A non-profit aims to help start-ups explore European markets with a new six-week mentorship and exchange program.
With well over 700 million inhabitants, Europe offers start-ups rich pickings for potential customers--but also plenty of headaches.
"Start-ups want to come to Europe," Ines Santos Silva, co-founder of Startup Exchange Programme explained to Inc. in an interview. "But it is very difficult for companies outside Europe or even in Europe to move to another country—we are very different in terms of language, in terms of culture, in terms of the way we do business. We wanted to facilitate that process."
The result of that impulse is Startup Exchange, a non-profit exchange program that plans to bring start-ups to nine European incubators for six weeks this spring. Last year, the organization did a test run with two European start-ups. "Since it worked very well, we wanted to expand," said Santos Silva.
Miguel Andrade, CEO of VitaSensis, which went to Finland with the program last year, agreed: "Moving (business wise) in Europe is not as easy as in the U.S. We were going to Finland anyway, so finding a program that provides insights and transmits knowledge for a market we planned to go anyway was a perfect match for us."
This year's edition of the program is now accepting applications for the nine slots in cities including Lisbon, Milan, Berlin, and Vienna.
"Basically we provide a soft landing for these companies to come to Europe to one of these hubs for six weeks, to go to another market and start making connections there," explained Santos Silva. Participants will also receive online mentoring from a team of eight start-up veterans including Podio co-founder Kasper Hulthin, Mozilla director Pascal Finette and Luis Franco, VP of international operations at SurveyMonkey.
Start-ups are on their own when it comes to funding their stay (and those who are accepted will need to pay a modest 150 euro administrative fee) but when it comes to sorting out visas, finding a place to live abroad and settling in, "the different incubators working with us will help with their networks. It's going to be very informal," said Santos Silva.
Start-ups for Mexico to Malaysia has already applied and Santos Silva stresses the program is open to companies from anywhere, but she suggests that the experience would be most beneficial to "high-growth start-ups that already have traction in their own market and maybe want to go abroad."
"We are looking for companies mainly focused on physical products because for these start-ups it's more interesting to go to another market and start making connections there, find suppliers, potential partners, potentials clients, but we also take web-based companies that want to go to another country and develop some kind of relationship with the local community," she said.
Applicants are asked where they'd like to go and a final match is made based on input from the local incubators and sector fit. "If you are a fashion start-up it makes perfect sense to go to Milan. If you are a tech start-up, it makes a lot of sense to come to Berlin. So it's based on what the company's doing," said Santos Silva.
JESSICA STILLMAN is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist. @EntryLevelRebel