Buildit graduate, Ksenia Vinogradova from Comfee reflects back on her time at the accelerator and the lessons she and her team learnt. 

Hardware is hard, you have to build it. Scrolling down the f6s I come across “Estonia”. What? Hardware accelerator in Estonia? Not Berlin or Shenzhen? Buildit in Estonia, pure hardware, 20K, 3 months, mentors from Dragon Innovation and Upverter. Well, I am in, just let me grab my umbrella and warm clothes.

At that point we had a hand-assembled prototype of Comfee and a raw pitch deck, a good job and stable life in sunny Bulgaria. We were very excited with the product idea, but we knew that we wouldn’t be able to move on if we stayed in our garage and continued working on it only during weekends with breaks for sunbathing. To build a functioning startup from our idea we needed funding, full-time devotion, access to startup community and investors, and smart people around to ask questions.

AHHAA Science Centre and Tigutorn in Tartu

Buildit helped us with visas and accommodation and provided soft landing when we arrived late in September. Tartu, where the accelerator is based, happened to be a friendly and youthful city, where among historic buildings you can find Tartu University, AHHAA Science Centre and many more. Settling down took us about a week and then the hard work began. 

We used the prototyping lab nearly 24/7, good that everything was at hand. Mentors, often several at a time, were coming nearly every day and till around 5 pm they were brainstorming, brainwashing and pivoting your mind. Prepare a towel, as it might as well be happening in the sauna. In this centrifuge of opinions you can find and check what you are actually doing, for whom, why, and why investors and customers should care. I could give the whole list of people who were really helpful, but you can find them all here. We’re especially thankful for selling tactics secrets from Christopher Bellamy, go-to-market strategy from Madelynn Martiniere, fundraising guidelines from Rainer Sternfeld. 

Working on the prototype

Estonian mentors were not only advising, but giving actual help on the spot in prototyping and orienting us in local and global contractors. They are all entrepreneurs themselves, meaning their advice was practical. Buildit is connected to the Estonian Development Fund and Enterprise Estonia, giving you access to EU programs and funds. Not to mention connections and partnership with Latvian, Lithuanian, and Finnish startup and investment ecosystems. We were lucky to get a sponsored trip to Pioneers Festival in Austria, discounts to Slush conference in Finland. Buildit also organized pitching slots for us during European Business Angels Network event in Helsinki, Seed Forum in Tallinn and Riga.

3 months is a very short period of time, especially if you start travelling to exhibitions and pitch events.. For us, the total time in the office space till Demo Day was less than 2 months. We were hyperactive, not missing any chance to showcase the product and meet investors. The main thing to keep in mind is that it is your business, and nothing will be handed to you on a silver plate. You need to move forward. Accelerator can accelerate the processes which are already happening, bring more potential contacts and opportunities, but it cannot help you if you are static and passive and don’t know what you want.

Comfee at Utility Week

In our batch we had teams with different backgrounds from India to Finland. We learnt a lot from each other and now we are close friends. We often worked till the last bus and sometimes had to spend nights in the office. Now I understand that maybe not all events and contacts were helpful, but you never know until you try. It was a race. By the Demo Day we had a completely new iteration developed, 100 pre-orders from our community and first investment commitment.

After the program we stayed in Tartu, as we had local potential investors in the pipeline and going back to Bulgaria would bury all the active contacts in the Baltics. Buildit supported us during our stay till the very moment we finally closed an angel round.

Right now we are preparing iteration for mass production, as well as new designs for the series and are heading up to the US to be closer to our target market and grow the company for the Series A.

Everything has just begun, and thanks to Buildit for the good start! 

*0Comfee is now FlipFlic