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Interview: The Founder Institute Berlin

What is more difficult — to come up with a great idea or to make an idea come into reality? While coming up with good thoughts doesn’t seem to be a very complicated activity for a creative brain, making the plan work requires a big deal of entrepreneurial skills and a deep knowledge of the project development particularities.

We like talking about great startups able to lure investors, win the user audience and fascinate with ingenuity and innovation. However, it seems like all you need to do to achieve the same level of recognition is just tune your brain to a creative wave, learn some code and see what happens. It might be surprising, but 90% of technology startups fail. No matter how smart you are, you may not make it to what people call success.

Moreover, even the startup founders participating in accelerator programs or those who spend all the time in the labs of the incubators are not protected from failures either. There can be various reasons why some succeed while others don’t, which is a very complex matter. It is like trying to answer the question — why do the richest people amount to only 1% of the world population?

Moreover, even the startup founders participating in accelerator programs or those who spend all the time in the labs of the incubators are not protected from failures either. There can be various reasons why some succeed while others don’t, which is a very complex matter. It is like trying to answer the question — why do the richest people amount to only 1% of the world population?

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The Founder Institute

In the interview published to New York Times, Adeo Ressi — a successful entrepreneur who started the Founder Institute, concludes that the high failure rate is the result of the wrong people starting business and not getting the right training.

The Founder Institute is the world’s largest entrepreneur training and startup launch program, helping aspiring founders across the globe build enduring technology companies. Founded in 2009, the Founder Institute now manufactures entrepreneurs in 61 cities and 33 countries with the center of gravity located in Silicon Valley. It has already helped launch more than thousand companies and over 40% of all the graduates are funded.

I was lucky to have a small talk with Didier Vermeiren — director of the Berlin chapter of the Founder Institute helping local entrepreneurs succeed.

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Here is what we spoke about:

Me: How did it all start with you becoming a director of the Founder Institute in Berlin?

Didier: The Founder Institute was started in 2009 in California to help aspiring entrepreneurs to become startup founders by helping them convert meaningful ideas into sustainable growth businesses. The first European city that the Founder Institute spread to was Paris, where I decided to move from Belgium to participate in their program and pursue my entrepreneurial goals. I didn’t graduate though. Three months later they opened a chapter in Brussels so I moved back and graduated the program. After that the Founder Institute offered me to lead the office in Brussels. Not long afterwards I got an opportunity to become a director of the institute in Berlin, where I started working on my startup called SmartCheckups. It’s a mobile application that improves existing workflows in the real estate with professional inspection reports. It got accelerated by ImmobilienScout24 via their tech accelerator YOU IS NOW.

The Founder Institute


Me: That’s impressive! In what way is the Founder Institute different from other accelerator programs and incubators?

Didier: The biggest difference between the Founder Institute and other accelerators and networks like Startup Weekend is that other accelerators are looking for and choosing ideas and teams who already have a working product or an established team. Whereas the Founder Institute is looking for the individuals, i.e. the aspiring entrepreneurs who might not have anything but a wish to build a successful startup. In other words, the inputs to most accelerators today are the output of the Founder Institute.

We help entrepreneurs find the right direction from the very beginning of evaluating the opportunities their idea holds. Once an endurable idea is found, we help them shape it into a compelling startup. With the Founder Institute startups can achieve global growth given the collaborative ecosystem of the Silicon Valley. We set founder events where we invite both entrepreneurs from the Silicon Valley as well as seasoned founders from Berlin startup community, who help mentor a new generation of founders. Our training courses are led by the members of the Founder Institute’s worldwide network of entrepreneur Mentors, that are all founders themselves. Eventually, the participants of the program launch their startup and become full-time «founders».

Me: How hard is it to enter the program and to graduate?

Didier: The truth is, it will take a lot of efforts to get into the program and a few will graduate. Roughly, like 30% of the applicants are accepted to the program. In order to be accepted, students don’t need to have a fully backed idea or a project being developed. But they must take a test that the institute says can predict their entrepreneurial success.

Then less than 40% of the accepted founders go through and complete the program. There is a big difference between having an idea and making this idea. So a meaningful viable idea is not that important, unless a person knows what he is talking about and what he is doing, understands which direction he goes. A combination of a strong founder body on top of a good idea is what makes it to success and graduation from the Founder Institute.

the Founder Institute

Me: Can you give some examples of Berlin founders who have successfully graduated the program and launched an endurable business?

Didier: Some of the well-known international ones are Udemy — a platform for education with various online courses from Programming to Cake Decorating, which is now operating in 190+ countries; Zirtual — a service with virtual right hand US based assistants to help busy entrepreneurs focus on the big while ZA (Zirtual Assistant) is handling all the small stuff; Realty Mogul — a marketplace for real estate investors with pre-vetted investment properties.

What about Berlin ones, I can name Itembase, which offers great tools to organize, track and manage online purchases. Then there is Kiddify — a video platform for creative kids that lets them share their talents and skills in the form of video tutorials, and Letsmake — a platforms that lets you find and rent different workshops and hobby places in your area.

Me: From your own experience of working with pre-entrepreneurs, what are the main stumbling blocks that prevent people from making it through with the Founder Institute?

Didier: I can think of the two most common reasons, because of which the entrepreneurs may not make it to the Founder Institute graduation: they either cannot handle the fast pace of the program or have weak ideas.

Me: The Founder Institute is present in 61 cities worldwide. Where is the air «most saturated with entrepreneurial spirit»? And what can Berlin brag about?

Didier: I cannot compare all the cities where we operate, but Berlin is especially interesting as a startup hub for the following reasons:

  • Talent — Berlin is good at attracting young bright talents from all over the world and especially from Europe
  • Creativity — Berlin has a vibrant creative and music scene
  • Cheaper cost of living compared to many other EU cities (it does help attract young talent, but this may change)
  • Support infrastructure for startups: the city has many tech accelerators and service providers that focus on the young growing companies
  • There are some big internationally well-known startup companies as role models for beginner entrepreneurs (Soundcloud, Itembase, Researchgate, 6wunderkinder, Zalando, etc.).

Me: It was a great conversation, Didier! Thanks a lot for sharing your experience with the Founder Institute. Our team wishes you many great achievements in your career and success to your startup!


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