Top European startup accelerators

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There are around 100 startup accelerators in Europe and this number seems to be growing every week; one of the latest new entrants being Pi Labs – a property-focused tech accelerator based in London. Accelerators, despite their business model being relatively young in Europe, seem to have established themselves as an attractive first investor for many early-stage startups. Are they? As an increasing number of startups go through European acceleration programs, we should be getting more data about the value of each program and the viability of the accelerator business model on the continent in general. However, in order to assess these programs we first need to have an answer to the following question:

[Tweet “How do you compare startup accelerators and measure which one is successful?”]

This issue was tackled recently by professors Yael Hochberg and Susan Cohen, who prepared the ranking of the best accelerators in the US. It was based on quantitative data from Crunchbase and qualitative data from interviews, focusing particularly on:

  • valuations accelerator portfolio companies achieved in the years after graduation
  • the number of exits an accelerator has had
  • whether or not startups received additional financing rounds after the programs
  • the percentage of startups still up and running
  • how venture capitalists feel about the programs
  • how the entrepreneurs in the programs feel about their experience.

Looking at these criteria it’s clear that in the US accelerators are assessed primarily as seed-stage investors. How about in Europe? Unfortunately most of the above criteria are difficult or even impossible to apply for European accelerators, primarily because the startup ecosystem in Europe is still very young and there is simply less data to analyze. Great example of this is the exit criterion. According to Seed-DB data, only eight European accelerators have had exits so far. Seedcamp is the leader with 9 exits, LeCamping has two and the remaining six – Eleven, Ignite100, StartupYardStartupbootcamp Mobility, Startupbootcamp Madrid and Searchcamp – each have one. That doesn’t seem impressive, especially if compared with US based Y Combinator or Techstars Boulder, which have had 89 and 20 exits respectively, which is enough data to assess the quality of these two programs.

If not exits, what alternative metrics should be considered when deciding which European accelerators are successful? During this year’s Accelerator Assembly event, which brought together around 80 accelerator directors and managers, policy makers, corporate representatives, investors and entrepreneurs, to discuss best practices, future trends and policy initiatives to strengthen the support for European startups, the key success metrics discussed were startup funding rates, partnerships created, jobs created and the overall impact on tech adoption and growth of local startup ecosystems. The latter criteria were more important to the accelerators operating outside of the main tech and investor hubs, or those at least partially funded by governments or EU money.

Some of that data is however hard to quantify and thus compare. For that reason, in the absence of exits, looks like follow-on funding is the second best metric to determine whether an accelerator is successful. That was in fact a common conclusion from the study undertaken by The Cambridge Accelerator Project, in which all participating accelerators indicated that investor returns (i.e. exits) and follow-on funding are the key success metrics. Why is that? Third party funding provides an external validation that the accelerator team is successful not only in attracting good teams and accelerating them into successful ones, but also getting them to the next round of funding, which should be the most important goal for accelerators when managing their portfolio. Finally, more funding increases not only the startup’s chance of survival, but also the odds of a future exit.

However, even if follow-on funding is a good metric, when determining the quality of the acceleration program, it needs to be analyzed in a wider context:

  • It’s important to look not only at total funds raised, but also the funding ratio i.e. startups that received follow-on funding vs. the total number of startups that have participated in the acceleration program so far.
  • As many of the European programs are very young, the numbers can be easily skewed by outliers. For example, OpenFund in Greece has one big success story with only a handful of graduates. For that reason, it is important to look at the overall number of startups accelerated to-date, as well as the average amount of funding received per startup.
  • Finally, the funding data should exclude funding obtained from the accelerator’s own funds, as it obviously does not constitute external validation.

So, which are the top European accelerators based on the above criteria? Using funding data from Seed-DB (as at 13 Oct 2014), the list of top European accelerators is the following:

  • Seedcamp (London)
  • Techstars (London), which merged in 2013 with Springboard.
  • Startupbootcamp (vertically focused accelerators in 8 cities in Europe)
  • Rockstart Accelerator (Amsterdam)
  • Wayra (accelerators backed by Telefonica in 6 European cities)
  • Bethnal Green Ventures (London)
  • Le Camping (Paris)
  • Eleven Startup Accelerator (Sofia)
  • LAUNCHub (Sofia)
  • Ignite100 (Newcastle)
  • StartupYard (Prague)
  • Axel Springer Plug and Play (Berlin)
  • Propeller Venture Accelerator (Dublin)
  • Startup Wise Guys (Tallin)
  • Microsoft Ventures Accelerator (Tel Aviv)

Screen Shot 2014-10-13 at 12.51.34

Even though Seed-DB (using in large part Crunchbase data) is adding more transparency to that area by collecting information about funding, there is still not enough data to actually rank the accelerators based on external follow-on funding criterion described earlier. However, we have, or will be reaching to these accelerators asking for that information, hoping to present rankings in the near future.

In the meantime we would like to open a debate about accelerator success metrics. Also, if your accelerator is not here and you think it should be, or you can provide more up-to-date information about funding, please let us know below in comments or write to Adam [at] Fundacity.com.

Photo credit: Simon & His Cameravia Flickr under Creative Commons license

Portfolio management for startup accelerators: what to measure and how to do it

Measuring

In the last post we argued that the startup accelerators, due to resource and business model limitations, should not apply the active VC-style model of portfolio management. Instead, they should act as connectors and focus on helping graduates of their programs secure next round of funding, precisely by VC funds. To achieve this objective they should:

  • Present portfolio startups regularly to investors during informal meetings and at various events they attend, not only during demo days;
  • Match mentors with graduate companies, not only with the current batch;
  • Increase the likelihood of connections by promoting all their startups via social media, events, workshops, or in newsletters sent to accelerator’s stakeholders;
  • Keep track of fundraising related KPIs; and
  • Never stop thinking about portfolio startups.

With this framework in mind, let’s see how they can make it happen.

What to measure?

To help their portfolio startups, the accelerator team first needs to have access to relevant and up-to-date information about each of the startups. We suggest requesting regular updates about:

  • Traction. This is a magic word among startup investors and one of the key factors taken into consideration when deciding whether to make an investment. Traction takes form of metrics that demonstrate the attractiveness of startup’s value proposition to customers. To an investor, they are an indication of a startup’s future earning potential or exit value. The metrics themselves depend heavily on the type of startup, stage and business model. For example, key metrics for a SaaS startup are around number/growth of subscribers and their LTV. A marketplace startup should report metrics related to transactions made on their platform. Key metrics for a social network are daily active users and their engagement such as average visit duration, number of activities, etc. The accelerator and a startup should agree on max 2 or 3 metrics that best describe growth for each startup – in money terms, percentage growth or absolute numbers.
  • Fundraising. This should be information about current valuation, how much the startup is looking to raise, who are current investors, what kind of investor profile is the startup looking for, who they are talking to now, etc.
  • Achievements. Investors like to bet on winners and often observe all signs of social proof before making a decision to invest. For example, Mattermark, an analytics company for startup investors, includes followers on LinkedIn, Twitter as well as Facebook Likes and visits to website among the signals determining if a startup is hot. Reporting on the latest mention in TechCrunch, an award, or big milestone reached are all great pieces of information that accelerator staff can share with potential investors and mentors.
  • Cash. Startups fail when they run out of cash; it’s as simple as that. Regularly monitoring cash burn rate and remaining runway allows to raise alarm bells early enough to have time for action.

This is a mix of qualitative and quantitative information that is actionable and can help accelerator staff make introductions to investors and mentors. Some of this information needs to be reported on a regular basis, some only when there are changes, or important news. The additional benefit of requiring such updates is making the founders think regularly of the big picture and keep fundraising firmly on their agenda.

Setting up and managing the process

After agreeing on the metrics, the next step is to set up the process to make sure the reported information is easily accessible and can be acted upon. Most common practices used nowadays involve emails, Excel spreadsheets and shared folders. Such system works fairly well if an accelerator has 5 startups in the portfolio, but what if they have 20 startups… in each cohort? Sending reminders to founders, editing different formats of information, sharing the updates with people, adding new people to share it with is basically a full time job if done right.

The best solution for that problem is using a dedicated tool. The benefits? With solutions available now on the market, including Fundacity, you can set reporting request just once and then:

  • Forget about sending reminders
  • Receive all information regularly and in a consistent format
  • Share it with more people as all information is accessible in the cloud

Once the information starts coming in regularly, the whole focus for the accelerator team should be on making sure it is actually used to help portfolio startups and not left there in the cloud. There are several ways to make that happen:

  • We suggest there is a dedicated person in the accelerator team responsible for reviewing the updates and making sure portfolio startups are always on the agenda.
  • There should be regular staff meetings where the updates from startups are discussed and converted into concrete actions.
  • Finally, helping portfolio startups should be included in annual goals for the whole accelerator as well as in individual goals for individual team members i.e. not only portfolio manager, but partners and e.g. marketing executive too.

Summary

We all hate when we see promotions for “new customers only”. It seems like startup accelerators often have the same mentality, putting much more emphasis on attracting new startups to their programs than on helping the ones in which they have already invested. At the same time startups invest in their Customer Success teams realizing that taking care of existing customers is at least as important for growth as acquiring new ones.

Perhaps it’s time the accelerators learn something from their portfolio startups too.

This is the third part of our series of articles discussing portfolio management for startup accelerators. You can see the first post (“If startup accelerators are real investors, they should behave accordingly”) here and the second (“Accelerators are not VCs: how they should approach portfolio management”) here.

Photo credit: orkomedix, via Flickr under Creative Commons license