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Mashauri: the rise of the virtual accelerator

Traditional startup accelerators operate on a tried and tested model: knowledge and cash in exchange for equity. Mashauri, an online accelerator aimed at increasing the success rates of startups across the globe, is trying something different. For a monthly fee, Mashauri will serve up know-how over the web, or if your startup is in its concept stage, advice is free.

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Mashauri can be considered the scenic route adjacent to a fast-track which includes accelerators like Y Combinator, 500 Startups and 88mph. While the resources and support offered by the latter cannot be discounted, some veteran entrepreneurs require less hand-holding, while other self-starters are simply hoping to slot into a knowledgable community.

Bootstrapped earlier this year by entrepreneurs Simon Gifford (UK), Victor de la Torre (Spain), Mashauri uses a proprietary programme which includes structured digital advice, live mentors, tips, templates, outputs, ideas and reports to guide entrepreneurs.

The main part of programme is called Mashauri Map, which produces reports at certain milestones. Startups interact with real live mentors, who review a venture’s work and schedule the next phase. The outputs form part of an overall business plan that is developed and refined along the way. When a startup is ready, Mashauri acts as a conduit to investors, helping entrepreneurs source financing.

Videos, case studies and performance dashboards help startups stay motivated and focussed, while Mashauri’s collection of finance, accounting, marketing, strategy and legal information aim to serve as a central repository for business knowledge.

While Mashauri’s resources are not region-specific, its mentorship includes people from the UK, Spain, Chile, Panama and South Africa. Mashauri has a strong South African contingent, which includes co-founder Gifford, who studied at the University of Cape Town and has a background in management consulting.

Although the specifics of Mashauri’s programme are unclear, concept phase startups can sign up for free and can expect help in defining their concept, a readiness assessment and early risk analysis — essentially getting their idea on track.

For a monthly subscription of 95€, startups that are slightly further along the way, can expect help in defining the business model, launching the business and reaching sustainability.

Perhaps, more importantly than anything, startups of any phase become part of a like-minded community.

Mashauri’s virtual accelerator concept isn’t something entirely new. Perhaps the most well-known of online accelerators, StartupPlays, has been around since early 2012. StartupPlays offers a collection of guides — some free, some paid — written by successful entrepreneurs. The guides include things like “World-Class Startup Customer Service” and “How To Build A Startup: The Lean LaunchPad.”

One clear distinguishing factor however, is Mashauri’s hub offering. An innovation hub, accelerator, co-working space, funding organisation, university — essentially any group who facilitates entrepreneurs — can put their members through Mashauri’s programme with the aid of a central management console which tracks progress, monitors performance indicators and gives virtual input to their collection of ventures. Neat.

Despite the almost-launch of PublicBeta, “the online learning community for entrepreneurs by entrepreneurs” by WooThemes co-founder Adii Pienaar, entrepreneurs are increasingly able to access much-needed insight, knowledge and above all, new communities that can drive growth in emerging economies.

Gifford says that while boot-strapping to profitability may be an option, Mashauri is open to early angel financing. He notes that the online accelerator’s challenges lie mainly in maintaining a balance between live mentors and entrepreneurs, adding value to a broad range of different types of startups and getting to a stage quickly enough that allows Mashauri to use its artificial intelligence play to start interrogating its data and providing sound advice based on it — as a big data analyst, Mashauri co-founder Victor de la Torre has a background in data mining.

Mashauri is good news for developing regions. Gifford says that the accelerator intends to accommodate developing economies, and that its big idea is to ultimately “democratise the management consulting industry,” oh, and if it can produce the next AirBnB or Dropbox, that would be nice too.

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