Behind the Scenes: Interview with TNW
X-Europe project 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 interview main people running the X-Europe machine. The stars of the first interview or better call it conversation, are Jana and Adam from TNW (thenextweb.com).
TNW is a global media tech company with a focus on Generation T which enables people and companies to change their world through tech by inspiring and connecting Generation T, through media, intelligence, events, and workspaces. Since three years ago, TNW is helping startups by including them in various corporate and governmental innovation programs. X-Europe is the second programme for which TNW has received European Commission’s support from the Horizon 2020 budget.
Jana: It all started in late autumn 2018 when TNW wanted to write a winning EU proposal. I was still an intern and just wrapping up my master’s back then, and, naturally, got super excited when I was asked to help put some parts of the proposal together. We ended up collaborating on the proposal, searching for the best partners in the EU startup ecosystem to execute it with.
Jana Zane, Program Manager at TNW
Adam: Yeee, that was intense. But from the beginning, having the input of F6S and other partners helped me with the proposal, as I was quite new to writing these types of documents. That made F6S a natural partner for the proposal due to their experience. Others just naturally felt like a good choice with similar objectives and approaches to the startup scene. Remember how many calls we’ve done with potential partners… I think there was 0 doubt in the choice of the partners after all the calls. It was a great proposal as it came together, and when we submitted we all felt strong. After a few nervous months of waiting it was great to get that feeling when the proposal was accepted!!! I don’t know how to put that in words. It felt good.
Adam Warren, Program Manager at TNW
Jana: I remember that day - we popped quite some champagnes! I only got the whole feeling that something big is starting when we had the Consortium kick off in February 2020 in Amsterdam and when we finally met the whole team in person. It’s funny actually that we’re all working so closely together now for 9 months and have only seen each other at that time in Amsterdam. All the other attempts of meeting – Paris for HelloTomorrow conference, TNW Conference, Budapest for Startup Week at Design Terminal – are digital until further notice due to the COVID-19.
Adam: I see your face so much on my screen that I don’t really have the feeling we don’t see each other. Oh, the joys of video calling. Jokes aside, what I meant by this is that collaboration and working together has not been a big problem, at least from my side. When everything is clearly defined and you have a great team of motivated people working together towards the same goal, there are rarely any problems. But, I believe that a lot of our readers are curious about what we actually do - what does it take to set up a programme like X-Europe.
Jana: Well, I see it like this: it can be very fun to run a programme like X-Europe - it is an ecosystem of its own kind, almost like a young startup. It started with an idea in the form of the proposal and setting up the team. Then, we got an investment from the H2020 budget, so EC is like our investor. Once all technicalities were confirmed and the Consortium was formed, we started working on defining the details of the X-Europe and putting it into action. Even though every partner has clearly defined roles and responsibilities, we are all always helping each other to make the best product possible. We had to create a website from scratch - that required clear branding guidelines, marketing, and content strategy. For the sake of our selected startups, we have to establish new partnerships with corporations, other ecosystem builders and investors for each of the six cohorts, which means a lot of time spent on calls pitching the programme and the quality of the selected startups. There’s much more to it, but I am getting tired just by thinking about it, so will stop here.
Adam: I like your analogy with a startup or a small independent ecosystem. One thing it differentiates us from a startup is the amount of the documents we have to write, the deeply collaborative side of things, as well as so many moving parts with having such a complicated program to build from scratch. To be more technical - the proposal is divided into 5 work packages, and each of the partners is responsible for leading one of the packages. As part of the responsibility, partners also have to write these supporting documents, or deliverables, as they are officially called. They vary in content, from the ones that are more fun to write like marketing and content strategy guides and open call results, to those that are a bit more technical and require lots of graphs. It certainly makes life a bit more complicated but at the same time, having to articulate the program in such detail is a fantastic exercise in unpicking your ideas and making them very practical and straightforward. I wouldn’t wish the process on many people, but the mental exercise is definitely rewarding.
Jana: And as every startup or a new organization, we also had our fails and will probably have more in the future. For example, we revamped the whole website only 2 months into the programme as we realized we don’t like the flow of it. Some documents were submitted close to the deadline as we process and re-process lots of our ideas, deleted a lot of sections as we realise our project in practical terms. Some parts of the proposal have to be brainstormed a little further when it comes to group implementation which meant some long working hours. We bought some tickets for a conference that’s canceled and we still can't get refunds for, etc. We are far from perfect, but we are giving our best effort to create the best experience and great value to our selected startups, investors, and corporations.
Adam: It's definitely been a wild ride but the most overriding feeling I get is a reward for working together as a team to get it done. When you communicate the program and its practicalities to all sorts of different stakeholders and they are super impressed, that’s when you realise you’re onto something and that we’re going to have a lot of fun over the 22 months in helping some startups grow and connecting different regions in Europe.