding while in France.

She said had the programme run longer it would have allowed her time to capitalise on potential partnerships from the contacts she had made in the week she was in France.

‘Incubator introduction useful’

Andre Reyneke, managing director at Ducere Holdings which specialises in hybrid transmission systems, added that the programme was useful in that it introduced startups to specific incubators in their industries.

Ducere Holdings has been invited back to France this September by Business France Agency and Reyneke said he is hoping to raise funding and establish partnerships on the next visit.

While in France he also attended seminars that covered issues like staffing and tax breaks.

Reyneke said while he and other startups on the programme had been informed of opportunities to access funding, he had not managed to raise any in the week that he was there.

‘Would’ve benefit from more time’

Paul Osborne, business development manager at Balancell said he and his team had initially applied to the programme to try get help to raise venture capital funding.

“Raising capital in South Africa is challenging as most investors are not true venture capitalists but rather traditional private equity wanting more control and shareholding,” he said.

While in France, he said Balancell was hosted by RETIS and TEAM Cote Dazur, an investment promotion agency in Nice.

“My hosts were extremely well organised to condense that many relevant events and meetings into just a few days. They made a significant effort to set up relevant meetings which not only gave me an opportunity to address our initial agenda but also presented a strong case for considering France as a base for our business to service the European markets,” he said.

He said had the programme run for longer it would have given him more time to plan, interact with and search for potential leads as well as to follow up on the contacts that he had made there.

“More time would certainly have been beneficial,” he added.

‘Schedule depends on startup’

TIA manager of international relations Teboho Seseng said the programme aims to seed startups and provide them with market access in France. He acknowledged that startups would likely need more time to effectively do that.

Seseng said that each startup’s schedule while on the programme, in relation to for example seeking funding and conducting research while in France, is decided on a case-by-case basis.

“Applicants specify what they need most and their hosts in France choose how they can best assist them as well as who they can introduce them to,” he said.

Featured image: Dafne Cholet via Flickr (CC 2.0 BY-SA, resized)