In summer 2018, the Danish startup WriteReader joined Kickstart as one of the selected EdTech companies. WriteReader’s learning solution supports children in reading and writing by making kids authors of their own digital books. One year later, WriteReader has established three successful partnerships in Switzerland with the education ministry, a premier football club, and a software education company. Here is Babar Baig, CEO and Co-Founder of WriteReader, sharing his Kickstart story:
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Having been part of several startup accelerator programs previously, we at WriteReader weren’t sure if joining another program would be the right priority for us. We already had a globally working proof-of-concept. Yet, we were convinced by the fact that the Kickstart program is truly partnership-based – the partners, comprising universities, foundations, corporations and other leading Swiss institutions, had a big say when it came to the selection of startups for the program. As a startup, it is a dream scenario to come to a place where several potential partners are present and have already shown interest in your company.
365 days, 3 Partnerships closed across three sectors
It’s been a year since we joined Kickstart. Today, we have three running partnerships in Switzerland. We kept our pipeline broad, yet initially focused on getting a pilot running to validate our learning solution in the Swiss school system.
During the Kickstart program, we were able to launch a pilot project with Swiss primary schools, greatly supported by two leading Swiss foundations, Mercator Foundation Switzerland and Jacobs Foundation, as well as Dybuster, a Swiss EdTech Company. As a foreign company, for WriteReader it would have been impossible to bring such diverse local partners together.
Our initial pilot partner, Dybuster was key to understanding the school landscape in Switzerland. Eventually, WriteReader became a good fit to expand Dybuster’s product portfolio from helping children with dyslexia to general and creative literacy support for children. We are very happy to see that Swiss schools are now able to use our German version “Schreiblabor”.
Through the “Kickstart Partner Safari” which was part of the Kickstart selection process, we met with the Canton of Zurich, that showed interest in exploring how our learning tool built for children would be applicable for basic competency education for adults. Through multiple interactions, we succeeded in agreeing on a 3-year digital flagship agreement for the Government’s e-Lounge, a new basic competency initiative “Lernstuben”.
Our Kickstart advisor, a seasoned Swiss entrepreneur, was a crucial part as well. He introduced WriteReader to the Swiss football club Young Boys Bern. We saw an opportunity emerging to enable sports clubs to use WriteReader as a “Fan Engagement” solution. Today, WriteReader is thrilled to see Young Boys fans create and share their own digital fan books while learning to read and write at the same time!
Keep your focus throughout the program. We had a razor-sharp focus ion the initial pilot. We realized that the basis of potential future partnerships would be dependent on a successful pilot with Swiss schools. Even though we had plenty of proof before, the pilot played out to be an important local signal of the quality of our solution. Time is limited and there is so much to do. So prioritization is key.
Don’t expect things will happen in a few months (it might happen and that would be great) but keep in mind that it’s the long-term commitment of your time that eventually pays off. I have come back to Switzerland 4-6 times after the program and steadily followed up with the contacts initiated through the program. We had a broad pipeline and received several refusals, but the key was to keep pushing gently and to leverage the great network provided by the Kickstart program over time.
About the author:
Babar has over 10 years of experience in operational and strategic marketing. He has previously worked with Danish telecom, TDC and The Society of Danish Engineers. In 2012, Babar co-founded WriteReader enabling children to learn through creation. WriteReader is a scientifically based learning platform that accelerates children’s learning through their own interests.
Three Kickstart participants; three scenarios. Altoo, YUKKA Lab and AAAccell have two things in common: all three were selected to participate in the Kickstart Accelerator program, which connects its participants with leading organizations and all three have embarked on collaborative projects.
German company YUKKA Lab and Switzerland-based Altoo, together with Swisscom, explore the opportunities of Open Banking for the Swiss financial sector, as well as the integration of YUKKA Lab´s News & Trend service into the Altoo platform. YUKKA Lab is also collaborating with University of Zurich spinoff and Kickstart 2017 alumni AAAccell, to create a joint sentiment-quant engine.
We asked Oliver Berchtold, CPO at YUKKA Lab, Maximilian Adelmann, Senior Quant Engineer at AAAccell, and Martin Stadler, CEO at Altoo AG, how these collaborations started, what makes the Kickstart program so special and what advice they have for startups and scaleups concerning the initiation of cooperation.
Martin: We met with the participants and their different backgrounds and exciting business ideas as part of the Kickstart Accelerator Program. This get together provided the inspiration thinking about teaming up.
Oliver: Kickstart Accelerator did connect us! We met Martin from Altoo there, and we both knew right away that we could integrate our Sentiment Indicators into their Portfolio view, as well as offer our News Lab to their UHNWI clients, as an expert research tool with state-of-the-art analytics and high-quality news.
Whereas, we met Sandro and Max from AAAccell through a client who thought it would make sense to combine the two applications in POC.
Maximilian: Yes, it was at the site of one of AAAccell’s clients. Andreas and Oliver were presenting YUKKA Labs sentiment engine there.
Oliver: We continued the discussion directly after the meeting and elaborated the benefits of a potential collaboration, since the two services just blended so well together. As a next step, we tested our data to see if it would enhance their results. Sandro and Maximilian were so happy with the result that we decided to cooperate and, on the spot, drafted the fair terms of our partnership. We put those terms into a formal contract, signed it, and immediately started the development of our combined product offering.
Maximilian: I was impressed by the power of their approach and how well they could visualize the strength of their product. Right away, I saw the vast potential that YUKKA Lab’s sentiments could have to improve our quant engine. Fortunately, Andreas and Oliver’s view of our product was similar, so we started talking about collaborating on the first day that we met.
Oliver: It just makes sense to combine AAAccell’s price-based portfolio optimization with our sentiment indicators. Moreover, there is no one on the market with a similar offering yet. Also, the skill sets of the two companies complement each other well.
In general, it is exciting to work with other startups, because they are agile and can make decisions very quickly. It’s great to launch projects that show fast results and then enhance products based on new affiliations.
Maximilian: YUKKA Lab was aiming to enrich their sentiment signals with quantitative models, while we at AAAccell considered adding sentiment to our quant engine. So, instead of going through the time and resource-consuming process to build up knowledge in a new field, it felt like a natural decision to profit from the strong expertise of a collaborative partner.
The fact that both YUKKA Lab and AAAccell are startups in a similar phase made the collaboration easier. The whole process moved very fast, and both sides are working in the same spirit. YUKKA Lab’s excellent product was the primary reason for us to collaborate, but the good fit on the personal level with Andreas and Oliver was also essential to us.
In our case, Kickstart didn’t have a direct role in the collaboration, also because we participated in different years. However, Kickstart Accelerator Company label is definitely a factor that enriches trust in the collaborator.
Oliver: I totally agree. I think both components are equally important. Obviously, the idea and products need to match and combined, create an additional value that none of the companies could individually deliver. That is the charm of cooperation: To offer something new and innovative to the market that meets the customers’ needs. However, of course, the personal fit is key to such collaboration. Trust is the foundation cooperation is built on. If there is no personal fit, it is unlikely that a collaboration lifts off.
Martin: Our mission at Altoo is to provide simplicity for complex wealth, enabling our clients to get simple insights, to better understand and control what’s going on with their total wealth, and to know where to set their focus. This perfectly matches the YUKKA’s technological capabilities to create more transparency in the flood of investment news and find the most important information for our clients’ investments. As Oliver said, ideas and products need to match.
And of course, the support at Kickstart was great. The mentors were all very experienced, which created the perfect environment to enable collaborations with incumbents and other Kickstart participants.
Maximilian: Currently, we work with YUKKA Lab on building a sentiment-quant engine with very high potential. This engine is supposed to turn into a product that both companies can offer to their clients.
Oliver: It will allow our customers to benefit from improved performance and risk management through a unique combination of quant models and sentiment.
Martin: As part of the Proof of Concept with YUKKA Lab, we are not only exploring the technical feasibility, but also testing the client response for such a news feature. This will define how our cooperation is set in the future, focusing on creating added-values for our clients.
Martin: Living co-creatorship and fostering innovation is a key pillar of Altoo’s corporate strategy. Living it in the daily business with other companies showcases to our clients how agile we are at approaching different aspects of wealth management in new ways.
Oliver: Combined with the additional value for the customer, it brings more marketing and sales power through joining forces and uniting each other’s talents.
Maximilian: Uniting each other’s talents is an important factor. We instantly get strong expertise and data in a field that has high value to us. Even with investing a lot of money into building a sentiment engine, it would have taken us months or even years to get sentiment of comparable quality. Collaborating with YUKKA Lab gives us the possibility to roll out a product in a short period and gain a first mover advantage.
Oliver: It all starts with having a good idea for a combined product vision, that meets a specific client need. Then, you need to strip it down and see if you can feasibly integrate each other’s offering. The hardest part is to find a fair business model that satisfies both parties.
Maximilian: I advise having a good network, knowledge of the relevant markets, and always an open mind for opportunities. I would base my decision to collaborate on several factors: the product of the potential partner, the organization, accomplishments, clients, and lastly, the personal fit between the collaborators.
Martin: In general, to be efficient, collaboration needs to be a natural fit; one that is worthwhile to invest time in. Nonetheless, thinking out of the box has helped us to create either more/new ideas or to redefine the focus of our company’ roadmap.
Oliver Berchtold is CPO, CBD and Co-Founder of YUKKA Lab AG , Berlin and Zurich-based FinTech for AI-derived insights for the financial industry. YUKKA Lab, a 2018 Kickstart company, works with Altoo exploring the opportunities of “Open Banking” with Swisscom for the Swiss financial sector, as well as on the integration of YUKKA Lab´s services into the Altoo platform.
Maximilian Adelmann is Senior Quant Engineer at AAAccell, a spinoff startup of the University of Zurich, that develops innovative AI / ML solutions for the financial service industry and a Kickstart 2017 alumni. Together with YUKKA Lab, they are working on a sentiment-quant engine to optimally combine YUKKA Lab’s sentiment with state-of-the-art quant models.
Martin Stadler is CEO of Altoo AG, a company that provides simplicity for complex wealth, enabling their clients to interact intuitively with their total wealth in a totally new way. Altoo, a 2018 Kickstart company, elaborates with YUKKA Lab on how to integrate the YUKKA News & Trend Lab into the Altoo platform.