See you later!

Today, we are announcing that we are going to put Startup Exchange Program on hold, for an unlimited time. This was of course a difficult decision, but a necessary one and we decided to use this opportunity to share some of the lessons we learned in the past 2 editions of the program.

Startup Exchange Program was born in late 2011 but the first program only took place in 2012. The idea was simple, we wanted to help all those startups that are growing and want to expand to new markets. We felt this was a critical problem mainly in Europe where the countries/markets are very different from each other: the languages are different, the consumer habits are also very different and dealing with the bureaucracy in all these countries can be a huge nightmare.

With this is mind we launched the first edition of Startup Exchange Program in early 2012. We partnered with 6 incubators from around Europe and we offered startups the opportunity to go to another European country where they had free office space and help from the hosting incubator. In this program we only allowed startups from this hosting incubators to apply. Overall we received 5 applications for 10 spots and in the end only 2 startups were part of the program. The feedback from those that attended the program was very good. They definitely saw the value of the program:

“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.", Miguel Andrade, CEO of VitaSensis

We felt we could do much better and not only improve the value proposition of the program, but also change the target group and improve the promotion.

So, in 2013 we launched Startup Exchange Program as a mentor driven exchange program designed to scale-up startups. We aimed to select 20 startups to move to an European tech hub for 4 to 6 weeks supported by a local incubator/co-working space. For the second edition we got around 50 applications, but we soon realized that most people applied because they thought we were a normal acceleration program and after interviews with most of the companies only 4 ended up being part of the program.

That said, the results were very far from what we initially expected. After a honest self-evaluation, here are a few learnings we took from this experience.

What we did right

  • 1. Europe is full of incubators and accelerators, but there aren’t programs that help startups move to new markets. When we were talking with entrepreneurs and other entrepreneurship folks we always heard very good feedback about the program and there was a clear gap in the market where SXP was playing a role.
  • 2.  We were able to create a very interesting network of incubators and accelerators around Europe. We built a presence in 6 of the most entrepreneurial countries in Europe and we partnered with amazing organizations.
  • 3. For the 2nd edition we also partnered with 21 organizations, from Malaysia & India to France & Italy, among many other countries. We were happy to work with this organizations and we made sure to provide them the necessary marketing materials to facilitate their job.
  • 4. We gathered an amazing group of mentors to support the 2nd batch of startups. This clearly added lots of value to the program and we got some nice recognition because of that.
  • 5. We were able to get insights from the challenge of scaling process a startup. Certainly they will be useful in the future, especially to support other startups with in the Startup Pirates’ network.
  • 6. We weren’t afraid to test the waters and see if a program like this could work in Europe. We learned some hard lessons after the first experience and for the second we made lots of changes. We are happy that we did this.

What we did wrong

  • 1. We never figured out how to position the Startup Exchange Program in the entrepreneurship landscape. Is this an accelerator, a post-accelerator, a network of incubators and coworking spaces, a scaling program? We were unable to create a strong & clear positioning for the program, making the promotion very difficult.
  • 2. We didn’t manage expectations well. For us Startup Exchange Program was a very informal and unstructured program, but some startups were expecting more support from our side. SXP demanded from startups lots of autonomy and maturity and some of them weren’t prepared for that.
  • 3. The program relied 100% on the good will of incubators and accelerators. They accepted to be part of the program, but we never created a strong value proposition for them. Money wasn’t involved or any direct benefit. Besides, we didn’t create enough guidelines, manuals and materials to give an effective support to our hosting partners.
  • 4. We didn’t handle the relationship with the mentors the best way possible. We ended up being the “middle-man” between the mentors and the startups and we couldn’t find a good solution to put them in contact, make sure the mentorship sessions were relevant for both parts and following up after the program.
  • 5. Focus is important. Startup Exchange Program was never a priority for us. Our focus was and still is on Startup Pirates. We never had the necessary resources and time allocated to Startup Exchange Program.

We embrace life as a continuous learning experience. So after compiling the lessons learned, it's time to move on. Of course we could not end this message without proper acknowledge those who helped throughout the program.



We had an amazing group of host organizations all over Europe helping us putting the program together. We are forever thankful to:

  • - Felipe Ávila Costa, UPTEC
  • - Juho Kokkola, Startup Sauna
  • - Julius Parrissius, KIT-CIE
  • - David Mullo, Boost Turku
  • - Mario Scuderi, YoutHub Catania Student Incubator
  • - João Vasconcelos, Startup Lisboa
  • - Luis Rivera, Tetuan Valley
  • - Arkadiusz Hajduk, HugeThing
  • - Marcello Merlo, Talen Garden Milan
  • - Ruben Schmidtmann, Betahaus Hamburg
  • - Yves Schulz, Sektor5
  • - Holger Dieterich, YouIsNow
  • - Justyna Mockus, Gdansk Business Incubator STARTER

We also had an incredible group of mentors that added lots of value to the program. To them, a huge thank you:

  • - Alex Barrera, Press42
  • - Pascal Finette,
  • - Kasper Hulthin, Podio
  • - Peter Kovacs, IseeQ
  • - Andreas Klinger, LOOK
  • - Sandra Sick, Global Women's Conference
  • - David Bizer, Talent Fontain
  • - Luis Franco, Survey Monkey

We also need to recognize the important role that Filipe Castro Matos played during the lifetime of Startup Exchange Program. Thank you for your incredible help and support!

Next steps & See you later!

Looking back, these past 2 years were amazing and we feel nothing but gratitude for all that we learned along the way. Our mistakes were necessary growth pains and today, we are definitely better because of it. There are lots of things we would do differently, but we would have done it anyway. With age comes experience, but while we are young we can afford some radical learning experiences.

We don’t consider this a Goodbye, but more a See You Later. In spite of everything, we still believe that the model we pioneered at Startup Exchange Program might work in the future and we are open to work with several partners to make it happen. So, thank you very much for being part of this journey. We won’t forget.

Inês, João, Daniela & Rafael

January 2013