Source: eKapija | Thursday, 19.03.2015.| 15:20
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(AUREA 2015 AWARD NOMINATION): StartLabs - Technology accelerator for IT entrepreneurship development

The first private investment fund in the region, StartLabs, which invests in start-ups, has launched a new fund in late 2014 to invest in eight to ten IT companies over the next 12 months.

StarLabs invests up to USD 50,000 in firms in early stage of development, whereas the new fund will give the most successful companies from StartLabs’ portfolio a chance to obtain accompanying investments of up to half a million dollars.

The aim of StartLabs is to create a bridge to connect talented experts from Southeast Europe with the know-how and investment market in Silicon Valley. It was founded by Voja Lalic, an entrepreneur who has been living in San Francisco for as many as 20 years now, and his partner in Belgrade, Nebojsa Lazic.

The program in San Francisco and Belgrade is a unique opportunity for local entrepreneurs to join the global start-up community, learn how to operate on the Lean startup principles, and get initial acceleration for the growth of their company.

StartLabs is focused on IT products and companies operating globally and online, which includes a wide range of B2B, B2C, C2C and SaaS start-ups.

Aside from investments, start-ups also get a mentor who provides full support to their development to the point when they can operate independently in the global market (Go-To-Market program). Over the last year and a half, that is, since its establishment, StartLabs has invested in 5 start-ups in the region of southeast Europe (3 in Serbia, 1 in Croatia and 1 in Slovenia), which are now all in its portfolio, including the recently implemented first investment financed from the resources of the newly established fund. All companies in which StartLabs invested obtained the next round of investments within a period of one year, which has proven to be a successful investment model.

INNOVATION

The business model used as the basis for StartLabs' operations is unique and innovative in the local environment, and the aim is to support young promising companies and “good ideas” by offering them investments and mentors as well as assistance in their accelerated perfection for the global market.

StartLabs is making a bridge between San Francisco, where the philosophy of successful entrepreneurship was first created, and the Balkans, which has a great potential and talented entrepreneurs.

Besides, the company is also encouraging the entrepreneurial culture of doing business, which is based on cooperation and mutual trust and improvement of business partners.

This is the only organization of the kind in Serbia. So far, the money poured into start-ups by investment funds has been coming mainly from the EU funds, and Startlabs is the first private fund that invests up to USD 50,000 in start-ups, thus acquiring a stake of up to 15 percent in them.

In a bid to resume investing in start-ups in southeast Europe, StartLabs will also continue to improve its one-of-the-kind Go-To-Market program that is created for companies in its portfolio. Namely, in addition to investments, start-ups also get a mentor who provides full support to their development to the point when they can operate independently in the global market. This program first takes place in Belgrade for three months and then in San Francisco for the same period of time, and it is created to satisfy the needs of each start-up individually.

People at StartLabs present the knowledge of doing business and going globally (Go-To-Market strategy) to the general public at meet-ups they organize and also share it with young IT entrepreneurs.

The most usual problem an IT entrepreneur can face when starting a business lies in the fact that the domestic administration lacks understanding for the needs of this industry and applies the principles usually applied to firms that already operate for some time, which often slows down and limits young entrepreneurs. The start-ups backed by StartLabs face no bureaucratic obstacles because this accelerator has already adopted good practices from California.

StartLabs makes it possible for start-ups to work with mentors from San Francisco, London and Berlin who are either investors or the owners of successful companies with a vast experience in running the business and a history of successfully implemented investments.

StartLabs' new fund is a hub for American and local investors that allows the latter to learn and gain experience in how to approach start-ups, how this investment work, and how to turn an idea into a good product that is profitable in a long run.

A new partner that has recently joined StartLabs' new fund is David Schoch, a member of the Orion Managing Board and the director of the Serbian Private Equity Association.

SOCIAL UTILITY

StartLabs' support to the start-up community in Serbia and the Balkans contributes to general improvement of the economic and business environment, which results in the creation of new jobs for young talented experts.

StartLabs invests up to USD 50,000 in promising IT start-ups in the region and southeast Europe and helps them transform their operations into a business with a potential for rapid advancement, which encourages entrepreneurial spirit. In 2014, StartLabs met with the representatives of 190 start-ups, which confirms that it is not the ideas that are missing in Serbia, but the knowledge to turn them into a product that consumers are ready to pay for.

StartLabs keeps its program open the whole year long, and all companies that would like to join can apply on the official website www.startlabs.co.

StartLabs' investments in technology start-ups have encouraged the development of local start-up community, which refers not only to start-ups, but also to attracting investors and educating them in how to invest in companies in early stage of development.

Apart from financial support, that is, commercial success, StartLabs also offers educational support to local entrepreneurs. The Go-To-Market program for entrepreneurs in the portfolio of StartLabs is designed to fit the needs of every team individually, while mentors and partners are always at the disposal of these teams in case they require consultations or advice.

StartLabs also organizes public events and workshops with respectable mentors and investors from San Francisco and Europe as guest speakers who share their experience with local entrepreneurs in Belgrade. These events are recognized as the most important start-up events in the region. So far, more than 15 such events have been organized by StartLabs and in excess of ten successful entrepreneurs (mentors) from Silicon Valley have participated in them as guest speakers. Each of these events was attended by about 100 local entrepreneurs who found this type of education very significant for their business.

FINANCIAL POTENTIAL

Over the last year and a half, that is, since its establishment, StartLabs has invested in five start-ups - Business Exchange, CaseTrek, CarLock and Loyalis, whereas StartLabs' new investment fund placed its first investment ever in Mango Coinz, an application that is still available as beta version, and its founders say it allows users to earn while engaging in physical activity.

By investing in a start-up, StartLabs acquires a stake of up to 15 percent in the given company, depending on the concrete amount invested as well as on the stage of development of the company and its business. StartLabs' new investment fund is going to invest up to USD 50,000 in each of 8 to 10 IT start-ups over the next year, with the possibility of earmarking additional half a million US dollars for the most successful companies in the portfolio.

The business model used by StartLabs has proven to be very successful given that all companies in which StartLabs invested got the next round of investments in less than a year and continued to grow and expand the volume of their operations.

Another indicator of successful operations of StartLabs is the fact that it is recognized by the startup community as one of the most important actors in in terms of commercial activities, financial success and educational support for the startup community.

If the technology accelerator for IT entrepreneurship development is your favorite for the investment of the year award, you can vote for this nomination at the official Aurea Award website.

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