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The brother and sister duo whose ground-breaking pitch scooped the Alumni Association of Glion’s first ever start-up Accelerator prize speak to The Insider about their formula for success.

Successful start-ups have one thing in common: they are solving a genuine and widespread problem. So when that problem is one also faced by the judges of a competition designed to identify the most enterprising idea, it’s little surprise the solution captures their imagination.

At the first-ever Alumni Association of Glion (AAG) Accelerator, which aims to celebrate and provide assistance to current and former students’ innovative business ideas, recent graduates Shahab and Shahrzad Shafieehanjani wowed the expert judging panel to scoop the coveted CHF10,000 top prize for their private equity solution Versible.

A Software as a Service (SaaS) platform designed to ease navigation and optimize the entire fundraising cycle for venture capital firms, Versible addresses a key industry pain point and delivers a custom-built solution that is not only 10 times more economical than current offerings but also three times faster.

The enterprising duo took time out of their busy schedule to speak to The Insider about their win, how the idea came about, their journey since graduation and the hopes and ambitions they have for their award-winning start-up.

Double delight

“No matter how much you believe in yourself and your company, when you’re up against such tough competition – companies with really great ideas – you never know what the result is going to be,” says Shahrzad, who graduated in 2021 with a Master’s in Luxury Management and Guest Experience. “When they read out our names, I was just screaming. I was really sad I couldn’t be there, but it was such a proud moment.”

“No matter how much you believe in yourself and your company, when you’re up against such tough competition – companies with really great ideas – you never know what the result is going to be. When they read out our names, I was just screaming. I was really sad I couldn’t be there, but it was such a proud moment.”

Shahrzad Shafieehanjani

For Shahab, also from the Class of 2021 with a Master’s in Hospitality, Entrepreneurship and Innovation, the win was also a source of pride and testament to the work both siblings had done to identify the issue they wanted to solve.

“One of the advantages we had in the competition was we are addressing a problem the judges were facing themselves,” he says. “As experts and investors themselves, they know the industry inside and out and understand the operational challenges.

“What also helped was that we have spent the past few years trying to understand how we can solve this problem for investors and have the data and insights to back up our solution, which we were able to present during our pitch.”

When an idea comes together

After graduation, Shahab and Shahrzad went their separate ways, with the former enrolling on the DBA program at a business school in Geneva while the latter went back to her native Iran to launch a luxury honey brand.

While both were enjoying a reasonable degree of success, it was not long before thoughts turned to launching a business together, something their subsequent move to Paris would facilitate.

Class of ’21 Master’s graduate Shahab Shafieehanjani.

“We’ve always wanted to start our own company together, so in a way you could say it was fate,” says Shahrzad. “We had thought about it while in Switzerland, but the time wasn’t right – especially since Covid-19 was still affecting everything. However, we stayed in constant touch while I was in Iran and it soon became clear I needed to turn my focus towards what would become Versible.”

It’s been an interesting journey because, according to Shahab, their competition-winning idea was not how the Versible story started.

“A group of us on the Master’s program initially had an idea for a food tech sector start-up,” he recalls. “We developed it for about a year and had an initial product, but the biggest problem we faced was speaking with investors, arranging meetings and managing that whole pre and post-investment process. That’s when the idea for Versible came to us.”

Theory into practice

Being able to take what you have learned in the classroom and applying it in the real world is one of the soft skills we encourage in students at Glion. That is exactly what Shahab and Shahrzad have done in refining their concept and bringing Versible to reality.

“My Master’s course enabled me to understand the A to Z of starting a company,” says Shahab. “Usually on academic entrepreneurial programs, you study theory about big companies such as Amazon or Microsoft, but you rarely learn about the process of growing from start-up to huge corporation. At Glion, the faculty taught us what we needed to know in the crucial first stages of a company and that’s something that stayed with me.

“At Glion, the faculty taught us what we needed to know in the crucial first stages of a company and that’s something that stayed with me.”

“One of the points that stuck in my mind was that 95% of start-ups fail within the first five years. And that was really useful knowledge, because when we wanted to create Versible, the idea was completely different. It was to create a social networking platform to connect investors with startups – and it failed miserably. There was just no need for it in the market.”

Rather than being discouraged, Shahab and Shahrzad began gathering feedback and asking themselves what the real problem was they were trying to solve. And that’s when they realized they could fulfill a business need.

“From the feedback, we understood the problem is not so much meeting each other rather than the operational side,” adds Shahab. “So we studied processes and the business environment and that’s what led to our solution.”

Alumni assistance

Versible provides venture capital firms with a single dashboard with which they can manage the software they use to simplify their operations, such as due diligence, deal flow and relationship management.

“The biggest problem is that each bit of software doesn’t always communicate well with the others, which creates additional money and time costs and opens firms up to data vulnerability too,” says Shahab. “The issue affects not only venture capital companies and limited partners but also the start-ups, so the solution helps all parties in the process.”

Versible is off and running!

Although Versible was built in-house without the assistance of external developers – something both were keen to do so they could refine it and apply any necessary fixes themselves – being members of the AAG has also been a significant factor in the pair’s success so far.

“The AAG has created a unique and safe space where, no matter where you are in the world, you know there’s a group of people you can call on whenever you need to,” says Shahrzad. “We’ve been to a couple of the AAG events here in Paris and the help and support we’ve received has really empowered us.”

Not only that, participants in the Accelerator enjoyed access to mentorship and guidance from seasoned industry professionals, all of whom are experienced entrepreneur Glion alumni.

“One of the main reasons I think we won the competition was the help and support we received from our mentor Béatrice Tachot,” says Shahab. “She brought in a huge amount of knowledge and the feedback she gave us was always designed to encourage. I don’t think we could have had a better experience or asked for a better mentor.”

Ambition and aspiration

So having convinced the judges, won the Accelerator and doubtless impressed the audience of alumni, investors and entrepreneurs, what’s next for the dynamic duo and their start-up?

“The main goal is to become the most integrated private equity management software provider in Europe, to be as flexible as possible and to deliver a product that can integrate any other tool that helps our clients manage their operations more efficiently,” says Shahab. “Europe is our focus because we understand the investment culture here, which is different to that in, for example, the US or Asia.”

For Shahrzad, one of the critical factors that will help the pair achieve their ambitions for Versible will be continuing to apply what they learned at Glion.

“Aside from the academic theory, one of the most important skills we picked up while studying was networking,” she says. “Since graduation, we have stayed in touch with alumni and our teachers and they have helped us all the way, so maintaining that connection is going to be crucial for us in the coming years.

“Above all, the fact we had real industry professionals teaching us has been so valuable, not just in terms of the expertise they were able to share but also because we really related to them and aspired to being like them when we graduated.”

Main image: Shahab Shafieehanjani (center) collects the AAG Accelerator price from Glion Managing Director, Frédéric Picard (left) and AAG President Christopher Jones (right)

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