4 months ago, we were primed and ready for the seventh cohort of the Alpha Programme. Life however, had other plans and we had to rethink. *Cough* global pandemic *cough*. But as our old pal Plato said, “necessity is the mother of invention.”
Faced with physical lockdown and general uncertainty, we had two choices. We could batten down the hatches, delay, postpone and wait for all this to blow over. Or we could take a leap into uncharted territory, roll with the punches and try something new – a fully virtual accelerator programme.
We went with the latter. It was unfamiliar, and more than a little scary going out on a limb during strange times. But when March rolled around, many accelerator managers across the globe reached this fork in the road. It begged the question: how do you reshape a format designed to bring people together physically?
Like many early-stage businesses, the last 4 months have caused difficulties for our Alphas. Some of our teams had to move product launches, and pivot on key aspects of their business. Starting out as an early stage company is never without its trials and tribulations and things never go exactly to plan – but add a global lockdown into the mix and it becomes a different beast entirely.
On top of the logistical difficulties of starting out as a company during a global health crisis with severe economic ramifications, our founders had to contend with the social implications of a virtual programme. How do you build a relationship with someone when meeting in person is out of the question? Here’s how we handled it…
Clinking glasses through cyberspace – not exactly how we imagined our Alpha Programme introduction drinks. We won’t lie – it’s a strange, but weirdly exhilarating experience, meeting so many new people over the glare of a laptop screen. But nevertheless, our 7 Alphas, Platform Lead Lauren and Marketing Team marked the start of our first ever BeautyTech cohort over a video call.
It’s difficult to create a bond with someone over Zoom. We’ve all had an embarrassing moment when a joke gets lost in the lag. However, by way of candid Whatsapp chats and weekly standups, our Alphas managed to transcend the limits of tech and forge genuine connections. Their resilience, tenacity and incredible attitudes meant that lockdown was actually a real opportunity to grow and develop their companies.
Let’s take it back to Plato: we needed to pivot, so we did – and in doing so, discovered some great opportunities that we might never have considered if 2020 had run its expected course.
Virtual workshops gave us amazing reach in terms of securing expert workshop hosts. And in the future, we’ll be able to beam industry heavyweights from overseas into the room with our cohort. Counter-intuitively, COVID-19 gave us more compelling opportunities to request time with BeautyTech leaders, given that they all had the tech at their fingertips, rather than if we’d stuck with an invite to join us physically.
Removing physical limits also meant that we were able to open up our grand finale, a Pitch Expo, to a global audience. Over 100 VCs and Angels from across the world showed up to hear our founders pitch their business, breakdown what investing in their seed round will go towards and quiz them in individual breakout ‘pods’. Great for our Alphas – more opportunities to secure funding – and great for our community of investors – they didn’t miss out on the chance to back the future of BeautyTech, something they may have faced with a physical event.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
Plans are already in the works for our next pre-seed accelerator cohort. Inspired by our learnings from this period, we’ll continue to run these – at least partly – virtually. Over the past four years, we’ve held physical cohorts at our Hubs in London and Dublin. Going virtual means we’re longer limited by geography, and can tap into more amazing early stage companies in other cities around the UK & Ireland.
Running the Alpha Programme during COVID-19 was a big learning for us all – and we can’t wait to build on it.
Psst… You can catch up on the cohort’s latest developments below.
A wholesale marketplace platform for indie beauty brands
Rituals and natural lifestyle products based on the ancient science of Ayurveda
Founder: Sara Herandi
1:1 virtual expert skin consultancy for men and women
Digital destination for all things textured hair
Founder: Winnie Awa
Disrupting how consumers research and buy beauty
Founder: Chanella Buck
Sustainable lipstick with a clean supply chain
Founder: Molly Hart
Plant-based skincare powered by CBD
Founder: Jasmin Thomas