Last week, the government announced the creation of a multi-million pound Digital Economy Catapult Centre – proving, once again, that tech and new media are firmly at the forefront of the small business agenda.
The UK’s online and digital community, centring on the burgeoning tech city hub, has attracted acclaim from around the world in recent months, with global luminaries such as Jimmy Wales lining up to offer praise. The number of tech firms based in East London has increased by 300% in the last two years, and, with the government committing funding and support to the area, this figure is likely to continue rising for the foreseeable future.
So the return of Seedcamp, Europe’s most prominent tech start-up accelerator, to London is ideally timed. Seedcamp’s global roadshow is stopping by for a one-day event on Tuesday (January 31), attended by 22 tech entrepreneurs who have emerged from a gruelling application process.
Each of the 22 start-ups will receive one-to-one mentoring from a network of developers, thought leaders and seasoned business leaders, drawn from around the world. The mentors include Anthony Hicks, head of strategic innovation at PayPal; Eric Partaker, creator of popular Mexican food chain Chilango; and Simon Cross, a key developer at Facebook’s London offices.
In addition to mentoring, a selection of the finalists will be invited to pitch to an investment panel, drawn from Seedcamp’s investor community. The companies which provide the best pitches could receive a €50,000 investment from Seedcamp, as well as an invitation to a year-long mentoring course in London.
Several Seedcamp alumni have gone on to global success. Reshma Sohoni, a partner in Seedcamp, says "several companies that have emerged from our pitching process are doing really well. They're now growing up from start-up to established companies in their own independent right, and there are plenty of stand-outs – such as Basekit, ERPLY, Hooplo Media, myBuilder, rentmineonline, Ubervu, and Zemanta".
The application process
The Seedcamp organisers received hundreds of applications for the London event, from all corners of Europe. The bulk of applications have been drawn from the web-tech, mobile and software industries. Regarding the specific sectors which have figured strongest in the application process, Carlos Espinal, like Sohoni a partner in the Seedcamp venture, says:
“We’re seeing a lot of efficiency plays, products that are trying to make business processes more efficient, regarding stuff like social integration and time management.
“Gamification of business is another big thing. One applicant I looked at had developed a way to get ideas from employees, and highlight them to corporate management, using gaming principles. And the third key thing we’re seeing is democratisation of services –
finding things that would otherwise be unavailable to people, and making them available.”
The selection process
According to Robin Klein, a founding investor in Seedcamp, the quality of this year’s applicants has been remarkably high.
“We’ve had a record number of applicants this year. Some of the entrepreneurs we’re seeing have been in and around the ecosystem for a while, and it’s noticeable that they have a very global approach – they see the market as worldwide, they don’t see themselves as having a specific ‘home’ market.”
This has made the task of selecting 20 finalists harder than ever. According to Espinal, product, concept and market have all played a key role in the judges’ decisions.
“In spite of the fact you’re submitting an application, we don’t have a checklist of criteria – it’s more about the overall quality and potential of the business, regardless of whether it has revenues or not. If a company has a product to show, a prototype, we naturally favour that applicant over one that doesn’t have anything to show.
“Each of the applicants we’ve selected offers something functional, and can show customer validation. Seedcamp isn’t so much about demonstrating current users and growth, but showing potential – the growth usually comes later.”
Evolution, not revolution
Since its launch in 2007 Seedcamp has attracted inbound investment of more than €5m, and new features and partnerships are coming on stream all the time.
Last year Seedcamp announced a partnership with American company 500 Startups, founded by Silicon Valley veteran Dave McClure, and collaborative agreements have been signed with start-up events across the continent, including Arctic Startups in Scandinavia, Garage48 in the Baltics and TISEE in Bulgaria. Seedcamp is also implementing what it calls an Expert in Residence Program, designed to provide ongoing mentoring for its most promising finalists.
According to Robin Klein, this year will be about “evolution, rather than revolution. It’s going to be a lot bigger, we’re investing in more companies, and the mentoring network keeps going up – we’ve got a huge number of mentors anyway, and it’s incrementally increasing. It’s a hugely exciting time”.