Yandex company blog

Tolstoy Campers Cross Finish Line

2 September 2013, 14:34

Graduates of our summer school for startups, Tolstoy Summer Camp, which we announced in May 2013, have now presented their projects to investors and some even secured financial support, in addition to advice, a biscuit and an encouraging pat on the back.

We opened this summer school to give young and enthusiastic boys and girls a chance to hatch their ideas and develop them into fully functioning projects in a supportive and nurturing environment, which would also be as close to real life as possible. Most importantly, the school would teach the bright and brilliant how to pitch their ideas to investors and give them an opportunity to do just that and receive funding for their projects at the end of the program.

‘Russia’s talent is as numerous as its territory is vast. We felt that we had enough resources and experience to gather the like-minded, gifted and eager people with brilliant ideas and fast-track them straight to realisation of these ideas,’ says Ksenia Yolkina, Tolstoy Summer Camp’s director. ‘The startup climate in Russia is quite favourable at the moment, with more money on the market than viable ideas. Tolstoy Summer Camp aimed at giving the startup community in Russia a boost with a few working projects developed from a few interesting ideas and released at the end of the Camp.’

From the total of 1,075 applications we received, 65 candidates from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Kazakhstan and US were chosen. We paid for their travel to Moscow and covered part of their living expenses for the Camp’s duration. The campers had one week to organise themselves into teams around pivotal ideas. Out of 22 teams, who managed take their ideas to the prototype or business plan stage in almost four weeks, only 12 made it to the finals. Those were the teams that had a working prototype, customer audience analysis and a business model to demonstrate to the Camp’s evaluation committee:

SpeakingMind is a text-to-speech app, which reads social news feed for its user, while they are busy doing something else.

TaskCube a web-based project management service for medium and small IT businesses, which allows users to run their projects and monitor expenditures.

MediCard is a patient recruitment service, which allows medical specialists to shorten patient enrollment process, the most time-consuming part of clinical trials.

Bustourpro.ru is an ‘on-demand software’ service for bus tour operators in Russia and other countries.

PeopleAnalytics, which started off as a social media analytics service for human resources, is now a gift recommendation service based on information on people’s social networks.

3DPrintus is a 3D-printing and personalisation service, which allows users to implement their ideas in real objects.

FiveCards is an app that stores user’s discount cards on their smartphone.

Football Second Screen is an app that gives football fans an opportunity to view detailed information about each player, pass or goal in the game they are watching on their mobile devices.

CrowdTask is a crowdsourcing service for B2B content moderation.

Holibody.com is a personal diet, exercise and daily planning service for anyone who wants to stay in shape.

Podarka.net (Подарка.нет) is a mobile recommendation service for the last-minute gifts based on personal preferences and user’s budget.

Vokzal.com is a one-stop, global plane, train and bus ticket booking service.

During the Camp, participants were continually receiving support from their mentors – experts from Yandex and invited specialists, such as Michael Geer of Dream Industries, an experienced startup mentor and a Silicon Valley executive Marvin Liao, and Thibaut Rouffineau, VP Developer Partnerships at Wireless Industry Partnership. In addition to having personal consultants to help them on the way to the final stages of their projects, the campers were exposed to lectures and workshops delivered by Yandex experts and internationally acclaimed professionals in web development, marketing, design, project management, patent law, business administration, IT journalism and PR. Invited speakers included Colette Ballou, the founder and CEO of communications company Ballou PR, Christian Thaler-Wolski, head of Digital Media and Software at Wellington Partners, and the founder of and senior partner in investment firm Runa Capital, Serguei Beloussov.

‘I expected Tolstoy Summer Camp to be much like any other program in entrepreneurship and innovation management – lots of theory, lots of talk, a little argument, a little discussion and that’s it. The Camp surprised me pleasantly with its hands-on approach to project development. We had an excellent environment for our projects – a small and very powerful incubator for innovative ideas with an intensive supply of theoretical and methodological knowledge,’ says Roman Didych, co-founder of an innovative clinical trial recruitment service, MediCard. ‘Anyone with a seriously well-thought through idea could have greatly benefitted from this program.’

Demo Day on August 30 was attended by over a dozen venture investors, including Runa Capital, Almaz Capital, Bright Capital, Maxfield Capital, Quadriga Capital, Altair Capital, Prostor Capital, Russian Ventures, Vita Ventures. Yandex participated in the selection process on par with other investors. Three teams – SpeakingMind, FiveCards and Football Second Screen – managed to get us seriously interested. We are now considering the size and the form of investment to offer to these teams. Another Tolstoy Summer Camp project – MediCard – received a preliminary invitation to participate in Seedcamp Week in Berlin, an event of a European startup accelerator.

At the start of TSC we expected three to five strong startup teams with a solid background in technology and ideas and carefully crafted business models to emerge at the end of the program. We’ve got twelve, which is significantly more than we expected and we are thrilled with the result. So, chances are high we will repeat this success next year.