(Editor’s note: Carrie Hutchison’s name was misspelled in the original post.)
It seems like borders are closing and the walls are closing in on the world, even the tech/startup world. So you need to know about YTILI, a global fellowship that takes European founders to the United States to meet fellow entrepreneurs, mentors and potential investors, experiencing first-hand why American startups so often conquer the world.
Most people don’t know about the Young Transatlantic Innovation Leaders Initiative, or YTILI (pronounced “WHY-tilly”) because alumni often are the recruiters for the next cohort. “The alumni are probably our best source of new fellows,” said Carrie Hutchison, resident fellow with German Marshall Fund, which oversees the U.S. State Department-funded program.
But if you have a Europe-based startup or scale-up and you want to explore fabled American tech ecosystems such as Austin and Boston, you need to know about this fellowship. Well, we’re here for you.
If you’re wondering if all those startup and tech events are worth attending, we can tell you the Global Entrepreneurs Summit last month was a winner for us if for no other reason than we met two entrepreneurs from this year’s Young Transatlantic Innovation Leaders Initiative.
Created in 2016, this program is on its fourth cohort. During this year-long fellowship, young European entrepreneurs from 45 countries will participate in a series of activities designed to strengthen their businesses and create a transatlantic network.
Wes Jeffers, desk officer at the State Department’s Office of Public Diplomacy, pinged Dispatches at GES asking if we’d like to meet some of the participants and mentors, who were gathered in Den Haag for their opening YTILI summit.
Wes put us in the room with two of the entrepreneurs and two American mentors and it was enlightening and impressive, to say the least.
Carrie Hutchison briefed us up on YTILI. The program accepted 50 fellows from across Europe for 2019. In September, they’ll hook them up with 15 mentors in five cities across the U.S. – Seattle, Boston, Austin, Denver and Washington, DC. Pretty much the elite startup/tech hubs minus San Francisco.
The program is designed so Europe-based entrepreneurs get to explore U.S. ecosystems, learn from mentors and practice their pitches in front of new – and let’s face it, more critical – audiences. Then, they all come together for a closing summit in DC.
But this is crucial … most participants find out about YTILI through networking with alumni. We highly advise signing up for the German Marshall Fund newsletter to find out when applications open for the next cohort.
So, who’s heading to the States for 2019?
London-based entrepreneur Josh Babarinde
Here’s Josh’s profile courtesy of YTILI:
Josh is founder and CEO of Cracked It, London’s social enterprise tech repair service, staffed by young ex-offenders. A former parliamentary staffer-turned-youth worker, Josh launched Cracked It in 2016. Cracked It was awarded ‘Social Enterprise of the Year 2018’ by the Centre for Social Justice; named one of ‘London’s best iPhone fixers’ by the London Evening Standard; and described as ‘disrupting the industry’ by tech magazine, Mobile. Josh was featured on the Forbes 30 Under 30 Europe List in 2019.
Okay, we got face-time with a celeb, a guy who’s got serious experience. We pointed out that leading a team in London. Europe’s top startup generator, he’s not exactly a neophyte. But Josh said he jumped at the chance to join YTILI because he believes he can learn more from “entrepreneurs who are months or a couple of years ahead of me rather than the big entrepreneurs who are decades ahead of me.”
At Cracked It, Josh hires and trains a staff including vulnerable people who require not just tech-repair training, but additional support … support “to operate at the same levels of productivity and efficiency as someone who isn’t vulnerable.
“It costs extra time and resources to provide that support, something our competitors don’t do,” he said.
Josh is the rare entrepreneur willing to talk about what everyone in our world knows … that it’s difficult to maintain your own wellbeing slogging it out with little support and capital.
“You’re often working alone and your venture is very much an expression of your values, interests, priorities and aspirations. If someone says no to that, you feel like they’re saying no to you.
“A business isn’t sustainable if the people running it can’t sustain themselves,” he said.
Josh says he’s pumped about going to Washington DC and discussing with other social entrepreneurs how they get that balance right … how they support vulnerable people while offering consistent, high-quality service.
Arta Shehu Zaimi, based in Kosovo
Arta is an edtech entrepreneur with extensive reach into the surrounding Balkans. (You can see her speaking English in the video above.)
Here is her bio courtesy of YTILI:
Arta Shehu Zaimi is the co-Founder of jCoders Academy and Labbox, and with extensive experience in programming and electronics. Arta has more than 9 years of experience developing complex systems for bank and enterprise use, and more than 4 years of experience in the field of education. She pioneered in offering hands-on experience to young generations by founding jCoders in 2015.
Arta already is operating at a high level, leading a team of 35 people in what is more of a scale-up. With five centers, jCoders Academy teaches kids as young as 8 years old about coding and robotics, reaching 1,000 students.
Here’s a post in the Times of Israel featuring Arta.
So, what’s her motivation for taking weeks away to maker her first trip to the States, which she describes as a “big leap coming from a developing country?” She sees YTILI as a natural introduction to contacts who will become the access points to even bigger networks.
“I’m always busy working with (her teams) but at the same time I want to build up my network. So I want to learn how to do that the American way in the sense of turning these networks into meaningful relationships,” Arta said.
She also wants to test the reception for her edtech venture, which recently got a round of seed funding.
JCoders Academy is not a tech tool like Raspberry Pi or Arduino, Arta said. “It’s a new approach to education that uses indestructible circuitry with magnetic connections so there’s no need for soldering. “
Color coded indicators tell kids what’s happening. JCoders’ curriculum was piloted in Kosovo’s public schools, then showcased in London.
Arta said she knows the U.S. is the center of STEM and wants to find out how her American network reacts to her concept and whether there’s a fit.
Stuff you need to know about the Young Transatlantic Innovation Leaders Initiative
YTILI fellows are young entrepreneurs between 24 and 35 years old with either commercial or social ventures. YTILI Fellows are given access to a network of professionals, mentors, and resources aligned to support the growth of their venture during the fellowship experience.
The U.S. part of the fellowship is a week-long immersion experience in the U.S. including working as an entrepreneur-in-residence.
Entrepreneurs applied last year. The opening Transatlantic Innovation Summit was last month during the Global Economic Summit in Den Haag. It brought together YTILI fellows, their U.S. mentors and key leaders from the Global Marshal Fund’s transatlantic governmental/private sector network.
The U.S. trip runs from 7 September to 14 September. The closing conference in DC is 15 thru 18 September, but online engagement, which started in April, continues through the conclusion of the fellowship on 31 October.
YTILI organizers visited cities across the U.S. to identify where those thriving ecosystems are, said mentor Jade Floyd with Case Foundation.
Jade said she sees people educated outside the U.S., including Europe, going to startup hubs such as Austin and Boston, as well as to Tier 2 cities such as Cincinnati and New Orleans to launch and expand their companies.
“As we look at these young entrepreneurs, they’re getting education outside their countries, then going back to their own ecosystems where they were born and raised,” she said.
“I think all the knowledge they’re going to be getting on the ground in the United States – the networks, the investors and the other entrepreneurs – it’s going to be invaluable for them to take this back their own ecosystems.”
We will update this post as soon as we get the link to the 2020 application.
You can see all the 2019 cohort and mentors here.
Co-CEO of Dispatches Europe. A former military reporter, I'm a serial expat who has lived in France, Turkey, Germany and the Netherlands.