Zoi Kantounatou on the Silicon Valley Accelerate programme
Places on our Silicon Valley Accelerate programme are filling up quickly. We caught up with our co-founder, Zoi Kantounatou, to better understand how spending a few days across the pond can benefit UK businesses.
What do you most look forward to in the Silicon Valley Accelerate programme?
The Silicon Valley Accelerate programme provides a deep-dive experience into all the different elements that influence business in that side of the world. Businesses at the Valley operate in a completely different way and they don’t play by the same rules. I am really looking forward to an injection of new ideas, new ways of doing business, vibrant environments and approaches that I haven’t thought of before. The main difference in how businesses are pushed to fail fast, learn and start again. In the UK, we approach failure in business in a completely different way.
The most exciting aspect of the programme for me is witnessing the change that happens as the business leaders go through the experience we have designed for them. - Zoi Kantounatou, FutureX
They gain better understanding on how to position their companies and ideas in the US market, they learn to focus and develop new ideas for their business models and how they can grow and scale their businesses.
Has any advice given to previous entrepreneurs really stuck with you?
So much have been said over the years that really stuck with me but I am always surprised how positive and open to help the people we meet are. I remember, one time we were in a meeting with Heidi Roisen from DFJ Investors, and just before the end someone asked “I have put together my Investors Pack but I am not sure if it’s good enough” and before he even finished his sentence Heidi said “Well, here is my email, send the deck through and I will let you know my thoughts”. We, most of the time, assume that these people are not accessible however they are really open to listen, help and support if they can.
There was a piece of advice that was given to entrepreneurs during one of the programmes that I keep catching myself repeating in different situations and has affected the way I approach our business. It was, “start your company based on what your big ambition is rather than the current outlook or resources you have”. It was mentioned by WSGR, a leading provider of legal services, and the reason it has stuck with me it was because it made my perception of building my business more ambitious. It made me realise that sometimes as startups and small companies we do things and set structures sometimes out of naivety or lack of experience. This could be reflective of our contracts, processes, management systems and then as you grow you realise that you need to change all these to reflect the different stage that your company is at. Thinking of your company as the $1bn valuation company that you are aiming to build, or whatever the objective of each founder is, in the beginning allows you to set processes for the long term and lead based on a more ambitious mindset.
What is the importance of bringing UK tech entrepreneurs out to the west coast of the US?
It’s an extremely valuable learning experience for UK tech companies who have global ambitions. They get a deep understanding of how tech companies are operating in Silicon Valley, which is still considered as the place to be if you have a tech company. Due to concentrated resources of things like, talent, infrastructure and money, Silicon Valley provides an accelerated space for companies to grow. UK tech companies can tap into that through the programme we provide. Most of the time, we see business leaders leaving the trip feeling more confident of the companies they are building and a clear idea of what they are already good at and what they need to develop. Bringing this learning back to the UK is valuable for the entrepreneurial ecosystem as a whole.
One of the most important things however, are the connections and network that these entrepreneurs will build as part of the programme. Meeting people such as Priya Rajan Director, Early Stage Practice at Silicon Valley Bank, Leela Srinivasan CMO of SurveyMonkey and Monique Woodard, an Early Stage Startup Investor can open many doors and create invaluable opportunities.
The Silicon Valley Accelerate programme has been running for five years - what have you seen previous delegates achieve in that time?
The SVA alumni is a group of incredible people that we couldn't be more proud of! Alumni have collectively gone on to raise over $40M from investors, expand into the United States, build life saving technologies, secure multi-million pound contracts and build thriving companies that keep purpose at the heart of what they do.
The programme offers a combination of business-focused sessions and personal development workshops - why did you choose to structure the programme in this way?
As a business, we exist to support and educate entrepreneurs on how to grow scalable companies and we believe that you need the right tools to achieve this. The programme is designed to provide the necessary tools from a personal development perspective and a business growth perspective.
The personal development workshops provide the entrepreneurs with learning and tools so they can constantly grow and develop as the week progresses. The actual programme is quite intense as it is packed with meetings and therefore the tools we offer through the personal development workshops allow the entrepreneurs to be prepared. We also educate the participants on the differences in running businesses between the US and the UK and help them adapt and focus their pitch based on the US way of doing business.
The culture in Silicon Valley is fairly unique, it's a place where people believe that anything is possible and self-belief is in abundance. - Zoi Kantounatou, FutureX
The business meetings are intentionally structured in a way that provided the most value to the people attending. We have a maximum of 10 participants at every year’s cohort so we can provide real space for people to interact with the hosts. It’s not just about listening to someone’s advice and experience, it’s about having the time to explain what you do, ask questions and get feedback and insights targeted to your businesses.
Finally, these sessions and the time we spend together as a group provide the fundamentals to create a community and every participants ends up with a group of businesses who support each other and want to see each other succeed. At the end of the programme, the entrepreneurs are welcomed to our community of alumni and get access to more support and growth opportunities.
How have you seen the culture in Silicon Valley change over the years?
The culture in Silicon Valley is fairly unique, it's a place where people believe that anything is possible and self-belief is in abundance. Trends often start in the bay area and then slowly percolate across the US and then eventually to Europe and the UK - which too often means that UK startups are replicating Silicon Valley business models, trends and processes, instead of setting them.
One of the biggest cultural change in the last few years is finally a conversation, acknowledgement and action around diversity, inclusion, harassment and the need for a more socially conscious mindset to sit throughout business.
What advice would you give to an entrepreneur looking to apply for the programme?
If you are looking to expand to the US or you have a global product and you want to get feedback and ideas on how you can grow and scale your business, this programme is for you.
The programme is designed to not only give you access to a network in Silicon Valley and an understanding of how businesses are run there but also provide you with the tools and support you will need to get value. I would say the biggest asset for everyone attending the programme is the support group of like-minded entrepreneurs - these are people who are going through the same experience and are there to help you succeed.
My advice would be; look into how you can make the most of this yourself. We have designed a programme to provide the maximum value, however it’s up to the individuals to get even more. You can use this time and space as a real catalyst for bringing your business into its next stage.
Can you reveal any exciting info about SVA19?
Alongside our meetings with high-level leaders in some of the most well-known companies in the Valley, we will be hosting a Demo Day for the first time this year. We will invite along a variety of interesting people to engage and network with the entrepreneurs. This should be a great opportunity for the group to showcase their businesses and gain valuable feedback.
Do you feel ready to take your tech business to the next level? Learn more and apply today!
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