As you may have heard from our announcement we have shortlisted 14 startups who will be pitching for the €30,000 YouStartIT#4 pre-seed. I cannot deny that getting to this point has been a rollercoaster with many ups and downs trying to make all the deadlines. Of course we’re now thrilled to have got this far: 173 applications is a record number we never expected to attain barely three weeks prior to the deadline! This clearly shows that something is indeed happening in this #Blockchainisland of ours.

The next steps are now to re-confirm the startups’ commitment and readiness to attend our bootcamp of 1-2 October at SmartCity and, if selected during the pitch to be held at Delta Summit on 5 October, follow our programme on location.

In the coming days we will start holding interviews with the shortlisted startups to get to know their idea better, understand the validation work they have done so far, and ask more questions about their project. The purpose of the bootcamp is to do yet more work with the startups, get to know the teams, connect them with mentors who will coach and prepare them for the final pitch so that ultimately we could select up to eight of them to follow the four-month programme and receive the funding.

Selecting 14 startups among such a list of applicants in just over a week is clearly not an easy task. After a whole week of reading, deliberation, discussion and research, we felt the need to clarify some important points and conclusions we drew about the programme as an explanatory outcome of this exercise.

Firstly, YouStartIT#4 is an early stage programme. We stated this upfront on our home page and call guideline document. Early stage means that the startup could just have an idea or a prototype or MVP in hand. As an organisation which disburses public funds we feel duty bound that the pre-seed is given to startups that need the funding without which it would be very difficult for them to kick-start their idea. In addition to that, there are other institutional limitations stemming from what EU state aid rules allow us to do: among the limitations to run the programme are: that the startup must be a digitally-enabled one, it must not have a headcount exceeding nine, and must not be an entity that has been in business for more than five years after registration.

The reason I am stating the above is that we received a sizeable number of applications from a mix of teams with characteristics that in more ways than one rendered them somewhat “overqualified” for our programme. I am referring to established companies (some for more than five years), startups that have declared that they have already raised or are in the process of raising finance in various ways, including ICOs and government schemes, and startups captained by seasoned serial entrepreneurs, in two or three cases people who are actually mentors or advisors of top notch accelerators. By not being selected these teams should therefore not feel downclassed in any way.

Since an ad hoc programme catering for the needs of these mature startups is not available yet, we intend to revert with more questions to understand their needs and hopefully revert with some interesting proposals that could also further develop Malta’s potential as a thriving Blockchain and Emerging Tech startup ecosystem.

Secondly, we received a number of applications from some talented people with some very good ideas, but because they lacked a team and did not engage in sufficient validation, could not be selected. This has prompted us to launch a little bit earlier the idea of a Validator. The latter would be a short roughly two month programme to help these founders get to a level that is at par with all the other startups selected for YouStartIT#4. In other words, help them engage in more validation work, set up a team and prepare a more focused plan for their project, business model, MVP, etc.  Depending on whether the startup delivers on this programme, the MIH will then consider awarding a small pre-seed fund to bring them up to a level where they can apply for the next YouStartIT call early next year.

To conclude this rather long blogpost we would like to thank all the applicants for such an overwhelming response to our call. We’re really excited about it and gives us more support to continue growing the Maltese startup ecosystem.  Good luck for your future endeavours whether in Malta or elsewhere.