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RG YEP Ignite – an interview with RG Community Manager Veroniki Zerva

By January 17, 2019 No Comments
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As we reach the end of the Ignite stage of our Young Entrepreneurs Programme (RG YEP), we’ve been reflecting on the success and learnings gained from this year’s Ignite phase. Seventy one Reload Greece mentors participated in 13 Ignite workshops held across the UK, Germany, the Netherlands and Greece and we were extremely impressed with the calibre of attendees and the quality of business ideas presented. In this week’s blog we catch up with Veroniki Zerva, Community Manager at Reload Greece, to hear her reflections on the first stage of the programme.

How would you describe the profile of this year’s RG YEP Ignite attendees? 

For the Young Entrepreneurs Programme 2018-19, we travelled to 13 cities across Europe and we met incredible people. I am thrilled to share this experience with you Kate and our network. Traditionally the RG YEP Ignite workshops took place in Universities but to attract more young professionals, this year the educational workshops took place in both university venues and co-working spaces. We specifically called out to Final Year, Masters and Ph.D students, researchers and young professionals to join the events. This message came across and I am happy for the brilliant researchers, dynamic students and highly skilled professionals that were educated using our methodology. This year we had more advanced teams (in prototype, MVP stage) than in past years. I believe this is due to the credibility of the organisation; as we grow, we become more competitive to other pre-accelerator and accelerator programmes and hence strong teams and highly qualified people want to join the programme.

How did you find the quality and breadth of ideas presented in this year’s workshops? 

The quality of ideas presented at the Ignite workshops improved tremendously throughout all locations. We heard FinTech, MedTech, GreenTech, AgriTech, BioTech and Tourism related ideas. The top 6 industries with ideas presented were Tourism/ Hospitality, FinTech, MedTech, Tech services, Engineering/ Construction, EduTech. It is worth mentioning that we had 110 ideas presented and 87 ideas received a 1 hour mentoring session with a dedicated Reload Greece mentor between October- December 2018. 

How would you describe the startup ecosystem in each country? 

Running RG YEP for a second year, I can confidently say that there are several factors that differentiate each location. One example is that at the universities of Manchester and Imperial College London, we identified brilliant ideas coming from engineering and biotech sectors whereas in UCL and Birmingham, we met inspiring energy, space and nuclear scientists. Another interesting takeaway from this year’s YEP tour is that the startup ecosystem in Europe is becoming stronger and stronger. The established startup and entrepreneurship mindset of Rotterdam, the prototyping/ patenting and manufacturing processes in Munich are elements that are very encouraging about the European startup scene.  Besides, this year we organised workshops in Crete (Heraklion), Ioannina and Thessaloniki and the feedback we received was very encouraging about the Greek ecosystem. Indeed, in big cities like Thessaloniki, the ecosystem is more mature, but we were happy to see the quality of participants in Heraklion too. For instance, we were aware of the well known medicine and polytechnic schools but the pleasant surprise came from the Information and Technology department in Crete. We saw thirsty young people, trying to get the most out our 3-hour workshop, network and keep in touch with our work.

How did the new strategic and educational partners have a positive impact on the workshops? 

Having mentioned the workshops in Greece, it is important to share that we are grateful for our strategic partners.  The GreenTech Challenge by the National Polytechnic University of Athens who designed a very structured programme and Final Pitch in which our CEO, Effie participated among the judges; the Aegean Startups competition and the ACEin’s Ennovation team and Alba Business School with whom we organised the three successful yet pilot workshops across Greece. We believe in partnerships as we believe in teamwork. We are all part of small teams and hence the efficient coordination led us to engage a most relevant audience, nurture young talent and to meet local stakeholders. 

What’s next for RG YEP?

We have chosen the finalists joining the Accelerate phase of programme, after having a committee review on all ideas presented at the Ignite workshops. We are currently preparing the finalist teams for the Mentor- Mentee Matching event in London on the 9th February. This event embarks an exciting journey for all of the finalists, when for the first time, they meet their dedicated mentor and the rest of the cohort. The 14 finalist teams will enjoy 7 weeks of intensive 1:1 mentoring and masterclasses in specific areas, aiming to empower their business ideas and help them be ready for the final Pitch event in London on the 30th of March. 

In addition, we are planning a small event with key stakeholders in New York on the 26th January to effectively plan our U.S. strategy. We plan to run an open event later in 2019 introducing Reload to the NY community and promote our programmes more specifically.

What advice would you give to anyone interested in hearing more about the programme or getting involved? 

I would suggest that you attend as many RG events as possible! If you are curious about entrepreneurship, if your idea was not selected this time, if you are interested in joining as a mentor or if you have a more advanced idea that might be a good fit for our competitive accelerator, RG Challenge (applications open in February), make sure you attend the YEP Matching event on the 9th February and the final Pitch event on the 30th March. These are great opportunities, where you can meet the team, ask questions and network with high calibre professionals and academics.

To summarise, what are your reflections on the successes of this year’s Ignite phase of the programme and what learnings will you take forward for next year’s Ignite?

I could tell that all boxes are ticked for the Ignite phase (laugh). We increased the number of participants, achieved higher numbers of ideas submitted and mentored than last year, engaged many young professionals, mature researchers and academics, established new strategic partnerships in Greece and finally collaborated with leading institutions and hubs across Europe. These milestones reflect the hard work of our team over the past few months from envisioning to implementing the expansion of our activities to other countries. We learned a lot from this phase and we know what is needed to make our programme even more competitive in the future, given that the educational needs might differ from one location to another. See you all in the Accelerate phase!