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‘Don’t Be Afraid to Try’: What You Can Learn at the HSE Business Incubator


The HSE Business Incubator works as a business accelerator, helping start-ups raise investment through a network of business angels, mentors and partners. The incubator is open not only to HSE students and graduates, but also for other startuppers. Below is some information on the programmes it offers, as well as about some common mistakes startuppers should try to avoid.

How the HSE Business Incubator Works

‘We are no longer a classic incubator, a platform where our residents were “maturing” for years’, said Mikhail Erman, Director of the HSE Business Incubator, ‘Our key product today is intensive acceleration programmes, where the participants refine their idea to a ready business, and get real investment at the end’.

HSE Business Incubator acceleration programmes usually last three or four months (12-16 weeks). In addition to the educational module, which consists of lectures and workshops, they include regular meetings with mentors, consultations with experts, networking, summary meetings on achieving goals (traction) and more. Acceleration programmes culminate in a ‘demo day’ (graduation), to which investors and corporations are invited.

‘We try to link start-ups and mentors in one field and area, and it’s essential that the mentor’s business is a market leader, so that from the very beginning, startuppers communicate and learn from the successes in their markets’, Mikhail Erman emphasized.

> 500
start-ups have passed through the HSE Business Incubator
800 million
roubles of investment have been attracted by its graduates

How to Choose and Acceleration Programme

The Business Incubator offers three options, depending on the stage of the project’s development.

First option: when there is only an idea. The easiest way is to go to the start-up school. It takes in new students monthly. This is a four-week educational programme consisting of an online learning part and several face-to-face meetings, which help practice the received knowledge and skills. The key task of the programme is to prepare a presentation for potential investors, which includes the results of market research, the plan of product or technology sales, business model evaluation, etc.

The start-up school is a transitional stage from the idea to the start of the acceleration programme, which culminates with investment

Second option: when you have a product prototype or a ready technology for creating a product within two months. In this case, an acceleration programme, which enrolls students monthly, will help to prepare your start-up for investment. The start-up may be in any field: from educational (EduTech) to finance (FinTech) technology. It’s important that the project has a technology or an innovative part (with the exception of classic small businesses and games). The programme includes two trial weeks (a ‘sandbox’), which introduce the programme and help understand its potential benefits for the specific start-up.

In addition, several times a year, HSE Business Incubator launches field-specific acceleration programmes, such as FinTech Accelerator, Media Accelerator, PhilTech, an accelerator for social technology projects, and others.

Third option: if you are a winner of UMNIK. A joint pre-accelerator by the HSE Business Incubator and MIPT.Start accelerator supports young researchers who are developing new technologies. Successful graduates of the programme get investment and an opportunity to enter international markets.

Participation in the HSE Business Incubator’s start-up school and acceleration programmes is free for HSE students.

Recently, the HSE Business Incubator moved to a new building on 27 Vyatskaya Ulitsa, Building 42.

New Track on AI

‘This year, we are launching an AI Startup Accelerator, for start-ups related to artificial intelligence’, said Mikhail Erman, ‘This is a very promising area worldwide today, and we don’t want to fall behind. On this programme, we welcome start-ups that create AI products or use AI, machine learning, neural networks and other such technologies in their projects. The priority areas are medicine, retail, and DipTech’.

AI Startup Accelerator has been organized by the HSE Business Incubator with the support of Neuronet, Rostelecom and MTS.  The programme’s partners are CROC, Visa, Genezis Capital, Grit Partners, Starta Ventures, Leta Capital, the Untitled Ventures, and venture capitalist Alexander Rumyantsev.

Typical Startuppers’ Mistakes

According to Mikhail Erman, beginner startuppers make two common mistakes: working on a product without checking whether anyone needs it, and hoping that investment will solve all the problems.

‘A product made without client orientation, will be in demand by no one’, the incubator director warns, ‘Don’t expect that someone should invest in a raw idea. For beginner startuppers, it is essential to test the demand for their product and to look for experts for their team who could help implement the idea. It’s hard to forecast what idea might work, so don’t be afraid to try’.

In 90% of cases, people come to the HSE Business Incubator with one idea, and leave it with another

‘For example, students from the HSE Faculty of Communications, Media and Design came to us with their idea of an app that would deliver a daily selection made of four news items and one story’, Mikhail Erman remembers, ‘In the process of work at the acceleration programme, they understood that this idea wouldn’t work in practice. As a result, the students launched Pay-Z, an app that helps users pay for purchases in a shop without facing cashiers and queues’.

See also:

HSE Business Incubator Named the Best University Business Accelerator in the World

The HSE Business Incubator took 1st place in the 2019-2020 UBI Global World Ranking of University-Linked Business Accelerators. An awards ceremony for the top ranked institutions was held at the World Incubation Summit in Doha, Qatar on November 6.

First University Startup Fest Held at HSE St. Petersburg

On June 24 – 28, HSE University – St. Petersburg hosted the International University Startups & Spin-Offs Festival (HSE Fest), which brings together students from across the world to pitch their startups for a one-time chance to win grants that will help them take their projects to the next level.

International Teams to Compete at HSE SPb Startup Festival

On June 24-28, HSE University – St Petersburg will be hosting HSE Fest, an international festival featuring university startups. 22 teams from 10 countries, including the HSE SPb team, ‘Sphere’, will be competing for grants in support of tech startups.

Winners of HSE{Business}Cup 2018 Announced

At the end of November, HSE’s Moscow campus hosted the finals of HSE{Business}Cup 2018  – a completion for student business projects. In total, six teams received grants equal to 200,000 roubles from HSE to make their ideas a reality.

500 mln

rubles in investments were raised over the last year by startups that are part of the HSE Business Incubator. The head of the HSE Business Incubator, Mikhail Erman, reported this figure during the Tekhnoprom forum in Novosibirsk, Russia.

HSE’s Business Incubator Ranked 7th in the World by UBI Global

The UBI Awards Ceremony was held on February 22 at the World Incubation Summit at Ryerson University, Toronto. HSE’s Business Incubator has entered the ranking for the second in a row. In 2015, it was ranked 14th in the category ‘best business incubator managed by a university’ among more than 100.

HSE to Help Develop Legislature to Boost Technology Entrepreneurship

Artem Kritsyn, Manager of regional programmes and projects at the HSE Business Incubator, now heads the Working Group to Involve Secondary and Higher School Students in Entrepreneurship. The Working Group was created in October 2017 by the Expert Council on the Development of Civil Education and Student Socialization under the State Duma Committee for Education and Science. The Working Group also includes Tatyana Stroganova, Head of the HSE Innovation and Enterprise Office.

International Accelerator Invests in HSE Student Project

Dolphin Blockchain Intelligence, a Russian startup that graduated from the second intake of the fintech startup accelerator HSE{Pro}Fintech, was evaluated by Startupbootcamp, an international accelerator in Amsterdam at EUR 6 million and was given both investment and consulting assistance.

Tele2 Opens Workshop at HSE Business Incubator

Tele2, a mobile network operator, and HSE Business Incubator are set to begin cooperating in youth entrepreneurship and start-up projects.

Start-ups to Print Houses for Martians and to Help Wheelchair Users Move around City

On March 15, 2017, HSE hosted the annual Start-up of the Year awards ceremony, organized by the HSE Business Incubator. Five projects featuring unique online and offline technologies won awards.