Catalyze: Empowering Voices of Impact-Focused Founders

Catalyze: Empowering Voices of Impact-Focused Founders

It all starts with an idea, they say.
We disagree. It all starts with your ability to articulate your idea and inspire others.
And this is especially crucial for founders of impact startups - their ideas are aimed to make the world a better place.

In September, we united our forces with EMERGE to create Catalyze. Our mission was to help impact-driven founders turn their ideas into a compelling pitch in just 2 weeks. And we did it and much more.
Eugene Valuev, Founding Partner at ULTRA.VC, and Daria Reutovich, Head of Operations at ULTRA.VC, shared the insights of the program and their wishes to the impact-driven founders.
How would you describe the profile of companies applying for Catalyze?

Initially, we envisioned that people at the early ideation stage would apply to the project. In reality, many applications came from already established businesses, and everyone had pitch decks in place. Even for those who deeply understood their problem and solution, explaining it was a significant challenge. That's why people saw immense value in the daily practice of pitch aspects in a supportive environment – among like-minded individuals, experts, and mentors.
What is the value of the program?

We've developed CATALYZE as a transformational boot camp, offering people a two-week journey from an idea to a refined pitch. One of the key highlights is that this journey starts with oneself – we kick off the program with mindfulness sessions to analyze internal motivation. We believe that if a founder doesn't have a deep understanding of themselves and a genuinely honest answer to why they're doing what they're doing, they won't succeed in the long run.

Then the program guides participants through idea validation and the calculation of business metrics. We've also integrated a somewhat unconventional but highly important aspect into our program – impact. It’s crucial to include it into your business model and processes from the very beginning to avoid obvious 'impact washing' in later stages when investors and customers start paying attention.

The final program blocks focused on storytelling, intercultural communication, confidence in English, and on-stage presence. And thanks to our partnership with Emerge, we had the unique opportunity to conduct feedback sessions with conference experts who provided startups with the most up-to-date insights into what works and what doesn't.

In essence, Catalyze became a space where startups can rapidly gain a better understanding of themselves and their businesses. Then learn about techniques needed to present their stories to investors and users as best as possible.
What feedback did you hear from participants?

One of the standout aspects of the program was the sense of community. We created a chat for participants to reflect on insights and share their daily experiences. It was a space for genuine sharing, inviting others to open up as well. We used tools like Loom to record assignments fun and unconventionally, introducing participants to new technologies.

Our sincere desire to share knowledge and experiences planted a similar mindset in other startups. During the last session, a participating startup CoffeeeTalk offered all Catalyze attendees a free two-week conversational English course using their methodology to help boost their confidence in pitching.
How do you assess the level of preparation of teams at the start of the program and on pitch day?

It was a phenomenal transformation, and what's most interesting is that we now have documented evidence of how it unfolded. As per the program's requirements, startups regularly submitted videos of their pitches with updates they made after each educational session. We witnessed an evolution in real time; it could make a fascinating time-lapse, hehe.

One of the key insights was that the participants' industry experience and knowledge did not guarantee a flawless pitch. Pitching is, essentially, a distinct expertise and skill that requires training. All participants came in with a bundle of common mistakes – like overcrowding slides with too much text or dedicating a third of the pitch to explaining an already evident problem. The good news is that all of these issues can be swiftly rectified, and that's precisely what Catalyze participants did with tremendous success.
Tell us about the winners. What are these projects?

Now, it's time for the usual cliché - there are no winners here, haha. But in all seriousness, we see this as more of a transformational program than a competition. Our primary goal was to give participants the tools to help them pitch confidently. All the projects that made it to the end achieved this goal. The top 10 most active participants also gained a unique experience – pitching to a group of investors, which was first time for some of them. Not a bad outcome when a partner from Yellow Rocks shows up for your very first pitch, right? :)

We selected five startups that were offered the opportunity to pitch at the Emerge Challenge. We made the selection based on their pitch quality and investors’ feedback, their dedication and active participation during the program, and whether it would be relevant for them to pitch at Emerge – essentially if they were ready to advance their businesses further. Here they are:

  • Carial - Text-Based Access to Healthcare
  • Coffee Talks - Platform for Practicing Speaking English
  • Fandy - Solution for Improving Charity Fundraising
  • Flowcus - Focus-Point for People with ADHD
  • Pyxis - All-in-one application for online psychologists

And at EMERGE we were happy to be listening to these teams repeating their triumph, but this time in front of thousands of attendees! Pyxis and Fandy won our special prize and will be joining our impact-focused accelerator later this fall.
What are your plans for developing the acceleration programs?

We're gearing up to launch our 12-week program aimed at helping startups accelerate their growth and become more attractive to investors. Throughout this program, we will provide tailored support to assist founders in achieving their first traction or revenue, discovering scalable sales channels, and securing investments.

Startups often talk about their struggle to raise funds. However, this is usually a symptom of a more fundamental issue, and each project has its unique challenges. Some may face issues with their team's skill set, while others might grapple with an unclear product-market fit. Our mission over these 12 weeks is to immerse ourselves deeply into the context of each project, identify these underlying challenges, and channel all our efforts into resolving them. To ensure we can provide the highest quality support to each project, we plan to keep the group relatively small – not more than 15 projects.

One of the unique aspects that sets us apart from many other accelerators is our strong emphasis on founders' mental health, well-being, and overall joy during the program. So we will allocate time for fun, communication, and relaxation together.

The program will start at the end of October. There's still a chance to apply and join before October 7th. You can learn more about the program here, and you can fill out the application form here.
What would you wish for impact-driven projects?

Daria Reutovich: Keep going and believing in your dream to make this world a better place!
Eugene Valuev: Remember, it's a marathon, not a sprint.
Anna Pozniak: Be authentic, and don’t try to fit yourself into a box. You are great as you are, and you’re doing your best.
Yury Shlahanau: Your hardest challenge will be to keep the most important thing the most important thing. The best you can do here is to get rid of things and tasks, and that’s much harder than adding things and tasks. So focus-focus-focus!
Dasha Miskevich: Follow your fears, as magic starts when you face them; be bold and confident; never give up even when it’ll be hard; be on the light side of the force.
Lena Pishchuk: It doesn’t matter what you create if you have no fun. So have fun. :)