Behind the Scenes: Interview with F6S
As you know, X-Europe is run by five partners - F6S, TNW, TechChill, Design Terminal, and Growth Tribe. For you to get to know the X-Europe team better, we have created a series of articles where we presented the main people running the X-Europe machine.
For our final interview, we had a chat with Sofia Esteves - X-Europe Project Coordinator and Head of PMO at F6S, and Aleksandar Zobec - Project Manager at F6S, to understand what it was like to run the X-Europe programme since January 2020.
Sofia, Alek, and Cristiana from F6S
F6S is the largest tech founder and startup community - delivering billions in growth to 4.4 million global members.
Tell us more about the very beginning of X-Europe - the proposal, setting up the team, the excitement, and your very first impressions.
At F6S we get to choose the projects we work on. We have both worked with the Startup Europe initiative before. It is always thrilling to start a new acceleration programme, especially when it’s so demanding such as X-Europe with six different cohorts focused on distinct verticals, flagship events, and an overall goal of supporting 150 European startups.
Having such an eclectic, young and driven consortium is exciting, and having the chance to work with key startup players and tech conferences was a plus for us. We had never worked together before, so it was good to build the project together from scratch - which was envisioned by TNW.
First time we met - planning X-Europe in Amsterdam in January 2020
The opportunity to meet in person at the kick-off meeting of the project in Amsterdam back in January 2020 was very beneficial and helped us establish the foundations for our relationship as a team. We quickly realised that we could do great things by joining forces and taking advantage of our networks and main assets. And we did!
These two years and four months have brought a lot of challenges and the project has turned out more virtual than planned. What were the challenges behind restructuring a project that was in-person and event-driven, towards a digital operation?
The programme was created with lots of its activities set to be done in person, and, unfortunately, the public health crisis made it impossible to do it the way it was intended. Not having the possibility to engage with our startups face-to-face, for example, at events or training sessions, made our online interactions more demanding and also impacted the sense of startup community and matchmaking value that these projects typically create. With the uncertainty associated with the pandemic and tech conferences being postponed several times throughout 2020 and 2021, our programme timelines went through quite a few changes.
However, we were all very agile, resilient, and persistent about adding more value to our companies, and, in the end, we were able to establish an environment ripe for growth, digital connection, and impact. Our partners built engaging virtual experiences at TNW 2020, Design Terminal’s The future of Agritech and SpaceTerminal, and TechChill 2021.
Also, for F6S, as we have the coordinating role of the project, we tapped into our DNA, and that is the digital way of operating, and used it to lead with best practices, establish virtual operating processes, motivate our peers and steer towards the project objectives. We were well received by our proactive consortium partners, and managed to build very cohesive relationships where all the roles were clear, making the best of the situation.
This project involves a lot of teamwork not only within the F6S team but also with other teams across Europe. Tell us more about teamwork - how was it to coordinate X-Europe with all these challenges?
As previously said, at F6S we are used to working in a virtual/remote format, it came naturally to lead the consortium that way. We also love project management.
Yet another Zoom screenshot. We ran 60 biweekly online meetings over the past 28 months!
The restrictions made our face-to-face encounters impossible for longer than we imagined, and, sometimes, it was less easy to keep up the enthusiasm, especially seeing our partners’ event activities being impacted by the pandemic. But our consortium values were clearly set at the project’s kick-off, and included:
focusing on startups and impact,
being inclusive and fostering gender balance, and
using partners’ superpowers and strong networks.
So we worked around it, took advantage of our partners' expertise, did online team building activities, and kept focused on the project goals. Asking our startups for honest feedback has been tremendously helpful as well, and our mentors also did a wonderful job. In the end, adapting to a digital format did make us go beyond some of our project KPIs, as we were able to offer some of our activities to the entire cohorts.
If you would like more details about the behind-the-scenes: over sixty biweekly online meetings, a lot of asynchronous communication over Slack, and master collaboration on Google Sheets and reports to the European Commission.
In September and November 2021, after a year and a half of digital operation, we had the opportunity to meet in person at the TNW Conference in Amsterdam and at Web Summit in Lisbon, and we had a blast. It is easier to brainstorm and discuss when we are all in the same place, and having the chance to put our startups again in the spotlight was great!
When we finally managed to run another consortium meeting in-person, Lisbon November 2021
X-Europe is all about helping startups - tell more about what that means to you.
The bottom line is: that we all are entrepreneurs at heart, and we have the motivation to help the startups and their ideas excel. We know that the majority of startups tend to fail, so it’s important to help them grow, make the right connections and execute at the best of their capacities to reach success. The entrepreneurial journey is long and has a lot of hiccups on the way. This is why we scouted for promising deeptech solutions across Europe - our open calls had 700 startup applications. Our verticals were HealthTech, AgriTech, Artificial Intelligence, Smart Cities, SpaceTech, and FinTech.
We believe that programmes like ours can really boost the startup's growth and path to market, and X-Europe offered a unique blend of services to selected companies: training (including one-on-one mentoring, growth hacking sessions, and business development workshops), matchmaking (corporate, investment and talent), and promotion (events and media).
There are many great and innovative ideas that can make a difference in the world. Knowing that we are helping founders grow and are contributing to something bigger, is very rewarding.
The project is now ending! Tell us more about the last months and what’s coming in the future.
In the last few months of the project, we still had a lot of activities planned, and we did our best to bring more relevant opportunities for our startups. We decided to extend the project a couple of months to support this. The fact that the world is slowly turning to normal gave us the possibility to recover some activities and finish strong. We managed to engage with more events (such as WebSummit and 4YFN Barcelona) - allowing the startups to showcase their solutions, finally tested the incubation service in Amsterdam and Riga, and brought our startups to TechChill 2022.
We are proud of the impact achieved - stay tuned to our final communication materials and news. We want to tap on X-Europe’s lessons learned and best practices and hopefully build new and improved programmes, which we’re already drafting together. Simultaneously, we’re working on other exciting EU funded projects - feel free to reach out if you would like to partner with us.
X-people at TNW conference in Amsterdam, October 2021.
We would like to give a special thank you to Adam, Alaina, Katalin, Aris, Cristiana, and all our past X colleagues at F6S, TNW, Design Terminal, Growth Tribe, and TechChill, for making it such a pleasure to build and deliver this project (X-team).
Sofia and Aleksandar
(sofia @ f6s.com; aleksandar @ f6s.com)