I recently founded a startup and I am about to launch dotplan - an application for remote teams to share daily check-ins with one-another.
During October 2021 I took part in the 500 Founder Academy which is run in partnership with Kobe city here in Japan. Despite the fact that I'm located in Fukuoka, due to the covid-situation the program is held virtually and accepts applications from all over the world. In my cohort, there were many companies from all over Asia, along with a few in Europe and Canada.
Here's a rundown of what the program actually is, and my impressions of it. Hopefully this will help you work out if it's a good fit for you.
The program is not a full-on accelerator program - think of it as a crash-course in what you need to know during the early stages of a startup.
The program is entirely free. The cost to you is purely your time.
The course lasts for 4 weeks and you should plan to dedicate approximately 3 to 4 hours per week to the program. The course is run in English with subtitles in Japanese for the courses, along with live Japanese translation for the AMAs.
The program consists of 3 main aspects:
First is the video course. There are a series of recorded videos presented by mentors from 500 Startups which cover topics such as sales & marketing, SEO, running & analysing growth experiments, and fundraising. During these videos, there are exercises related to the material, and I found working through these incredibly beneficial.
Each week there is a live group AMA session with a mentor related to the material covered in the week's video course. For me, these sessions were the highlight of the program. The mentors were all very knowledgeable and generous with their time and working through the group questions. Being able to dig into the material you've just covered in this way really helped to figure out how best to apply what you've learned to your own business.
Before the AMA, the group also has a networking session where you can get to know and share knowledge with your fellow students. There is also a private slack channel for everyone taking the course. This is a case of "you get out what you put in". The more you get involved with your cohort-mates, the better the experience. If you take part, I'd recommend participating and being as active as possible!
Along with this, after the course has finished, all the cohort become members of the 500 slack community, giving us access to events, mentors and other perks. Again, this is only as valuable as you make it!
If I was to wish for any improvements, I think it would be for some more community events within the group. Maybe an internal demo-day, or some more networking events amongst the members would help strengthen the community. But ultimately I think this is down to the cohort members themselves to get involved, actively participate and to support one-another.
The 500 and Kobe staff did a great job of organising the program and were very helpful throughout the entire time.
Obviously, the program is focused on internet-based, technology-driven startups. If you are in the process of founding a startup, or are in early stages of your business, you will find the Founders Academy very beneficial. Even if you already know some of the concepts and material, being able to spend time with and quiz the mentors is incredibly valuable.
If your business is further along and into the growth-stage, there is a different program run by 500 and Aichi called Accelerate Aichi which you may wish to look into.
Applications for the next cohort are open now and close on 15th of October - so if you're considering applying, do it quickly!
If you're interested in dotplan, please head over and drop in your email. I will ping you as soon as we launch (later this week if everything goes to plan!)
I hope this is useful for potential applicants, but feel free to get in touch if I can answer any questions about the program. And finally, good luck with your application!