Find out what we’re looking for and how to nail your next TAQADAM application. These are our tips on how to excel in a very competitive selection process.
We call for applications to the TAQADAM Startup Accelerator once a year and receive hundreds of responses. As a result, the judges inevitably have to make very difficult decisions on which startups to select as the acceptance funnel is very narrow.
Nevertheless, in previous years we have seen many founders apply and come back stronger in the following cycle. We put this article together to give returning applicants (as well as those applying for the first time) an insight into our process and the criteria by which we select startups for the program.
Online Review Phase
To apply to the TAQADAM Accelerator program, you must first fill out an online application where you’ll be asked for basic information about your startup and its founders. We also ask that you upload a one-minute video to give us the first glimpse of your team.
Here’s what we look for:
- Basic Information: This one is fairly straightforward – make sure you fill out the entire form! Applications with missing answers are automatically disqualified.
- Team Members: The TAQADAM Accelerator Program is only open to startups with two or more founders.
- Idea: Ideas lie at the heart of every startup – the trick here is to make us just as excited about yours as you are. We’re looking for ideas that are novel, scalable, and that serve a genuine need.
- Market: It isn’t enough to come up with a good idea. We’re specifically looking for solutions that appeal to a wide audience. Show us that the market for your product or service is big enough to justify launching and that there is strong potential for growth.
Write a strong online application, and there’s a good chance you’ll progress to the second phase of our process…
This year, we screened just over 550 applications and 149 startups made it to interviews, which took place over 7 days and were presided over by 5 different combinations of judges (there are 2 judges present at each interview).
During your interview, our judges are looking to get a feel for your startup’s strengths, weaknesses, potential, and uniqueness. They’ll also want to form an understanding of how well-positioned TAQDAM is to help your startup specifically.
At the end of the interview, your suitability for the TAQADAM Accelerator Program is rated on a scale from 1 to 5.
Here’s an insight into what our judges are looking for, and some tips on how to make your interview stand out:
- Team: Many startups fail not because they don’t have a great idea, but because the team behind that idea doesn’t have the skills to realize it. We’re looking first and foremost for competency. Be ready to demonstrate you have the knowledge and expertise to make your idea a reality. Ideally, you’ll have a few years’ experience in the relevant industry and will have a strong understanding of the business processes, sales cycles, and technology involved. Just as important is your attitude. Show the judges your passion for your idea, but also that you’re flexible, hardworking, and humble.
- Idea: In your online application, we got an overview of your idea. Here, our judges will go much deeper. They’ll want to understand why you chose this specific idea, what makes it unique, what your plans and milestones are, and how you’re planning to scale. They’ll also dig deeper into the market-readiness of your idea. Come prepared!
- Revenue Model: Here, the judges will explore the economic aspects of your startup. They’ll want to understand more about your business model and strategy, how your startup makes money, and what the long-term monetization potential looks like.
- Market: Impress our judges with a deep knowledge of your competitors, sales channels, and customers. You should already have carried out some customer validation and have tested your assumptions. You should also be able to articulate how you’re going to differentiate yourself in your market.
- Progress: TAQADAM is looking for startups who have made it past the imaginary idea stage and are already working to develop their product and grow their business. Most will already have a prototype, for example. Extra credit will go to founders who have identified potential customers, or even better – signed deals with paying clients.
- Commitment: Running a startup takes a huge amount of time and energy – we aren’t looking for half-measures! Most TAQADAM startups will have at least one full-time founder, with a few part-timers planning to make the leap as certain milestones are hit.
- TAQADAM Expectations: This part of the interview often takes founders by surprise, so make sure you’re ready for it! We want to know why you applied to the TAQADAM Accelerator program, and what concrete goals you’re looking to achieve through it. Founders with good answers to this question often impress our judges!
Armed with the above information, you should be in a good position to nail your interview. So, what happens next?
This is where things get tricky for our judges. Of the 149 startups that made it through to interviews this year, we had to select 50 for the program.
To do this, our judges get together and go through each startup one by one, determining which are the best fit for the program, and which have all the ingredients needed for success. Outside of a few obvious inclusions or exclusions, there are often some very difficult calls to make here.
Startups are assessed purely on merit, but there are a few internal policies we follow. We try to avoid enrolling direct competitors, and we don’t typically select startups that need many years of R&D or setup before they can sell anything since they can’t easily be accelerated, which is why we’re here in the first place!
Who are the judges?
In the online review phase, judges are members of the KAUST Entrepreneurship Center, as well as various individuals from our partners.
For the interview phase, our judges come from a subsection of the KAUST Entrepreneurship Center who have been involved with accelerator programs for years and have personally founded and invested in startups.
We saw a huge number of fascinating startup ideas among this year’s applications. Some were not selected because they didn’t meet the criteria, others simply because they weren’t far enough along in their journey, or because they weren’t able to demonstrate the level of readiness, commitment, and knowledge we’re looking for.
We hope that after reading this article, you know exactly what you need to do in order to secure your place on the program next time.
For now, all that’s left to say is this:
We can’t wait to read your application!
If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us at Taqadam@KAUST.edu.sa
We wish you the best of luck!
TAQADAM Accelerator Team