Per Aspera ad Astra or How We Got into “1991”
In February 2016 Navizor team applied for the participation in “1991 Open Data Hackathon” in Lviv. The idea of Navizor was conceived and developed by [bvblogic] company in Ivano-Frankivsk. The whole team of this startup is formed by [bvblogic] developers. So, that was the first time we presented the idea of the system of road infrastructure condition monitoring in real time which was at the same time the system of electronic certification of the Ukrainian roads. After Lviv Hackathon, Navizor project was selected to participate in a two-month program of the first non-profit incubator of big and open data ‘Open Data Incubator 1991’ in Kyiv. In total, 14 best teams from all of Ukraine were chosen, and they were supposed to become pioneers in the work with open data.
During the two months of everyday work we were getting dozens of useful and priceless consultations from the leading Ukrainian and foreign mentors. They helped us to formulate key business-models, to understand our target markets better, to conduct customer analysis, and to create a short-term plan for entering Asian and European markets. A really great fact is that among the ‘1991’ mentors there are specialists from different spheres: electronic government, business, PR, marketing, legislative consulting and others. Such support is very important for startups, especially at the initial stage. Besides, ‘1991’ team has quite good relations and communication with governmental structures. This simplified the process of communication a lot. So, we had an opportunity to get all the needed data in a short time or to organize useful meetings with people from relevant ministries and government organizations. We would like to express our special gratitude to Denys Gursky who assisted a lot in establishing the two-way communication.
Our work in ‘1991’ included both intense everyday lectures and direct work with mentors on each particular project. The main goal was to prepare the project properly for the Demo-day as the culmination and the result of the whole two-month work. Our team was working in a day-and-night sleepless mode for the last two weeks in the incubator. We changed our presentations dozens of times to make them perfect, we trained our pitch about a hundred times. That was hard. But we aimed to present a complete concept and a working demo version of our product. And we managed to do it!
We can confidently assert that startups at the beginning of ‘1991’ and those who ‘survived’ till the final presentation – were totally different. All of them grew hugely, some of them changed the direction of work, others changed almost their whole teams. But all of those things just gave them new capacity, confidence, and belief in their idea.
This was the first time Navizor team had an opportunity to participate in an incubation program. At the very beginning we had some doubts about the efficiency of such an approach in Ukraine. But now we can confidently say that our project is a vivid example of a possibility to achieve great results in a short time in the conditions of hard everyday work and if all the mentors’ recommendations are applied.
Just at that time we signed a memorandum of cooperation with Dnipro Oblast State Administration and launched the pilot project “Inventory of Dnipro Oblast Roads”. Now it is one of great examples of a successful cooperation between the government and IT services on the basis of open data. Other regions are now joining this project.
So, after the successful presentation on the Demo-day, Navizor project was invited to participate in the four-month program in the incubator DMZ at Ryerson University in Canada.
Overall, here are just some main advantages we got from the participation in ‘Open Data Incubator 1991’
- Total understanding of what open data is, how to work properly with it and how to get profit from that;
- A huge amount of new contacts in IT, business and government areas;
- Priceless recommendations from outstanding mentors;
- Strong PR support from the ‘1991’ team;
- We raised our project to a totally new level, and opened more business opportunities for ourselves.
We especially appreciated the warm and friendly atmosphere created by an incredibly positive ‘1991’ team. They were organizing plenty of different events and doing all their best to support all of us strongly in all kinds of situations.
Surely, this is just a beginning of a long way, and we are happy that our project Navizor became a part of such a great process of transformations in Ukraine.
What is DMZ and why is it so great?
First, I must say that DMZ (Digital Media Zone) at Ryerson University is considered to be number one business incubator in North America among those which work at universities and number three incubator in the world for startups at an early stage.
Representatives of all famous Toronto companies know about DMZ and greatly respect its work, they are always ready to help the incubator residents, they are always open to dialogue. DMZ earned such respect due to its effective approach to work with startups and important contribution into the development of innovative environment of Toronto and Canada in general.
During my first days at DMZ I was just walking from one floor to another observing the whole process. It seemed to be a totally new world. The atmosphere there is really positive, informal and friendly, and at the same time everyone is willing to cooperate and work hard. People meet each other and start communicating at once. Then, everybody wants to learn more about your startup and to tell you about their own ones. Sometimes they even give you some useful advice. This happens every day, during breakfast, lunch or a game of tennis.
Collaboration is probably one of the most distinguishing features of the North American incubator DMZ. Everyone there is trying to make as many warm contacts as possible, to pitch themselves and their startups, and certainly to interact and cooperate. A Pancake Wednesday is organized by DMZ every week, so the representatives of different departments cook delicious pancakes. While you are waiting for your pancake you may easily get acquainted with at least five new people. Also, there is a tradition of Scotch Friday, where everyone shares his/her achievements for the previous week. New residents, new mentors and new services are also presented there. Thus, DMZ facilitates more collaboration between projects.
Each startup in DMZ is assigned to a personal supervisor who helps to create an individual working plan for the incubation program, organizes meetings with various advisors, mentors, makes presentations for managers of different companies that could become potential partners or customers. The system of work with mentors is focused more around the individual approach. Throughout the online DMZ service each startup gets access to the base of more than 100 leading mentors from different areas, and one may choose the most appropriate mentor for the particular moment. Each mentor has a schedule of attending DMZ and all you need to do is just book a meeting with the one you want to communicate with. What is also worth mentioning is a very high professional level of all mentors of DMZ. Each of them tries to understand the idea of your startup and to become as useful for your startup as possible.
Incredible business possibilities
The main focus of DMZ is technological business startups that already have ready products (or at least prototypes or MVPs) and even receive some profit. Thanks to its wide network of contacts with representatives from almost all large businesses, DMZ is able to organize for you an intro with anybody from the business sphere. So, today you are just an enthusiastic guy, and tomorrow you are sitting in the office on the 25th floor with a panorama of Toronto, having a meeting with the CEO of a huge corporation, drinking coffee and speaking about your startup Navizor. This is really amazing! Traditionally, even if the agreement is not achieved, a manager would still give you useful recommendations or will introduce you to other people who might be interested in your project. This is the way your own network of incredible new contacts is built.
During the six-year work of DMZ more than 260 startups had an opportunity to participate in the incubator, they got more than $206 million of seed-investment there, and created more than 2400 new working places. This is a really huge startup community, to which you literally get unlimited access during your stay at DMZ using its internal services. Currently, more than 76 startups are working in the incubator, and at any moment you can go and ask them for a consultation or advice, or even establish a partnership. All the startups are on different stages of their development. Some teams are working on their prototypes and you may join and help them, give them advice from your experience. Others have got investments and can share their stories about how they managed to succeed. Some other teams are searching for specialists to join them. DMZ seems to be sort of beehive for startups, where the work is in full swing, huge amounts of people are walking around and chatting. Sometimes it may seem a bit chaotic and even somewhat incomprehensible. But this is the place where global ideas develop, and they can change whole markets and our world in the future. Such an atmosphere really inspires to be creative and develop further.
Different lectures practically every day, training sessions, presentations and other events take place in the DMZ building. They gather specialists from different areas, startup business people, representatives of large corporations, foreign delegations. Being a resident of the incubator you have access to all these events, you can attend them for free, you can get acquainted with the participants. And also you can have delicious free lunch which is also very important for productive work 🙂
There is a fund called Ryerson Futures that operates at Ryerson University. If it is needed, each startup from DMZ may apply for participation in the acceleration program and gain some extra investment. In addition, the incubator provides access to a list of numerous venture capital investments and grant organizations, and helps to establish contacts with them. And consultants will help to resolve any legislative issues.
The DMZ office is located in the heart of downtown Toronto, with a wonderful view on Dundas Square right in the center of the city. All conditions for comfortable work and rest are provided there. Spacious openspace-rooms, stylish negotiation boxes, modern conference rooms, all necessary technical infrastructure and supplies. There is no need to think about some little things that can distract you from work. You can work in any part of the incubator where you feel comfortable: in the kitchen, in a hammock-room or in a separate room. Many startups at the end of the free four-month incubation program continue to work at DMZ, but they have to pay for that.
Since Toronto is a multicultural city, and DMZ is a multicultural incubator, all the participants had an excellent opportunity to have various kinds of leisure activities. Every day you communicate with people from all over the world and get some knowledge about the features of their countries and their cultures. This helps you to expand your outlook greatly. Because if you are going to build a global company, you must take into account national mentality, traditions, habits and so on.
Opportunities for everyone
After spending just a few weeks in the incubator, I understand that DMZ was a perfect place to bring Navizor to the next more advanced level, this was a good opportunity to test the business model elaborated by us in “1991”, to hear thoughts of famous mentors about the project, to find partners on the Canadian and US markets, and get filled with the spirit of the IT business global community and to get inspiration for new achievements.
To sum up, I would like to say that each incubator has its own special features, because each one has its own goals and its own set of tools. As for me, one of the most important advantages of “1991” is availability of structured and clear training programs for key business processes of the startup. And another important benefit is the organization of the Demo Day, which is actually a very strong motivator to move forward faster every day. And speaking about DMZ, I would like to mention the following key features: proper functioning of internal collaboration processes and a strong network of contacts with business investors.
Since DMZ and 1991 are both open to everyone, you just need to take the plunge, like our Navizor team did, and dive into the great rabbit hole of new opportunities, new experiences and new contacts that will have an immense influence on your startup. This one small step for your startup and your company may in fact become a giant leap for your business in the future.