The Katalyst Labs Acceleration Program is now embarking on its 3rd cohort. And to celebrate the landmark achievement, we thought to shed light on what the experience has been like, whom we thank for it, and what there is to look forward to in the future!
What is the Acceleration Program All About?
A crash course on how to scale your operations, work on your weaknesses as founders, develop key skills, and elevate your startup to the next level. This is essentially what the Katalyst Labs Acceleration Program offers early-to-mid-stage startups.
The team at Katalyst Labs designs purpose-built sessions, keeping in mind the nature of the startups in the cohort, their financial and operational requirements, and the economic and professional scope of the country.
However, to open the program up to startups from other cities, each session is carried out in exclusive, interactive online meetings. Each startup is also paired with an industry-relevant mentor to guide them in their journey.
Is the Program for you?
So far, each cohort lasted approximately 4 months and offered sessions led by some of the most notable professionals in Pakistan and beyond.
We know how daunting it is to start your entrepreneurial journey. But if you’ve applied to the Acceleration Program, we assume that you’re armed with an MVP, an idea, and are ready to begin putting the wheels in motion for funding and scaling.
What do the Sessions Look Like?
Marketing, fundraising, pitching, valuations, monetization, growth hacking, design thinking, product development, analytics, etc.
We design a session to arm you with everything you might need to hit the next level. And the professionals involved? Let’s just say you’ll get an audience – and if needed, one-on-one time – with experts at the top of their fields.
Your 4-month long participation will expose you to Katalyst Labs’ and Jehan Ara’s extensive network of professionals in the ecosystem, put your startup on the map, and give you a blueprint of exactly what you need to do to complete your goals.
When the programs team thinks you’re ready, at the end of the program, your pitch will be refined as you get the opportunity to present to some of the most relevant and active investors in Pakistan and the MENA/APAC regions. This is the Demo Day!
Meet the Team Behind our Acceleration Program!
The Katalyst Labs Programs team, comprising Program Manager Kashaf Jamal and Program Associate Maha Ahmed, has been busy in 2022!
In the past year, they have completed successfully and culminated cohort 2 of the Women Leadership Fellows Program, the first iteration of ICESCO’s global accelerator named A-Hub, and cohort 2 of the Acceleration Program, accelerating 35+ startups and facilitating the careers of 45+ women.
What’s next? They’ve announced a new program partnered with P&G and are about to embark on the third iteration of the Acceleration Program.
We picked their brains regarding their experience and how they plan to grow:
Q1. What roles do you play respectively?
Between Kashaf & I (Maha Ahmed), we have worked out a system where I do the daily coordination of planning sessions & communication with founders/speakers and she advises the startups on their strategy.
Together, we work on using the mid-program and end-of-program feedback we collect to improve the processes in place and plan for upcoming months/future cohorts.
Q2. What do you look for when you’re shortlisting startups for your Acceleration Program? What is your selection process like?
The application process involves filling out some basic information about your startup. This can include:
- A pitch deck
- The applicant’s operating sector
- The product/service being built
Moreover, we may also ask for additional details that can help us determine what stage the startup is at, including but not limited to:
- Market size
- Business models
- Revenue generated so far
Our first, and perhaps the most important, criteria that we use to sift through applications is whether or not we, as an organization, can come in and help your startup get to where it needs to be.
“As an accelerator, we look for operational, post-revenue startups that have an MVP and are really looking to scale.”
Q3. What are the immediate red flags/green flags you look for when going through applications?
- Founders that are working on multiple startups at the same time
- Startups that have been around for a long time without significant traction/revenue
- Ideas that don’t stem from solving a problem. Instead, they identify what has worked in similar socio-economic contexts and use that as the basis of their business
- Founders that are self-aware
- Founders who realize their points of weakness and are willing to work on them
- Founders who boast a satiated and growing team and steady but clear traction since the start of operations
Q4. How do you curate your sessions? What is the process of deciding the areas of focus and what professionals to involve?
For group sessions, we try to cover all the basics: marketing, legal, fundraising, etc. To customize the program to the startups we select for the cohort, we use the areas of weakness they highlight at the start to cover any remaining bases for supplementary sessions/trainings.
Based on the topic for the session, we identify startups, trainers, and ecosystem stakeholders whose work has been the most relevant in recent times. For example, for a session on fundraising, an active investor or a startup that has recently raised would perhaps be the most relevant.
A lot of these people fall within the Katalyst Labs’ network or the greater startup community and are usually more than willing to give back to newer founders.
Q5. According to feedback, what specific sessions have impacted startups the most?
There are two types of sessions that do really well and leave the most long-lasting impact on startups. The first is actionable content; skills that founders can add to their arsenal but don’t have easy access to – for e.g. Google for Startups Digital workshops on Digital Marketing and SEO, which have done really well.
The other type of session that does well is when we bring in experienced founders to talk about their journeys – it gives founders in our cohort the opportunity to openly talk about the obstacles they have been facing with someone who has been on the same journey.
Often, founders get unprecedented and candid advice through these sessions that they would not otherwise have access to – part of the reason why they are so well-appreciated.
Q6. Other than speakers, who are the mentors involved and how do you assign them to a startup?
Through a one-on-one analysis with the startups at the beginning of the program, and based on the gaps that they aim to fill, we assign each startup 1-2 mentors for individual guidance and advice.
This varies from topics like finance, marketing, and strategy for the upcoming months – often, this mentorship extends beyond the duration of the program as well.
In terms of assigning mentors to startups, some of the key factors we look at to ensure the best fit are:
- Relevant experience in the same or similar industry
- Expertise in the areas of weakness that the founders have highlighted
Most professionals in our network have been more than willing to provide this kind of mentorship.
In addition to this, we also require mentors and founders to provide regular feedback about the mentorship to ensure that everyone benefits from this.
This also allows us to build an accountability layer for the mentorship program.
Q7. What startups from your last two cohorts would you consider success stories?
All startups go through a journey and therefore it is hard to say which ones have been a success or a failure. However, there a few in particular that I would like to mention here.
Firstly, Saarey music, which is aiming to be a Spotify for classical music globally. It has shown immense growth over the last few months, hitting almost 225k Monthly Active Users (MAU), which is 33% Month-on-Month (MOM) growth. They are in the process of raising a ~USD 2.4 Million seed round.
Another one is Aabshar, which is a hardware startup that produces easy-to-use water optimizers which reduce water consumption by almost ~90%.
Next up: MedAngle! They are targeting the medical education industry and are completely bootstrapped by their founder, Azib. They are already profitable and have partnered with almost all medical universities in Pakistan, and a few in the UAE as well.
Chiragh Technologies is also one of our stand-out performers. They are targeting the edtech sector, recently winning first place and $10,000 of equity-free financing at the Grand Final of ICESCO’s A-hub Accelerator – for which Katalyst Labs was appointed the National Lead in Pakistan.
We are so proud of Maira, Founder of Chiragh Education Technologies, for winning first prize at the A-Hub Grand Final 🏆 After months of hard work, she has managed to secure USD 10,000 to take her startup to the next level 🚀 pic.twitter.com/IanYCtCrbt
— katalystlabspk (@LabsKatalyst) November 29, 2022
We are also very excited about the prospects for Plan Care; a healthtech startup that aims to revolutionize at home healthcare.