Mark Solon and David Cohen, at the launch of TechStars London
Awesome news, out today: TechStars, the start-up accelerator, is launching in London- their first program outside of the US. This is a wonderful piece of news for the whole entrepreneurial community here, a real boon.
Memrise attended TechStars Boston in 2011, and we’ve benefited ever since from the wonderful relationships we developed with our fellow entrepreneurs, our mentors and investors. The experience was instrumental in our gaining more than $5mm in funding, and put us in the heart of a network that helps us every passing week.
So we’re naturally thrilled that TechStars is coming to London (the first program will open in July). In the years to come, eventually hundreds of British and European start-ups will enjoy the experience. The benefits though will spread far beyond those who are directly involved: TechStars is all about the generation of positive community dynamics, and should breathe fresh energy into all corners of the ecosystem here.
Here are seven reasons to celebrate TechStars coming to town:
1) Startups will benefit from great mentors
TechStars will most obviously benefit the companies luck enough to be selected (typically, around 1% of applications are rewarded with a place). The first and last way these companies will benefit, is through the great mentorship that the programme fosters.
People often identify mentorship with advice or guidance. It includes that in spades: committed mentors can help a company a hundred early pitfalls, and attune them to decisive opportunities, hugely increasing their chances of survival and success. The benefits of mentorship run much deeper, though. Being mentored is a wonderful way to encounter and assimilate new perspectives. It can be tremendously encouraging. It is very fun, socially. Finally, it heightens ambition: when people far busier and more successful than you give you their time and expertise without any expectation of payback, you tend to redouble your efforts.
During TechStars, we were materially helped by countless mentors, and formed especially close relationships with a few entrepreneurs in particular, who continue to help us to this day. Altruistic mentorship is seen as part and parcel of successful participation in the kind of ecosystem TechStars helps cultivate.
2) Startups will get more funding from better investors
I clearly remember my impressions at the beginning of TechStars Boston 2011. The 12 early stage startups selected came in all shapes and sizes, and we were mostly very early in traction, just getting going. By the time the three months of the central program were concluded, after 3 mad months of intensive work, we were already in substantially better shape.
Less than 18 months later, and our motley crew have collectively raised more than $41mm in funding. Our companies now employ more than 120 people. At Memrise, we raised $5mm, and employ 12 (soon to be 16)- all the in the UK. This would never have occurred without the influence of TechStars, and the community it commands.
3) Entrepreneurs will forge vital friendships
I’m on the whole a mindlessly optimistic person. This is true of many entrepreneurs. Nonetheless, it’s not easy starting a company- your job description often changes on a weekly basis, life is a constant stream of problems, some apparently intractable, and one’s morale and clarity can be affected by some of the problems one runs into. Sometimes, this can really get you down.
In such circumstances, my move is simple. I hop onto the phone to one of my peers – to Hardi, Sravish, Dave, Karan or Heidi- and have a chat. They’ve living the murderous stuff daily. We have a natter. They point to some recent experience. They tell me to pull myself together. They laugh in my face. Whatever the reason, having a circle of friends going through the same thing is a great support for any entrepreneur, especially one as inept as me.
There’s also the wonderful TechStars FounderCon where all TechStars alumni get together once a year. Hilarious fun and very helpful in equal measure. Great friendships are awesome.
4) Great startups will move to London
Let’s be clear, TechStars is a big-name draw. Outstanding entrepreneurs will flock from Europe to the city. In Boston, six European teams have attended the program the last few years. In our class, our friends at Grabcad came from Estonia to Boston. They’re a community of CAD engineers, and have raised $12mm in funding. In the future, we can expect such talent to move to London, and add to the growing entrepreneurial mix here. Their talent, ideas, energy will be good for everyone.
5) The injection of good old-fashioned American can-do attitude
Pitch a US entrepreneur on what you’re up to, and even if she’s a rival, she’ll likely be visibly excited by your prospects, your ideas, the things you’re attempting to do. She’ll beat you if she can, but not before giving you a couple useful data points, a few introductions and some words of encouragement. Something of the companionship of the sea exists among US entrepreneurs, and the sense of everyone participating in the creation of something worthwhile. This is not always the case in the UK, where the national talent for scepticism tends to lead to startup sentences beginning with “but” more often than “and”.
I’m occasionally embarrassed by the American sense of the possible, but it does, at least in Tech startups, seem to be a very great enabling factor in helping startups make things happen. We could use just a tiny bit more of that can-do atmosphere in London- at the very least, it will help maintain morale among entrepreneurs.
6) Internationalization of the London network
There’s so much interesting stuff happening in London today. We’re poised to become a great start-up hub. TechStars will only amplify this by helping maximise the connections – the flow of talent, money, ideas and learning – between the UK and the thriving Tech hubs in Boston, NYC, Boulder, Seattle and California.
Our own experience of the generosity of the TechStars network internationally is reflected in the observation that I’ve spent perhaps 4 weeks on the road in ten cities across the US these last couple of years. I’ve never paid a cent for a hotel or for desk space. The Techstars food and shelter exchange is one of the great tickets.
7) Knock-on effects around the London eco-system
In addition to Springboard, which is merging into TechStars to become TechStars London, the city already boasts at least two other great Accelerators, and numerous shared working spaces. SeedCamp has been operational for several years, and Bethnal Green Ventures has a social entrepreneurship program that is raising the bar yet further.
The arrival of TechStars means will be good for the prominence and competitiveness of these other Accelerators (entrepreneurial communities are positive sum games). The arrival of such a powerful and accomplished accelerator will also ensure these other programs work ever harder to get more from their mentors and in helping their companies. This is naturally great news for the entrepreneurs for whom they provide a service.
Moreover the appearance of such a powerful institution as TechStars in the heart of London will only increase the appearance and energy of other initiatives that work in complementary directions. Start-up communities are like that: they’re full of positive feedback loops, and all the unpredictable goodness that such loops generate.
So there are my seven reasons to be happy that TechStars is landing in town. My bet is that this will come to be seen as a far more significant event than the opening of Google campus, or of Facebook’s engineering department. That’s because the single most critical determining factor of the creation great startup is great start up community, and TechStars is the leading force bar none for catalysing the development of a great community.
Want to apply to Techstars? We’d love to help
If you’re a startup, even if you’ve raised capital, TechStars is a tremendous move, and we’d love to help you.
We’ll be thrilled to talk to you about anything related to the program to help hone your application. Drop by Memrise any time, we’ll be happy to help and talk. And for any TechStars companies, of course, we’re always here to offer food and shelter!