Univize, the online platform that connects prospective university students with current university students has been selected among the eight startups to pitch during StartUp Bahrain Week. Felix Hemmerling, co-founder and COO, shared with us his thoughts before flying to Bahrain.
(Featured Image: Kenan Muhovic and Felix Hemmerling, co-founders of Univize / Image Credit © Univize)
What are the latest updates from Univize?
We’ve made quite some progress again over the past weeks and months. Early January, we have officially launched the Univize 1.0 platform, and experience a good 45% monthly user growth. Since launching the beta in May 2017, we were very close to our users (and potential users) and collected a lot of valuable feedback through focused group sessions, one-on-one chats with students, and from our partner organizations. This allowed us to make various changes to the platform, and we have already more features in the making, which will add even more value to our users.
Besides that, we have formed more partnerships in Ireland, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg, and we see our network growing at an admirable pace. What is more, we are delighted to announce that we have expanded the Univize core team by bringing a senior full-stack developer as CTO on board. There was a lot of interest from highly qualified developers coming from developers from places like Ireland, India, and the Netherlands, which was really cool to see. Our CTO shares our personal values and can personally relate to the vision we have with Univize, which, next to his technical skills, makes him the perfect team member.
A very big update is that we have officially started the process of raising €500,000 in seed capital only a few weeks ago. Everything I just mentioned helped us to become ready to raise this amount of money, as we have now the complete package in terms of the team (tech & business), have our first real version of the platform out there, good growth, and we see that there is more and more interest for Univize from an investor point of view.
We have also a much clearer vision and strategy in regards to growing our business, which is why we strongly believe that we are ready to take the next step and raise seed capital. Finally, we are delighted to pitch at Luxinnovation’s Fit4Start spring edition 2018 final pitch day, as we made it to the final round. The final round, which takes places on March 12th, brings together the top 30 startups among 166 applicants from many different countries. Our aim is to be selected among the top 10 startups to enter the 16-week Fit4Start Acceleration programme. This would enable us to closely work with mentors who are able to guide us and help us grow, as well as secure some intermediate funding, so we can continue to develop Univize.
What are the best ways to raise funds when you are a startup?
As we have only started the process of raising seed capital, and have “only” received one private angel investment last year, I can only speak from our early stage perspective. I would say that, as an early stage startup like ours, it is all about meeting the right people and building relationships. We, for instance, are not looking for financial resources only, but investors who truly believe in our concept, who believe in us as leaders of the company, and who are able to mentor and guide us in areas we are not as skilled yet. We are currently in talks with various investors we got in touch with through the contacts we’ve built since we started Univize.
Thus, in our case, private networks and warm introductions to investors are definitely the most relevant methods at the moment. However, as raising money proves to be a long process, we are regularly applying for various competitions and acceleration programmes so that we do not lose too much time by “waiting” for investors. Besides investing our own savings in Univize, we have also recently launched a 30-day crowdfunding campaign where we aim to reach €8,000 by the end of this month.
What is Startup Bahrain Week?
StartUp Bahrain Week is a collaboration between the Bahrain Economic Development Board (EDB) and StartUp Bahrain “It’s a community-led initiative that brings together the region’s most exciting start-up events and connects some of the brightest entrepreneurial minds, with more than 2,500 people from around the world expected to participate. The week’s activities will include six events, four competitions and more than 50 speakers from Bahrain and the region.”
We are attending one event of the Startup Bahrain Week, which is called “unbound Bahrain”, taking place on March 7 & 8 at the Bahrain International Circuit. Unbound brings its globally established and award-winning innovation festival to Bahrain. It is the anchor event of StartUp Bahrain Week and will attract and bridge the gap between 1,000 startups, investors and businesses. There will be 50+ influential speakers, an exhibition area, as well as hackathons, startup battles, and networking sessions. The focus of StartUp Bahrain Week is actually on startups from the MENA region, but we qualified as “outsider” startup to exhibit and pitch, which is really exciting.
What do you expect from this innovation festival?
We are traveling that far with the clear goal of winning the competition. Among 8 startups, 2 startups receive 25K and 10K respectively, and we are going there to bring home the first prize. In addition to the pitching competition, we will also exhibit at “unbound50 powered by Microsoft”, where we will have an exhibition stand for two days.This gives us the opportunity to network and meet potential investors, which is an equally important goal we set for ourselves. We are confident that unbound Bahrain will give us the opportunity to raise awareness, show that Univize is on the map, and create new relationships with investors in a very active investor scene we have not yet explored. The competition and networking with potential investors will be our main focus, and we are very much looking forward to the whole experience.