How Rockstart is Aligning Startups with Focus on Communication and Collaboration

A Case Study

Cover image courtesy: People photo created by pch.vector – www.freepik.com

Rockstart is a domain-focused accelerator-VC with follow-on growth funding that empowers the best startups on their way to success across three domains: Energy, AgriFood, and Emerging technologies.

According to some estimates, the global startup economy is worth 3 trillion dollars today. And while that is hugely motivating for someone looking to start their own company, here’s another figure to keep in mind.

In 2019, the failure rate of startups was around 90%. Numbers from Investopedia show that 21.5% of startups fail in the first year itself. 

Why? The reasons could be many. The product isn’t serving market needs; there is a lack of liquidity or more successful competitors, but dig deep, and another reason comes to the fore; a lack of team connections. 

In fact, in a survey conducted among founders who had to shut their companies, 23% said that the main reason their startup failed was because of team failure. 

Therefore, accelerators need to support early-stage, growth-driven companies, not only with financing but also with mentorship. Veronica Fresneau, Marketing and Communications Manager at Rockstart, underlines how Rockstart does this, 

“Rockstart’s purpose is to fund the transformation to a regenerative and sustainable future, so it all starts there. We support startups by offering access to capital. For example, in under two years, through our Rockstart AgriFood fund, we have invested in 20 early stage AgriFood startups and helped them generate >€10million in funding. For example, Beyond Leather Materials is a company turning apple waste into vegan leather - they joined Rockstart in 2019 with a minimum viable product and a team of two. We were able to help them syndicate a seed round and raise €1.1million to take the product to the next level. We have several examples like this: Rahandel, Nordetect, Zymoscope, and many more. Another way we support startups is by giving access to the right expertise. Any founder of an early-stage startup needs the right mentorship at the right time, and via our funds and programs, we bring access to targeted agrifood, energy and, emerging tech industry expertise and network. A clear impact motivation combined with access to capital and the right mentorship can be the difference between success and failure for an early-stage startup.”

Onboarding: The First Step Toward Building a Cohesive Team

For startups, experience at an accelerator-VC is nothing less than intensive, rapid, and immersive education. Accelerators aim to speed up young companies’ life cycle by capturing years of learning into a few months. 

 

At Rockstart, this begins with the onboarding week. And this is the week that the startup team, and members’ connection with each other, comes into focus. As Julian Jacob, Manager Accelerator Programs at Rockstart, says, “The onboarding week focuses on different aspects of the team (e.g., strengths, weaknesses, dynamics, communication).”

 

Veronica expands, “At Rockstart, we invest in founders and not startups. In other words, we first look at people (e.g., funding team, other team members) to see if they have what it takes to build a company that will last decades. If that is the case, the technology or the business model will follow. The onboarding week is tailor-made on the specific startups in the cohort and their needs and can include team dynamics, team building, leadership, best practices, and founders stories.”

 

Whether it is a startup or a full-grown organization, effective communication and critical soft skills don’t have an alternative. In an accelerator-like setup, it becomes essential to guide startups to analyze their team dynamics objectively.

A group of colleagues discussing work. The group comprises three women and two men. One of the men is pointing at a piece of paper to elaborate on something
Focusing on communication can improve efficiency. Photo by peoplecreations from Freepik

When Rockstart picked SkyrocketYourTeam, in the summer of 2020, Julian says they were looking for a platform that would let the startups experience and reflect on their team communication in a fun and interactive way. The aim was to help them garner insights and learnings that would guide how they should communicate and collaborate in the future, especially if teams continue to work virtually. And the result was phenomenal

“Skyrocket's team building activity added to the experience, offering the team the opportunity to reflect on the team communication in a fun and interactive way. For a lot of the startups present, it was also the first time they were involved in such a creative online team building session.”

Julian Jacob, Manager, Accelerator Programs

How Focussing on Team Communication and Collaboration Helps Startups

In a Medium article on the importance of communication in startups, Keith Krach, former CEO of DocuSign and Chairman of Purdue University, says that companies that focus on communication well, whether that is with internal teams or external stakeholders, find that work becomes more efficient and takes place with less stress and friction. 

Skyrocket helps remote teams participate in team-building activities with learning outcomes. With everyone assigned a role and having access to a different clue to the puzzle, the team has to come together and share information to navigate their way through the escape room. Without individual personalities and power dynamics interfering with finding the solution, the team focuses on collaboration, but within a game environment.  Virtual games encourage team development by allowing for easier communication, emotional engagement, and social interaction among participants. 

“It was a fun way to quickly identify strengths and weaknesses in our team communications. The ‘pressure’ of the game and time limits made us work really well as a team. Great for us as we are a remote team spread across different time zones, and we don’t often get the chance to work on team dynamics and just get to know each other better.”

Lily also talks about how having a facilitator guiding them through the escape room and debriefing the group helped the team reflect on their different ways of working together. The detailed performance report of each team member and an analysis of how they could improve communication and teamwork helps draw out positives and highlight areas of improvement. This helps, Lily says, “Making sure we are all on the same page before starting a project.

Why Facilitated Sessions Add Value and Accelerate Findings

While self-facilitated sessions can be an easier choice to make, an external facilitator is focused only on the team and ensures that they have the knowledge necessary for an organization to achieve its goal. Unbiased objectivity helps them organize a group activity to harness the team’s full potential, keep the discussion focused, keep the team building on track, and encourage team members to communicate with each other, recognizing the importance of what each member brings to the table.

“We did not expect any debriefing at all, so we were amazed at how Jorge rounded up the game, helping us reflect on our performance and identify relevant behavioral patterns that we should continue to apply in our daily operations and those we ought to act on to perform even better.”

Julian from Rockstart underlines this. He says received great feedback from their startups. He also adds that they have “realized the added value it can bring through the facilitation and reflection possibility via its tangible takeaways for the participants.

Wrapping Up

Experienced facilitators armed with tactical and planned activities can optimize team building experiences to the fullest.

 

And when teams are more engaged with each other, they work more cohesively and productively.

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