Antti Ylimutka of Startup Sauna talks about supporting startups through an open source seed accelerator
Antti Ylimutka is the wingman at Startup Sauna, one of the world’s leading open source seed accelerator for the most promising early stage startups in Northern Europe and Russia. He provides fire support directly to the captain in scaling their operations while emphasizing “fun” as the single most important metric in all what they do.By Bianca Zen 28 May, 2012
Join Antti as the panelists discuss a hot topic, “Process for Success: A Discussion with 5 Regional Startup Incubators” at Echelon 2012 this 11th and 12th June.
Tell us more about Startup Sauna.
Startup Sauna is the leading seed accelerator operating in Northern Europe, Baltics and Russia. Founded in 2010 and organized twice a year, we’re running our fifth batch now. Startup Sauna organizes one day Startup Sauna Warmup events all around our region with some exceptions (we went to Shanghai and are looking to pull of a Warmup in Singapore during Fall 2012). During these days our and local coaches will do some Sauna -style 1on1 coaching with teams and winners of these Warmups get a chance to get into the actual 7-week Startup Sauna program in Helsinki, Finland. During these 7 weeks we coach the teams in various topics ranging from basic pitching to finding and executing business models while giving exposure to other startups, hardcore techies, kick-ass coaches and investors-alike.
We’ve understood that as our region doesn’t have an equal startup ecosystem similar to that one in Silicon Valley, we came up with a model of involving these great entrepreneurs and investors helping us out pro-bono AND. As a part of this mentality, we do not take equity from our startups since we’re currently focusing on the most important task: helping out the region’s startups to meet and exceed the Valley standard while creating a pay-it-forward culture.
In terms of numbers, we see about 1000 applications per year, coach about 400 one-on-one, and select only 20 to participate in the final program. From out of these 20, only 10 get to join our Silicon Valley trip. Our startups have raised about US$15 million of seed funding and going strong. After this batch, about 80 companies have gone through our program.
What is the criteria to be a coach at Startup Sauna?
I’m not actually a coach myself, I’m running the show as the Wingman (kind-of-like a CEO/COO). I am, however, in charge of involving coaches. All of our coaches are either entrepreneurs, investors or industry experts who are willing to help out fellow entrepreneurs out from the passion of helping out.
We do have to understand that 20 years ago, if you wanted to get help and advice, there were not too many examples of globally successful companies like MySQL, Rovio, Playfish, Linux. The only way of getting “peer” help was to know someone else who was doing a startup. Our coaches want to help so that this new generation of ambitious entrepreneurs could avoid some of the errors they made themselves.
In March, you sent send some of your most promising teams to Silicon Valley. How did that go?
Actually our current batch started in late March and I am writing to you directly from Silicon Valley. So far we’ve been meeting with numerous VCs (e.g. DFJ, True Ventures, Khosla Ventures) to give our teams a taste of what is it to get hammered by a Silicon Valley VC, by people who’ve built companies themselves and can take the conversation into amazing depths in a nano second.
We’ve also given some media exposure to our teams and tomorrow, we’ll be hosting a Demo Day at RocketSpace to showcase the 10 startups to the local VC, Tech and Media community. The positive has been amazingly positive and we’re looking to establish a stronger presence here during the Fall.
Where do you see Startup Sauna in five years time?
To be honest, I wish that Startup Sauna would become useless and die away as we would have fulfilled our mission of increasing the quantity and quality of the startups hailing from Northern Europe, Baltics and Russia. I hope and know that Startup Sauna will be one of they key players in transforming the current society to a functioning startup ecosystem that didn’t mimic Silicon Valley – rather adapted a model that works here and can offer certain types of startups (e.g. high-tech, online, gaming, life sciences, crowdsourcing) simply the best place to start their journey towards global growth. I honestly believe that if we just keep on running our current model of 2 batches a year, we’ve failed in something.
Any advise to startups in Asia?
Ambition level needs to grow higher. Even if the local home market would be “big enough”, the ambition level should be global. This creates truly disruptive technologies and products that help create new wealth and jobs in Asian economies. Also, as long as the “smartest” money in the world is based in Silicon Valley, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of speaking good english, being able to communicate clearly enough to actually pitch what your startup is doing.
This factor becomes more irrelevant as Asia gets more and more talented people (both, as entrepreneurs and investors) and as the market is coming increasingly more attractive. And, as our dear friend Steve Blank, always says: get out of the building. This doesn’t only mean that startups should talk to customers and understand what they really need and would buy, but also to get out of your home country, visit distinct places to understand how the global companies are born anywhere in the world and it really widens your perspective to see entrepreneurs from most different locations struggling with the same problems as you are.
Antti Ylimutka (Wingman at Startup Sauna) is one of the awesome speakers at Echelon 2012. This tech conference is a two-day, double-track event on 11 and 12 June 2012 with over 1,100 delegates, a demo pit of up to 50 regional startups per day and various workshops. Get your tickets now!