How the Selection Board picks startups for the Founders Program

The Founders Program is one of the most selective programs we have on campus. Last year, over 4,000 companies applied and only a tiny 6% made the cut. And even though we have approximately 200 companies in the program at any given time, getting into the Founders Program is not as easy at it looks.

How the application works.

The Founders Program has a 2-round application process. First, all companies that want to apply need to complete the online application by September 30th. The online application is relatively simple and straightforward and we’re looking for clear and concise answers. The Station F team evaluates the what we call the “first round,” essentially looking to see that companies respond to basic criteria that makes your company eligible to participate in the program. For example, is your founding team full time, do you have a working demo, etc.

All companies that make the cut go on to the “second round.” The second round is evaluated entirely by our Selection Board, which is 100 entrepreneurs from 21 different countries that have a certain level of experience building a company. They include the founders of incredible companies like Devialet, MyDala, Zendesk, Withings, Algolia, Trendyol, Zady.com, Sunrise, Zipcar and more. You can find more information about the Selection Board here.

What does the Selection Board look for?

So, what is the Selection Board looking for? Well, first, it’s look to know that the Selection Board receives your video interviews and online applications — they have access to your entire application. But many of our evaluators are looking for specific things when they are evaluating your companies.

The online application — be clear and to the point.

A lot of Selection Board members encourage startups to be more clear and concise in their online applications. Pauline Laigneau (CEO, Gemmyo) says startups should be more clear about their business models, their vision and why their team is the best one to execute it. Instead of trying to impress the Selection Board, entrepreneurs should simply focus on being clear and to the point.

Demos matter!

In the written application we ask startups to include a demo of their product — and a lot of startups don’t take advantage of this chance to “wow” the Selection Board with their product. Bowei Gai (CEO World Startup Report, Cardmunch) says one of his favorite things about the application is “a demo video or website link where I can actually test things myself. Why? Because the proof is in the pudding!”

Numbers.

Another part of the online application that startups tend to shy away from is the numbers section. We ask startups to share some of their numbers to date. What we are looking for is revenue, users, growth — something to show us what has been accomplished to date. A lot of startups tend to miss out on sending us their actual data and focus more on market data. What really shows the Selection Board that you know what you’re doing is to show them what you’ve already done.

The video — be natural and don’t try too hard.

When it comes to the video, just about all of the Selection Board says that often entrepreneurs look like they are trying too hard. Alexander Aghassipour (CPO, Zendesk) says “don’t try to be funny — it mostly falls flat. Please be passionate. Passion shows, and wins.” The video is actually a very important component for a lot of the Selection Board because it gives them a chance to see and listen to the teams present themselves and their businesses. Therefore, entrepreneurs that don’t take the video seriously and don’t put in the effort to do a good video will have difficulty making the cut.

Pro-tip: Practice.

The entire application for the Founders Program is in English — including the video. Let me repeat that — the video is in English. Therefore, you should feel comfortable talking about your team and your business in English. Take the time to practice prior to the recording the video. If the Selection Board can’t understand you, there is little chance they will select your company for the program. Also, test your equipment . before recording. Videos in the dark, microphones that don’t work, it’s sad to not be selected because of a technical glitch that could have been avoided.

“Passion wins.”

Ultimately, the Selection Board gives a lot of weight to the team — how they present themselves but also how they present their project. They want to see people who are really hungry and passionate, working on things that excite and motivate them. Keep that in mind as you complete your application.

If you’re interested in applying to the Founders Program, please complete the online application by September 30 to join the program in January 2019.