COGSTEPS, the third international deep-tech incubation program “From MVP to First Customers,” was held in Ljubljana, Slovenia, from January 23rd to February 5th, 2023. The program, which offered two weeks of educational workshops, networking opportunities and mentoring sessions, attracted 28 participants from Austria and Croatia. The ultimate goal of the program was to help the participants learn the necessary topics for a successful MVP launch, identify the right target customers, and gather as much information as possible to make their final product stand out in the market.
On the first day, we hosted participants from University of Zagreb, Graz University of Technology, Know-Center and the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computing and ZICER. Špela Rozman Dolenc, from Ljubljana Universitiy Incubator, kicked off the event by presenting the project and agenda for the upcoming days. Participants were then given the chance to introduce themselves, their areas of expertise, and the reasons why they had applied to the program. Following the introductions, the participants and organizers spent the evening getting to know one another better, discussing their work and interests, and enjoying drinks in a relaxed setting.
On Tuesday, we opened the program with The Market Opportunity Navigator workshop. Špela Rozman Dolenc, Masa Abrič (Ljubljana Universitiy Incubator) and Peter Alešnik (TTO – University of Ljubljana) presented this proven framework, based on 15+ years of rigorous academic research and its three guiding worksheets that will help participants to prioritize and find market opportunities. During the workshop participants were engaged in working on their respective cases. The three guiding worksheets provided as part of the framework helped the participants prioritize and identify market opportunities specific to their cases. Through this interactive session, participants were able to apply the concepts and tools presented to their unique business contexts and receive feedback from the workshop facilitators.
The following day, we began a two-day session with Blaž Zupan focused on educating participants on their potential customers, the importance of initiating conversations with them, and the significance of comprehending the market they intend to penetrate. Throughout the workshop, participants gained insights on how to identify and understand their target customers and utilize the knowledge to develop a product or service that best meets their needs. Additionally, they learned about market research techniques and strategies to gain a competitive advantage in the market.
Continuing with the program’s momentum, Friday was set aside for winter-themed leisure activities. In line with this, we organized a trip to Jezersko, where the participants enjoyed an exciting sledding adventure. This trip was an opportunity for participants to unwind and connect with each other.
Saturday’s workshop was held by Jakob Gajšek (Ljubljana Universitiy Incubator), where he discussed the importance of having the right team for a successful startup. According to CB Insights research, not having the right team is the third most common reason for start-up failures, in addition to the obvious lack of customers and cash. While there is no exact recipe for the right team, there are certain aspects to consider when building your team. At the end of the workshop, Rok Colarič, the founder of the startup Sleepy Bottle, shared with us his story about starting his business and all the obstacles he and his team had to overcome to now have a successful business.
During The Market Opportunity Navigator workshop on Sunday, participants presented the results of their homework from the previous session on Tuesday. The second part of this workshop focused on evaluating the attractiveness of the identified market opportunities and selecting the most viable ones to pursue.
The sixth day of the program was dedicated to visiting startups. We had the opportunity to visit two startups – Juicy Marbles and Cosylab. During the visit to Juicy Marbles, the team shared their journey of creating a successful startup, highlighting the challenges they faced along the way. At Cosylab, participants of Cogsteps program learned about the company’s innovative solutions in the field of control systems and software for particle accelerators and other complex physics experiments.
Following an inspiring day of visiting startups, the participants returned to LUI eager to learn more about Go-to-Market (GTM) strategy. Jon Butterfield led a three-day workshop, where he explained the importance of a GTM strategy in providing a clear plan for delivering a product or service to the end customer. By aligning all team members on the same plan, a GTM strategy can help meet a market need and iterate on the product more effectively. The workshop was split into several sessions, each focusing on the key elements of a GTM strategy, including sales, marketing, distribution, pricing, branding, and competition. Through these sessions, participants gained a deeper understanding of how to develop and execute a successful GTM strategy for their own startups.
The final workshop of the program focused on Fundraising and Finance. Jakob Gajšek emphasized the importance of raising funds during the early stages of starting a business, as it is crucial for successful startup development. He discussed the different types of investors and the terminology they use, which would help the participants negotiate better with investors in the future. Matjaž Petrič, an experienced financing professional, presented about financial management and accounting basics. He covered essential topics such as cash flow, financial plan preparation, common loopholes and errors in financial planning, and more. The session helped participants gain a better understanding of financial management, which is critical for startup success.
The program concluded with teams presenting their pitches after working on their cases. This was a crucial opportunity for the teams to showcase their ideas to potential investors and great opportunity to receive constructive criticism from investors.
The last part of the program was more promotionally oriented. We introduced the COGSTEPS platform and invited participants to join as soon as it launches.The program brought together a diverse group of participants from different academic backgrounds. We want to thank everyone who was a part of the From MVP to first customers program – the participants, mentors and country coordinators. Let’s keep strengthening the deep-tech ecosystem together!