The process leading to the selection of eight startups as part of the third edition of the YouStartIT programme was, without any shadow of doubt, a roller coaster. We were working to internationalise our call. We just didn’t expect it to happen so massively and so soon. Receiving 94 applications from 19 countries therefore gives us encouragement to continue raising the bar and continue to grow the Maltese startup ecosystem.

In line with our philosophy of learning from our experiments, what were the main take-homes of this experience? Which, by the way is far from over – the eight chosen startups will begin their project on March 13.

Whenever we organised Design Thinking workshops for prospective applicants we always noticed that participants never used their business idea as the focus of their learning and validation. The reason is obvious. Because they are competing, the participants do not want to reveal their cards. This time something different happened. Having shortlisted what we believed were the best 13 ideas, and providing a context where they all had to openly pitch their idea and be challenged, created an unprecedented cameraderie among the startup founders. They had to defend their idea using a reasoned argument.

Even if they knew that only five would be selected (unknown to them we would eventually choose eight), the startup founders were providing constructive feedback to each other during the pre-acceleration bootcamp. This was done through a Google Form prepared by our coach, Angelika Lattner. Using this open approach all the startups immediately got a gauge of where they stood and what they had to improve. All the credit for this brilliant idea goes to Angelika’s meticulous preparation. In spite of the distance separating them, by the time the founders got to the final pitches they were supporting and hi-fiving each other through our video conferencing tool.

Notwithstanding the difficulties of organising a bootcamp with half the startups on location and the other half in six different countries, pre-acceleration as we designed and improvised it to face the changed scenario, certainly produced some excellent results. Thanks to the open approach we adopted, some startups just grew and grew as they took everyone’s feedback on board, including those that did not get selected. This was a take-home that gives great kudos to these young entrepreneurs.

Of course this was not the only lesson learned, there are many others. One in particular concerns the use of social media and ‘ambassadors’. And here Angelika was very instrumental in driving home the point that social media is not just a question of paying for boosts. There is far more to it, but perhaps this will be the object of another blog post in the coming days.