LOCAL startup accelerator Joyful Frog Digital Incubator (JFDI) has launched the region's first - and entirely virtual - pre-accelerator programme to help founders shape up their startups in less than a month, its co-founder and chief executive officer, Hugh Mason, told The Business Times.

Named JFDI Discovery, the three-week programme enables founders to discover if they are serious about entrepreneurship and explore how their product or service can help customers solve a real-world problem.

JFDI Discovery runs monthly and is limited to 30 startups per cohort.

The programme, which has attracted more than 10 startups from around Asia since its official launch a week ago, gives participants a taste of what the actual 100-day JFDI Accelerator programme is like, said Mr Mason.

"It is a good way to determine if their product or service has managed to find a sweet spot without having to quit their jobs and move to another country, a step that they would have to take if they're accepted into the JFDI Accelerator programme," he added.

Delivered online through a blend of self-directed activity and assignments, JFDI Discovery checks in with participants via Skype or Google Hangouts weekly, eliminating the need for them to attend physical meetings at JFDI's offices.

"This is important as it means the programme can run alongside existing work commitments. Lately, we've been seeing more working professionals express interest in entrepreneurship," said Mr Mason.

Aside from first-time founders, JFDI Discovery targets experienced teams which are facing a roadblock or who want to put new hires (who are not the original founders) through a startup experience.

"Even teams that have been together for years struggle to validate their product and market. After early success, an initial positive crowdfunding response for instance, growth may stall and the teams are often left not knowing why or how to drive the business forward," said Mr Mason.

JFDI Discovery helps by offering tools to help them structure and monitor their customer development process, and providing mentors and an online community to share insights and help find workarounds whenever they meet roadblocks, he said.

The JFDI Accelerator programme, co-founded by Mr Mason and seasoned entrepreneur Meng Weng Wong, is Asia's first accelerator programme that takes startups from validated ideas to investment readiness in 100 days.

Since 2012, more than 60 per cent of its 27 graduated startups have raised an average of $650,000 per team.