Olga is CEO and one of the founders of The Startup Club, a fast-growing global entrepreneur community that specializes in pitch events for start-ups everywhere.
Olga left school in her native Ukraine at sixteen. She had to go to Canada to do a preparatory degree before being allowed to come to London to study. Once in London, Olga took a business management degree at Kings College, London.
She describes herself as having been ready to explore new things during her years there. Part of her work involved interviewing start-ups in community spaces, which also exposed her to the entrepreneurial world. She took a succession of internships to soak up more of the business world. Olga, already a passionate believer in the power of networking, was also President of the Student Society.
During her time at King’s, many of her friends were starting businesses and applying for funding. Some were on London based accelerator programs. Olga began to attend as many of the pitch events as possible, sitting in the audience and absorbing every nuance of both the start-up pitches and investors alike.
From Kings College, Olga went to Milan to study for a Masters at the Universita Bocconi. She soon discovered a gap in the market for English speaking networking and pitch events there. To meet the need and foster and encourage the entrepreneurial spirit of Milan, she founded the Milan Entrepreneurship Network.
Olga started by putting on a series of networking events and then progressed to doing pitch events, inviting investors from across Europe. Early on, she connected to Oliver Doering. Oliver comes from a Financial Services Industry background both with Deloitte and his own global financial advisory company based in Germany. He has a vast network in the start-up ecosystem.
Oliver and Olga quickly found they had much in common. Both of them shared a vision of holding networking and pitch events series rolling out globally, and the idea for the Start-Up Club was born.
The Startup Club
A couple of months in, Oliver introduced her to Bryan Emerson, President of U.S. Venture Capital and advisory firm, Starlight Capital, and an Angel in his own right. A video of Bryan in action with New York equity forums can be seen here.
Olga and the Start-Up Club – pitch event specialist
In addition to decades of funding experience, Bryan was also accustomed to organizing networking and pitch events around the start-up system. While officially retired, he was keen to get involved in this project, and the three became official co-founders.
The three planned to expand the very successful U.S. formulas for pitch events and networking worldwide. Their success in a short space of time is impressive. In under a year, they have over 50,000 members and have set up in fifteen different countries, each with their own event manager to that area.
Their signature is their regular pitch events, where start-ups to pitch to investors. There is also an advisory panel on hand that will give the start-ups invaluable feedback. These pitch nights cater to very early-stage companies, some with little more than an idea. They will typically be looking for under $1m funding.
The Club’s second pitch event is their Funding Conference, the first of which was held in June this year. The conference is using a very successful U.S.format. It is more focussed and in-depth and suitable for companies that are further on their journey. These are typically looking for funding of $1-10m. They have six start-ups pitching and invite perhaps a hundred investors. While there is no advisory panel at the Funding conference-style pitch events, the start-ups learn a great deal from the audience’s feedback.
If you have missed their June Funding conference, they are holding one in Asia conference on August 12th, and ther next USA conference is on 27th August.
It was, of course, necessary to hold this on-line due to the pandemic. Olga told me that they were a little apprehensive about holding pitching events on-line, afraid that they would miss the buzz of the live interaction.
However, pitch events on-line proved exceptionally positive. They have had great feedback, particularly because it allows investors to look at international deals they might not otherwise access. Equally, it gave the start-ups local contacts in markets they might be planning to expand into that would have been harder to get otherwise.
Angels, V.C. companies, and Private Equity Funds all attend their pitch events. They attract a very diverse range of investors. The pitch nights may have more Angels and the larger events more V.C.’s, but there is no hard and fast rule. Between the three founders, they have a vast network of investors.
Olga’s role is to support the network of managers worldwide in addition to organizing the main events. Oliver manages the on-line community and social groups.
The Club wants to become the primary center for all pitch-related entrepreneur events, for both investors and start-ups globally and intends to double to 30 countries within the next year. They want to contribute more than just holding the pitch events, and aim to play an active part in the start-up ecosystem in each country. Their expansion will include Asia, where they want to hold one of their conference pitch events.
In doing so, they will be building more partnerships worldwide with investors and accelerators and engage more with the local communities to make as much impact as possible. Olga is now getting help from a team of interns to help build the community.
She has a particular passion for partnering with universities to encourage students to be more entrepreneurial. She believes many students suffer from fear when it comes to starting a business, and part of the way she can help is to ensure plenty of student tickets to the pitch events to help open their eyes to possibilities.
As a start-up themselves, Olga says that they are still growing, learning, and making mistakes the same as everyone does. Her biggest challenge is to manage the team of managers worldwide, with only limited face to face time together. She has monthly team calls to build the community and constant comms on an individual basis, giving the managers support and ensuring everyone is on the same page.
Olga’s Pitching Advice
With many years of watching and listening to pitch events, Olga has a clear idea of what investors look for and, on the flip side, what start-ups need to offer.
Olga believes that networking is everything when it comes to start-ups. You need to be out there, making as many connections as possible. Talk to as many people as you can. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice, be it within your industry or from investors. The more events you attend, the better you will become. You will get feedback and interaction.
She says that many start-ups are nervous about sharing their idea, in fear that someone may come along and steal it. They don’t realize that investors are looking for a great deal more than just an idea for a business.
The team is just as important for investors. It is the first thing they look for. After the idea and the team, your financial projections have to be sound. At the early-stage pitch events, some businesses who are little further forward than the idea, find that when investors closely examine their projections, they have little hope of ever monetizing their proposition.
They will be looking at how strong the marketing proposition is, how you plan to bring your offering to market and how to sell it. Putting together a good pitch deck is an art, and you can learn the most by watching others try their luck at pitch events.
If you are growing your business, you might be interested to read this on growing a high-performance team