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Teaching Filipinos the art of the startup

12:14 AM June 17, 2016

MOST tech people in the Philippines may be familiar with the concept of an accelerator, but not necessarily with a pre-accelerator.

1337 Ventures CEO and founder Bikesh Lakhmichand, who brought pre-accelerator Alpha Startups to the Philippines, describes a pre-accelerator as being designed for early stage startups.

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Lakhmichand said the program was intense, compressing curriculum on customer development, product development, and marketing into five day-long sessions, but it gives participants valuable insights into how a venture capitalist thinks.

“They learn the art of starting to validate whether an idea is truly a solution to the problem that they think they are solving,” Lakhmichand said, adding that if the solution fits, they then gain a deeper understanding of product development and the best way to get that product to market as soon as possible.

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They also learn the nuts-and-bolts of building a pitch deck and presenting from it over the course of one week.

The top 10 Philippine startups in the pre-accelerator program, conducted from June 13-17, will give theirs in front of a live audience on demo day, June 18.

Investors also benefit from working with entrepreneurs at such an early stage.

“Investors can see whether the founders and their colleagues have what it takes to persevere through the entire process. Investing at such an early stage is more about the team than the idea,” he said.

Alpha Startups will take the top three startups from demo day into their full three-month accelerator program.

This comes with a cash micro investment as well as in-kind benefits, such as office space and mentoring, designed to help them launch and scale.

“Also with this round of funding coming from an angel investor who is engineering focused in Google, the team gets a pretty impressive sideline CTO to give guidance on their technology component,” he said.

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To go along with gaining a Google engineer as an angel investor, the top three Philippine startups also get a package from Amazon Web Services (AWS) that will help cover the costs of a team’s technical infrastructure.

Even before demo day, Alpha Startups evaluated the startups in attendance.

“Teams are flagged red, orange or green based on their pitch,” Lakhmichand said.

The top 10 greens will proceed to demo day.

Yet even if Philippine startups don’t win the top three spots for the full-length accelerator, or even make the top 10 for demo day, one could argue that the pre-acceleration program is a valuable experience in its own right.

During the first two days, the teams had to go out and prove that the problem they were trying to address was indeed real.

“The teams really had to go out of their comfort zone and meet up with strangers and interview them for such information,” Lakhmichand said.

On the third day, startups decided whether to look for a new idea, pivot on the current one, or proceed as is. They then focused on the design, attempting to visualize what features should be included in the minimum viable product.

“Teams were taught the art of a design sprint, which is a valuable process developed by Google Ventures on going from idea to prototype in the shortest time,” Lakhmichand said, “By the end of the week, they would have visualized a solution that hopefully solves the initial problem.”

While the final day culminates in a session on marketing and growth hacking, the benefits for startups do not end there.

Lakhmichand explained that being chosen in the top three on demo day was not the ultimate arbiter of whether a startup is worthy or not.

In the last batch of Alpha Startups in Jakarta, Indonesia, a corporation even offered to buy out one of the teams who weren’t in the top three.

Lakhmichand also emphasized that those who make it into the top 10 now have a pitch deck that they can use to compellingly present to any venture capitalist in the country or region.

And those who attended the program know what they need to do when they embark on their next idea.

“Hence we encourage everyone to stay in the program till the very end, even if the ideas failed to be validated in the first couple of days,” Lakhmichand said, adding that this process is so valuable that many corporate entities asked to join the five-day Alpha Startups program to learn the lean way of launching an idea.

While the program may be valuable to aspiring entrepreneurs, Lakhmichand shared that it was a challenge getting the word out to potential participants in every country that they bring Alpha Startups to and making it sustainable.

They thus rely heavily on local partners. In the case of the Philippines, Lakhmichand and his team work closely with DOST-ICTO along with Spring.PH.

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