startup accelerator program of the Helsinki Think Company promises to be a “a cutting-edge” one but despite having succeed to be so during the last two months with its rigorous yet engaging team, in last night’s final
it failed to close the door properly at Teidekulma in Helsinki, in how it evaluated the best startups. Here is why and how one could make it better:
I have been a jury many times in my life, I have built buildings with major firms and I am also in academia as a researcher and as an Associate Professor. In all of these there is one thing in common, the hard questions are the only questions. There is no room for the sweet card. For example: back up those claims, give me names, do you really expect us to believe one is using another app to do that? Are you really making that money in 2 years? Your phone consumes more energy than a fridge, is that climate change cool?
The hard questions show if ones idea and work is solid. The mutiny program was, as I wrote before, a good surprise. It was strict, engaging and humane. Even the last two weeks, where the energy sank, the quality filter of the Helsinki Think Company worked in eliminating teams not ready to deliver quality. The final event was also well organized. Mature and classy. The biggest flaw and one that so often kills a great deal of trust and motivation to such accelerator programs was the evaluation method of the winning team.
Three jury members deciding on such fate is a very old fashioned way to do evaluations. It is not possible for people to disassociate from personal biases specially if they do not pose hard questions nor follow a clear method of inquiry, such as its done in the academia. The evaluation of the teams could have been done by involving the audience to vote, it could also have given a vote to the mutiny team who followed the progress of the teams and even give an extra vote to the participating teams which would vote on others. For many years I did so when running my courses at the TU Darmstadt. A clear mapping of percentages and of the method makes such work very well. The wisdom of the crowds is usually best, but even if not, and the outcome is a Trump, its surely the only receipt for fairness.
The task then of the jury is to ask the tough questions to see if what is stated in the pitch holds truth. Exemplifying, the team useless claims profits of 20 million in 2 to 3 years. How? These are bold claims. Where is the budget? The team spark claims to have a calculator that measures your carbon output. Any good jury would ask questions such as, you do know there are hundreds of those apps out there? Where do u get the data for such calculator? Climate change studies is a huge field in academia and its all about the reliability of data. It is not credible to ask if I drive a car only. Data is complex, so for example, what type of a car? How often? How many people use it? And what are the consequences of less consumption in a world totally based on consumption?
Loose unsigned testimonials or Facebook followers are not evidences for credibility of the quality of their idea nor of its impact. If one cannot bring names in public of persons nor company’s who are backing this project then these hold no truth. The team ROND for example, clearly stated highly credible companies and people with whom they are already working with, clearly testifying for the quality of their work. This team astonishingly did not even made it to the 4 best.
A jury must ask, give me the names, give me the sources, give me the numbers. A jury must try to destroy the idea, there is no time to be having a nice chat. If the jury can’t destroy it, then it’s the proof that it is a good startup.
A more progressive and disruptive evaluation process would be not to give an immediate prize money to the winners, but to empower every person in the audience with a 10 euro voucher and ask them, to invest in the startup they would believe that in 2 years would succeed in improving the world and increasing the value of those 10 euros. That vote would be their vote for the best startup and that money would be given to the startup which actually succeeds best in 2 years time.
More details can be added by even giving some profit to the people in the audience who did the right betting after two years. This would likely avoid the growing trend of professional hackathoners who are actually going to such events to win prize moneys but not developing any ideas further, they have indeed hacked the hackathons! At the latest Ultrahack I have witnessed that, teams of people whom are widely known to spread themselves among several teams to maximize the chances of winning the prize money and then moving on to the next hackathon. And they do win!
I write these words cause I see a trend in Finland, of a fever in the startup accelerator programs, incubators and hackathons with flashy events but with so little enduring outcome. I do hope Helsinki Think Company, whose team I do value dearly, becomes the beacon of quality in this area. For that to happen it must continue to improve. I am willing to collaborate further if I am allowed to pose hard questions.
Pedro Aibéo is a trained Design Architect and Civil Engineer. He is at present a Kone Säätiö Research Fellow, a Visiting Associate Professor at UNAM University, Mexico and at Wuhan University of Technology, China, and a Lecturer and Doctoral Candidate at Aalto University, Finland on “Architectural Democracy”. He is the founder and Artistic Director of “Cidadania” theatre+games group, a professional Musician at Homebound, the founder and Chairman of the World Music School Helsinki, a drawing teacher at the croquis nights and at Kiasma and a Graphic Novelist.