Top European startup accelerators

One London Bridge

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

7 thoughts on “Top European startup accelerators

  1. Hey, I think this is great that you’re starting to try to create a ranking… but the data sources here are horrific. (Not the fault of the people trying to gather data, Crunchbase and Seed-DB are making a fine effort… but it’s an impossible job, in many ways).

    SOSventures (based in Ireland) runs about 8 accelerator programs around the world, and we’ve been involved in the accelerator movement since 2009. A few of these programs are relatively new and are based in Europe… Synbio/IndieBio (Cork), Selr8r, and MakersTV (Dublin). We’ve graduated about 200 companies from our accelerator programs, and these companies have a combined value in recent rounds of funding at around $700,000,000. But we’re not seeing that reflected in the SeedDB data or in the Crunchbase data… in large part because companies don’t have to disclose that information publicly.

    The largest individual company of these has a valuation of $200m. The largest individual amount raised is >$30,000,000. There are only a handful of exits, because the bulk of these companies graduated in the last year or two. Very little of that shows up in Crunchbase or Seed-DB.

    The best companies haven’t even received much funding at all. The average graduate of Haxlr8r gets $200,000 in orders from Kickstarter (http://kickstarter.com/haxlr8r) and some of them NEVER receive any substantial equity investment, as they go on to produce millions in revenue with little to no money raised. To me, this is the GREATEST measure of success, companies that attract real customer revenue as their primary source of funding, and are able to continue to grow and operate without even exiting.

    We have another (European) company that went through an accelerator and did receive follow-on funding of a few million USD from SOSventures… but is now doing around $15m in revenues and is profitable and so there is no need for a new round of funding, so the valuation on the company would appear to be relatively low if based on their last round of funding (which is how all such lists operate).

    So… it’s kind of an impossible job to do accurately. That said, it’s better to do something than nothing, and it does prompt the accelerators to show what their performance is, as Peter from Startupbootcamp shows with their (very commendable) Stats page… which is a really good thing, actually, if the companies don’t mind losing some of their privacy by doing so.

  2. We are running two different Accelerator Programs, each to fit the specific needs of a team in the respective stage. All with our signature focus on traction & growth.

    Traction Accelerator

    For seed stage and A-Round startups that have reached the market entry stage and is now interested in getting significant traction to grow the business and looking for serious funding. We help startups grow their user base, find new customers, learn how to get any connection you need, viral marketing initiatives, crowdfunding campaigns, all with one key objective: getting market traction and market validation.

    Agile Business Accelerator

    For agile mid market companies with a robust management team, a solid sales and marketing team and a successful product introduction. Typically at revenue levels of $5 Million or up and the interest in moving from a few hundred prospects to several thousand on the B2B side – or from a few thousand users to hundreds of thousands or millions of users on the B2C side.

    While there is no better place for tech startups and tech innovation than San Francisco and Silicon Valley. not all startups can just hop over. And not all startups want to leave their local community and go. The S3 Accelerator, located in the heart of Startup City San Francisco, offers a unique accelerator program that allows startups from all over the world to join online and do what they would do if they are here. The program not only teaches the same content but l;so connects people with local teams and local services wherever they maybe beneficial.

    Thanks for sharing
    Marita
    http://appearoo.com/maritar

  3. We published and continuously update our accelerator program results in an effort to increase transparency and quantify the value of Startupbootcamp programs to entrepreneurs looking to transform their startups into high-value businesses. We encourage other accelerators to do the same.

    Below you will find all Startupbootcamp program stats since our founding in 2010 including number of startups, startups funded, total funded per program, created full-time jobs, and current status of startups.

    http://www.startupbootcamp.org/stats.html

    • Thank you Peter. We are planning to use data sourced directly from accelerators in the future posts about this topic, hoping that others will be encouraged by your example to be more transparent. For this post however, for consistency, we decided to use data from Seed-DB (via Crunchbase), but – well aware that it’s incomplete – decided not to rank accelerators based on it, but rather use it to open a discussion.

  4. Very interesting blog post! For a while I am also pondering over the idea how you evaluate accelerators, especially in younger ecosystems, e.g those outside of the more intensive places. Exits and Follow-up rounds are great indicators, however, as you well put it it does not work well in younger European ecosystems. Therefore, probably there should be other indicators in place that could evaluate the quality of accelerators both vis-a-vis founders and vis-a-vis the ecosystem. Few thoughts:
    1. It should be noted that most of the accelerators in Europe are operating for 2-3 years. And it takes at least 4 years (even in the case of Techstars) to have your first exits. So it might be relevant to measure accelerators not only by absolute parameters but also by relevant ones.
    2. Follow-up rounds should be measured in the context of the liquidity of different ecosystems, i.e. EUR 500K raised in the UK is not the same as EUR 500K raised in Sofia for example (same seed rounds in absolute terms could have (and they do in most of the cases different resource purchasing power in different ecosystems).
    3. Might be a good idea to have an impact index for accelerators -> their impact on the ecosystem. This might incorporate all the qualitative, difficult to quantify, parameters.

    I am happy to continue further the discussion. Cheers.

    • Daniel, thank you very much for your thoughtful comment. I definitely agree that basing the comparison of European accelerators purely on follow-on funding is not the right approach due to the reasons you mention (most accelerators are very new, different access to investors in local ecosystems). I think the impact on the ecosystem is not the right measure in this case, for two reasons:
      1. The main idea for the ranking was to assess the value that accelerators bring to startups. On individual level they don’t care if an accelerator has a positive impact on the ecosystem; they care if the accelerator actually helps them become successful
      2. Impact on the ecosystem is very difficult to quantify, because a) you need to take a lot of different data, that b) is often difficult to measure/obtain immediately and c) not always comparable across different countries.

      I think the right approach would be to approach graduates of individual accelerator programs with a simple survey, asking them to assess (on a scale) key success criteria such as quality of mentors, availability of mentors, usefulness of workshops, etc. More on that in the next post.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>