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.
As one of the 30 selected startups for Kickstart Accelerator, you will get the chance to enter into innovative collaborations with leading Swiss corporates, cities, universities and foundations. We will support you every step of the way to make this happen! Your benefits include:
Access to senior executives: Kickstart gives participants the opportunity to connect with its partners‘ senior executives. More than 30 CEOs, decision-makers, movers and shakers of Swiss corporations and institutions have confirmed their participation to one of Kickstart’s main events. Find out more about our C-level engagement here.
Quarter of a million in partnership budget: Participants get the chance to access funding for successfully initiated collaborative projects with Kickstart partners.
Bringing together founders and C-level executives.
Collaboration training and facilitation: Kickstart is actively fostering collaborative projects between the startups and the accelerator’s partners.
Program stipends: Kickstart participants can expect a program stipend of up to CHF 10’000 per startup.
Your Personal Mentor and access to Experts: Entrepreneurial mentors are at the center of Kickstart Accelerator. We think of mentoring as building a relationship with someone who accompanies and inspires you along your journey and helps you to navigate within the Swiss market. In addition to mentoring, startups have access to a wide network of experts in varied industries, for 1:1 sessions.
Focused access to investors: Kickstart facilitates connections with national and international investors.
Free office space and infrastructure: Kickstart provides office space and infrastructure to all participants at an extraordinary innovation and collaboration space: Kraftwerk. The rebuilt, former electronic transformer station lies within a few minutes from Zurich’s main railway station. Kraftwerk offers various event-, workshop- and meeting rooms; as well as a large special event space and a lively café, spread over 1200 m2.
Collaboration and Innovation Space Kraftwerk.
Networking and Community events: Weekly networking events at Kraftwerk and external locations allow participating startups to fully emerge themselves into the Swiss innovation ecosystem. Community building events throughout the program aim at establishing strong bonds between the vertical cohorts in order to enable peer-support across the program.
Media exposure: Startups get the chance to be covered in various local and national media outlets, newsletters and on social media.
Startup and Innovation Ecosystem: Overall, participating startups can benefit from a fast-track access to Swiss startup and innovation ecosystems.
And the best part: Kickstart Accelerator takes zero equity and charges zero fees.
Have a look at these great examples of successful collaborations that were initiated within the last two years: Next to 30 PoCs and partnerships that resulted out of last year’s program, a couple of weeks ago we were able to announce another PoC between the AI-startup DCBrain and our partner Swisscom. Additionally, the insurance company AXA and Veezoo, an alumni startup from our very first program in 2016, announced that they have deepened their relationship and established a successful partnership. We are looking forward to making these kind of stories possible again this year – together with amazing partners such as Coop, Credit Suisse, Migros, Swisscom, Department of Education of the Canton of Zurich, the cities of St. Gallen and Zurich, ETH Zürich, Gebert-Rüf-Stiftung, Mercator Foundation Switzerland, Swiss Federal Office for Energy, University of Zurich, AXA, EY, Stäubli, Swisslinx, PwC Switzerland, Helbling and more.
If you are a startup or scaleup with a promising technology, product or business idea in the fields of EdTech & Learning, FinTech & Crypto, Food & Retail Tech or Smart Cities & Infrastructure, then apply until June 10th and become a #kickstarters18.
In case you have any questions, feel free to contact our Vertical Leads: Katka Letzing for FinTech & Crypto, Tim Lehmann for EdTech & Learning, Christina Senn-Jakobsen for Food & Retail Tech and Ruth Armalé for Smart Cities. We are looking forward to working with you!