Finding investors in elevator: Sber holding demo day for Sber500’s fourth batch


Moscow is hosting a Demo Day for the fourth batch of Sber500, an international seed accelerator, on September 22. At the heart of the demo day concept is an elevator pitch, meaning you only have one or two minutes to grab investors’ attention. The show will also use three other formats — napkin pitches, taxi pitches, and airport pitches — with each of them presented in virtual cities leveraging XR-driven locations. Real investors and heads of corporations will go on stage with start-ups for the first time. If they like a project, they may initiate a partnership right after the pitch.

It has been a while since the graduation of the previous Sber500 batch. However, the seed accelerator managed to maintain its international status and stay appealing to start-ups. As many as 1,250 tech start-ups from 36 countries had vied for the fourth batch, an all-time high for the accelerator, with 20% of entries coming from outside Russia. All start-ups had passed several selection stages, but only 23 teams – from Russia, India, and Turkey – qualified for the seed accelerator. They had MVPs, first sales, and worked in the verticals and horizontals Sber prioritizes.

The accelerator is intense. This year, it lasted for 15 weeks and included workshops, seminars, and group sessions. The first weeks are all about training, followed by a project stage and practicing what you have learned, and the last three weeks is the time to work on pitches for the demo day. In addition, Sber500 is the only seed accelerator in Russia that organizes meetings and synergies between start-ups and other corporations and investors prior to graduation. Start-up presentations with 40 investors and 30 corporations are a mandatory part of the program. This way, students may land not only Sber, but a dozen other companies as partners.
“I see that Sber500 selects very worthy projects in the market,” said Anna Morozova, a business angel and a co-founder of the Russian venture capital club Syndicate. “One year back we were afraid that all the brains had been drained, and we had much less [talent] here than we would have liked, but that was not the case. The projects that are coming in now are of a high international level.”
Anna Morozova admits that raising money in the Russian venture capital market is now hard, but it’s still possible. “Amid the ongoing venture capital winter everyone is looking at economic indicators much more closely than before, comparing, weighing,” she explained. But at the same time, in her opinion, the number of deals will increase in the near future: “There is a lot of money in Russia, and it has to be invested somewhere inside the country. Any investor realizes that instruments are scarce now. More and more business angels are looking at the venture capital market.”

Statistical data suggest that 20% of students manage to find clients while still in the seed accelerator program. “This is an excellent indicator for a fairly short horizon of a couple of months,” says Natalia Magidey, Sber’s managing director for seed accelerator programs. Some projects also manage to raise investments while still in Sber500. This year, two projects have attracted rounds of RUB 20 mn and RUB 70 mn without waiting for the demo day. After a start-up leaves the seed accelerator, its revenue increases ten times on average. The general statistics suggest that 80 Sber500 graduates have attracted about 7,000 corporate customers and raised RUB 2.8 bn in investments in three years.
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“I would say the seed accelerator is a springboard to take the leap. All the fun stuff starts after you graduate,” Magidey says. Sber500 has an alumni community that networks, asks advice, and helps each other reach new markets. The accelerator team continues to track the fate of its alumni. And it always keeps its finger on the pulse, if it needs expert advice or help in getting in touch with any of Sber’s business units.