London’s well-known startup builder Entrepreneur First (EF) announced a new cohort of startups at its 8th Demo Day in London last month.
The 14 startups took to the stage to pitch to a crowded room of potential investors, press and other important people in the UK tech scene.
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Techworld spoke with Entrepreneur First cofounder Alice Bentinck and CEO Matt Clifford to discuss its latest round of funding (£9.5 million) from Greylock Partners and how it plans to give its startups the chance to thrive in a competitive space.
Both Bentinck and Clifford founded EF in 2011 after working as management consultants at McKinsey & Company, which boosted their ambition to change the situation of starting companies.
“So we have lots of ideas and we always say that we want them to be accessible to every qualified candidate in the world, we want it to be attractive to them and we want it to be effective for them," Clifford tells Techworld.
“We’ll be using the funds to make sure that’s what we achieve so some of that might involve some geographic expansion like that in Singapore, which has actually done extremely well,” he adds.
The ‘talent first’ accelerator expanded to Singapore in 2016, setting up a new programme which provides 400 individuals with the chance to found startup companies over the next four years. This programme is run in partnership with Singapore’s Infocomm Investments.
Since the expansion, EF has been on the go to give technical individuals and aspiring business owners in London and Singapore the chance to accelerate as unique innovators.
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The selection process
The process to narrow down and select the startups is difficult with little similarities being drawn between EF and what we see on The Apprentice.
Bentinck says: “We look for a very strong founder, which is hard because we select them before they’re founders and sometimes it’s even before they’ve really thought deeply about starting a company.
“We take people all the way from never really thought about it, all the way to having some sort of idea and beginning to get going.
“That’s one thing we look at and when we’re looking for founders we look at if they are skilled, do they have some sort of edge? And that’s why you see so many technologists within the cohort. They have the means of production and they’re able to build and create products from scratch.”
Unlike other tech accelerators, EF accepts candidates of all experience levels, including ones with small to no business or tech background, as these may still have what it takes to become a successful founder and CEO.
“So really what we’re focusing on is that founder potential," says Bentinck.
"The main piece is that they’re part of a cohort, so they’re part of a screened group of outlier talent and from that group they find their cofounder and we support them to develop their idea and over a 12 month period, we take them all the way through to closing their seed round,” she adds.
The tech industry is ever growing with innovative technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning swaying the waters.
However, EF seems to have its own way of doing things.
“One thing we’d probably emphasise is that we’re not interested in what’s hot per se, we’ve been very fortunate that we adopted this talent first model as Alice described and that’s been true since the beginning," Clifford says.
“One of the advantages of that is if you say to the world we want to want to work with the world’s most ambitious people you then get to see what they want to work on.
“So rather than us saying we think machine learning is hot, instead we say we want to work with great people and they tell us they want to work on machine learning. So if you think even three years ago, when we started our third cohorts which a cohort like Magic Pony were in, machine learning really wasn’t very hot in the venture capital world."
For EF, what they believe in is what their clients can add to the market to produce innovation.
Its cohorts tend to pitch their ideas in ways that may not have been heard in the industry before, and for that reason, they appear as unique candidates in search of unique partners to support their development.
“That’s really important because you know, in Silicon Valley, everyone thinks about starting a company so it’s not that unusual to bump into other people, even maybe your friends who could be good cofounders for you," explains Clifford.
“In London, Singapore, maybe within Europe and South-East Asia more generally it’s not normal to start a company, so it’s very unlikely that your friends are people who you’re going to start with so where do you find people who are as skilled as you, as smart as you and as ambitious as you.”