What is dotforge?
It’s a lean accelerator programme for early-stage tech startups. We help founders build commercially robust product-based businesses that can scale to reach global markets.
What will I do on the programme?
You’ll test and harden your business model, build product and take it to market, and gain both valuable partners and profitable customers. You’ll get better at selling your product and better at pitching your business.
By the end of the 13 week programme you’ll have a robust proposition with demonstrable traction to take to the next stage of growth. At the end of the programme you’ll pitch to investors and press for funding and exposure to help you get to that next stage.
Who should apply?
We welcome applications from founder teams across the world with early-stage startups who are ready to focus fully on accelerating their business for the next 13 weeks in an intensive environment. You’ll probably already be beyond the idea stage, and have started developing and testing your minimum viable product.
Will you accept single founder teams?
It’s highly unlikely. The programme is intensive, and being part of a team gives you emotional resilience as well as the ability to be in more than one place at a time – that’s a particularly handy talent.
Given that we expect you to ship and sell product over the course of the programme, you’ll definitely need development skills, as well as some commercial capability. Not many people are masters of both.
Can I apply if I’m not from the UK?
Yes. Anyone can apply to dotforge from within the EU and beyond, as long as you and your team can work in the UK legally for the duration of the program.
What sort of businesses are you looking for?
Your business will have high growth potential, which you’ll probably realise by exploiting internet or cloud-based technologies. It probably addresses a significant volume or high-value niche market opportunity, which is likely to be globally distributed.
We’re particularly interested – but not exclusively – in startups with strong B2B or big data focus. The programme will also appeal to businesses looking to leverage the region’s leading e-learning, e-health and public sector supply chains and networks.
What’s different about dotforge compared to other accelerators?
Team and the right culture are vital in any startup environment. We’re not just embedding this in the dotforge programme, but right across the economic infrastructure of the Sheffield City Region. The city is your accelerator.
We’re also highly focussed on seeing you succeed by delivering the goods, gaining traction and generating revenue. That means having the right technical, commercial and design support to help you build good quality, attractive products that work, dedicated within the programme and accessible in the community which which dotforge sits.
Which brings us on to community. By joining dotforge, you not only become part of a global startup ecosystem, you’re embedded into thriving and active technology communities and business networks within the city – embracing them will help you succeed faster.
And, of course, there’s the financial package. We’ve lined up a range of smart follow-on funding opportunities that gives you real choice for whether to seek further investment in exchange for equity or to support yourself through bootstrapping – a more viable option given how the programme is geared to helping you generate revenue and become sustainable.
How much funding do dotforge startups receive?
If your startup gets onto dotforge, you could get up to £15,000 cash per team and access to over £50,000 equity-free follow-on funding.
That’s on top of nearly $300k worth of perks from the likes of Amazon Web Services, SendGrid and Rackspace, free office accommodation and exposure to world-class mentors, investors and specialists to help accelerate your business.
How does the funding break down?
Each startup that’s accepted onto and joins the programme automatically gets £5,000 per founder (up to £15k) in return for 8% equity. It should be enough to cover your living costs for the 13 weeks of the programme so you can focus fully on making your company grow profitably, rather than worrying about how to make ends meet. That said, you’re adults and can spend it on whatever you like – we’re not going to be checking up.
Through our partnership with F6S, we can also fast track each founder on the programme for a Young Entrepreneur Loan of up to £20k (if you’re 18-30 years old). You can choose to apply for the loan at any point that you are on the programme. It’s not guaranteed – it does depend on being able to demonstrate you have a viable business, which you’re more likely to be able to do as you complete the programme and have tested different models and markets. That timing’s handy if you need some extra cash to bridge the gap after the programme finishes until you close your next round of investment funding.
If you complete the programme having demonstrated material progress with your business, there’s a good chance you’ll secure follow-on funding from one of our investment partners and or via our Angel Investor community. You may also be able to top up that investment by £50k or more to build your team in the Sheffield region. Our growth fund partners will shepherd you through the process to get your hands on that equity-free funding.
Companies that do successfully complete the programme – including achieving certain pre-agreed goals, such as revenue stream growth – will have access to a convertible loan through a streamlined qualification process managed by our seedcorn partners at Finance Yorkshire. Whether a startup team decides to accept it is entirely up to them.
Do I need to send in a business plan with financials?
No. But we do want to know what you think your business model options are or the product, market and opportunity you’re pursuing. A short video or snappy slideshow will do fine.
What’s the deadline to apply and the application timeline?
Check the schedule for key dates. If you get shortlisted, you will need to be available for panel interview with the investors. The programme dates are set, so plan ahead.
Do I have to be in Sheffield for the entire programme?
Yes, the programme is incredibly intensive and we believe it is essential to focus entirely on your startup for the duration of the program. Of course, we recognise that on occasions you may need to travel to meet with contacts and people you are introduced to. However, your base and immediate support network however, is Sheffield. If you can arrive in Sheffield before the programme starts, all the better to get settled- there’s always plenty going on.
Where will we live while we’re there?
We’ll hook you up with people who can help you find accommodation.
What if my startup fails?
It happens. But let’s be honest – you will have got a win for getting on the programme. And – double win – you found out more quickly that that idea wasn’t going to work, so you saved yourself some time. Dust yourself down, reflect on what you learnt, build on your connections and start something new.