Hungary Today had an opportunity to interview Zoltán Ács, Director of Incubation at Design Terminal, about the possibilities and objectives of their mentoring program for startups.
Design Terminal, a Budapest-based incubation ecosystem, has once again announced its successful three-month mentoring program, where selected startups with innovative ideas that aim to have important social impact get a chance to learn from Hungarian and international mentors. Application for the mentoring program is open until 4 February. During the program, startups can develop their business model, as well as their organizational, legal and communication skills.
This interview has been edited for clarity and concision, and translated from the original Hungarian.
Let’s discuss the foundation of the mentoring program! If someone has a new or, let’s say, a revolutionary idea that they would like to bring into existence as a startup, why should they come to you? What are those specific assets that can assist an applicant? Does it cost money? How long does it take?
There are countless accelerators [investors who….] in Hungary, and in the region, who eagerly await teams. We believe that the success of the teams we previously mentored stands as a milestone for those talents who are currently selecting collaborators who can help them with their work. We believe in providing care on a personal level, and we choose only as many teams as we can personally spend time with; this way we can provide an exclusive mentor for every team who will be with them for the length of the program. The program is entirely free, and we don’t ask for a stake in the company, which is important because it is difficult to predict the growth of a company in the early stages; this way the developers don’t have to give up a share of their hard work before knowing how much it is worth. During the time spent at the program, teams will be assisted by a mentoring network of 100 members with workshops and advice tailored to their personal needs.
What can an applicant do to be prepared? How can they stand out from competitors?
It is important to not limit our program to specific industries when looking at applications; in addition, we’re looking for teams, not individuals. The other important point is that we are looking for teams who, with their ideas, or products, aim to bring about an innovative solution for a problem in society. We believe that these innovations will become successful more quickly with our help, and this will have a positive impact on all our lives. The applicant should be honest; they don’t need to know everything ahead of time, we are there to help them on their path, but to do that we need to see in what areas they need support. It’s also important that their idea should be marketable, and to be able to support itself in the foreseeable future from earnings and from potential investments following the completion of the mentoring program.
What exactly is a mentor’s role? When do they come into play in the program? On what basis is a mentor selected?
The most important common factor for our mentors is that they are not full-time mentors, but someone who has had success in their field and wants to give back to the community. Their role in the program from the beginning to the end is very important, because it is their knowledge that will help the teams for the length of the program. During the program the Design Terminal team ensures that every successful applicant receives that unique knowledge that they’re in need of; the sharing of the knowledge is the responsibility of the mentor.
Up until this point, which mentored company are you the proudest of? How does Design Terminal profit from all this? Does a successfully mentored team owe Design Terminal? If so, what do they owe? Gratitude?
We are proud of all the teams who successfully finished the mentor program over the years, but perhaps we can highlight Platio, whose solar paving system can now be found anywhere from Győr to Kazakhstan.There is also Route4U, who designed an accessibility map for those who use a wheelchair, and started working together with MOL’s innovation team. The teams don’t owe us anything; they become a part of our alumni and we continue to watch their growth, helping out where we can. Often, they are the ones who help us, sometimes becoming the mentors for newcomers.
Design Terminal’s mentoring program is also offered to foreign applicants. Which market are you primarily interested in: Europe, Asia, or Overseas? Can you aim for these markets simultaneously?
We think that the startup world isn’t limited by any borders. We have applicants coming from the United Kingdom, Sweden, and India as well. We aim to make our program valuable enough for it to be worthwhile for talents from around the world to consider coming to Hungary to participate in it.
Based on your website, the Ministery of National Resources provides you with support. How do they support you and to what extent?
Design Terminal is a non-profit organisation; our mentor program creates successful businesses for the entire ecosystem without costing these startups anything. The Ministery of National Resources provides support in this area, and only with their help can we make it possible for these programs to be available for future teams without asking for money or a stake in their venture.
Design Terminal will hold the mentoring program’s Demo Day on 31 January at Anker Klub, where everyone will have the chance to get to know the most innovative startups of the fall semester and their ideas.
Reporting by Fanni Kaszás
Translation by Nagy Edward Gergely
Featured Photo: Zoltán Ács, Director of Incubation at Design Terminal