Building your company in the United States can be a great idea – we have resources, expertise, and a quickly growing startup and entrepreneurship industry. In my role as Investment Manager at Boomtown Accelerator in Boulder, Colorado, I review a wide variety of applications to the Boomtown Accelerator Program from startups all over the world, including Russia, Ukraine, China, Taiwan, Canada, Spain, and Nigeria – among many others. I’m in a unique position to know what works in the US and at our program for both US-based startups, as well as foreign startups. Although each application is different, a few common threads prevail.
Over the past month working with the US Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and the American Councils for International Education program, I’ve been traveling to a number of cities in Russia, speaking with international startups about the venture investing and accelerating landscape in the United States, and offering some tips and suggestions. I’ve distilled my main suggestions down to a few key points, which I feel encapsulate some of the most important concepts to keep in mind when applying a foreign startup to a US-Based accelerator, incubator, VC, or Angel Investor.
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Key items to keep in mind when considering applying with your company to a US-based accelerator. These items are just brief comments, and should not be taken as specific advice. At Boomtown, we work with startups to guide them through all of these items, and more.
- Consider incorporating your business in the US, possible as a Delaware company. At Boomtown, we work with startups on assessing these items all the time.
- Build a network of mentors and advisors in the USA, who can help you with USA-specific business decisions. Be open to meeting new people and working with experts. It’s OK if you don’t know everything regarding how you’re going to run your business – needing advisors is not a sign of weakness at all.
- Be able to pitch your idea and company both in terms of your technical skills AND business skills. So many times I’ve heard ideas from teams with a ton of technical talent, but when it comes time to talk business strategy, they fall flat – and can’t readily admit they need help. Be open to asking for help in areas you need it.
- Apply idea to US market – how are you going to apply your business to the US Market? How will you test it in the US?
- Secure IP – Understand what parts of your business are unique, novel, and protectable, and be able to talk about that. Simply being “first to market” without a defined technical advantage is not often enough – you need to be able to consider how you’ll hold onto your advantage. Got a provisional patent on a core piece of tech? Great!
- Demonstrate Traction – Real traction. If you’re launching an app, for example, be able to tell us how many active, real, engaged users you have, and what real feedback you’ve gotten from them. We’d much rather be able to talk to you about feedback from 100 real users, rather than 1000000 fake users.
- English – Speak good business english. It’s not enough to simply be able to give your presentation in english- you need developed english language skills, and be comfortable speaking in english every day.
Key partner groups I spoke with in Russia include:
The Internet Initiatives Development Fund
“IIDF stands for Internet Initiatives Development Fund. According to Dow Jones, we are the most active early-stage venture fund in Russia and Europe. We have $100M (6bn RUB) under management. Since 2013 IIDF has closed more than 370 deals ranging from $20k to $5.5M. Our investment activity accounts for more than 100 IT startup deals each year, which is 80% of Russian early-stage venture capital market.”
Kazan IT Park Business Incubator
“The main objective of the business incubator is to help promising startups in the sphere of information technologies to develop ideas and products, getting investment, searching for potential partners and clients.”
The Saint Petersburg State University of Information Technologies, Mechanics and Optics
“The Saint Petersburg State University of Information Technologies, Mechanics and Optics (ITMO University) is one of the leading higher education institutions in Russia, providing training and research in advanced science, humanities, engineering and technology. Founded in 1900, ITMO has grown to an organization with over 13,000 students and earned its name “National Research University,” blending the culture of innovation and discovery with world-class education.”
More Ideas Sochi
“Autonomous non-profit organization “The Sea of ??Ideas” in the city of Sochi is engaged in the formation of an innovative ecosystem “Sochi Innovation Valley”. We know that in Russia there are promising start-ups, and we believe that Sochi is the best place in our country, where the founders of start-ups can live in a comfortable environment. Potential investors are often in Sochi, and many have or are planning to acquire real estate or business here. The best world experts are happy to travel to Sochi to share their experience with innovative entrepreneurs.” (Translated from Russian by Google Translate)
Kazan OIC Youth Entrepreneurship Forum
“The Kazan OIC Youth Entrepreneurship Forum is a joint initiative of the OIC Youth Forum and the government of the Republic of Tatarstan. Since 2014, the Forum has been held annually, attracting hundreds of startups, investors and industry experts from the OIC states and the Russian Federation.
Speakers will discuss the various aspects of building and scaling a startup. The speakers are drawn from a broad range of the startup ecosystem including startup founders, venture capitalists, C-class executives from top tech firms in Russia and across the globe. Some of the topics to be covered include design thinking, building and scaling teams, customer development, project unit economics amongst others.”
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