19 Feb 2014

What happened at Acceleration & Finance, 17th Feb 2014

Everyone is still talking about this event! Thanks so much to event partners ICT KTN, all the lovely volunteers, our brilliant chair and the wonderful panelists.

As promised, you'll find below the presentations from both John Spindler and Jessica Stacey PLUS a write up by our champion guest blogger Simon Andrews @addictivemobile - if you don't subscribe to his weekly Mobile Fix, well, you are missing out!

Also we are lucky to have some supersonic interviews from Tim Green @timgreen64 ahead of his new video-based website The Mobile View (watch this space!) and finally, if you want to hear the whole thing: The Fonecast podcast.

Here's Simon's take on the evening.

Accelerators, Finance and Good advice

Mobile Monday London held a fascinating event on Monday February 17. Titled Acceleration and Finance, the team put together a great panel representing accelerators, VCs, entrepreneurs and Nesta (see below for the full list)

Now when you mention money to the mobile community, you get their attention and the event at Centre Point was packed.

The chair John Spindler kicked off with a whirlwind look at the overall VC and accelerator space, and a blizzard of stats and links to resources and more information. Even with 40 slides in 10 minutes, he got a lot about the shape of the market over, making the point there is no shortage of people / organisations that want to help. His full deck is here and deserves some close reading.

John Spindler's Presentation

The key point we took away was that across the US there are around 69,000 seed fundings on $100k each year. In the UK last year there was probably only around 1,500. So there is a way to go yet.

Next up Jessica Stacey from Nesta took us on a little less frenetic tour of the ecology, summarising the accelerator space and drawing upon some of the research Nesta has done in the space. Again a clear message that there is no shortage of resources.

She had a neat summary that we liked, suggesting there are essentially three types of accelerator  - ecosystem, matchmaker and investor. Again Jessica has shared her slides and they are well worth a read.

Jessica Stacey's Presentation

We then moved to the panel and this session opened with each of the panellists introducing themselves and their organisation.

Jon Bradford of Techstars went first and whilst the Techstars model is pretty well understood he also talked about their partnerships with corporates and how important he thought that was. They are currently doing programmes with Barclays and Disney, whilst there is no investment a clear focus on the appropriate vertical is ideal for some start ups.

Building on the corporate venturing theme Simon Devonshire of Telefonica's Wayra went next. With bases in numerous cities the Wayra initiative is proving a success in terms of number of applicants and the progress of the teams accepted.

Rather newer is the Microsoft accelerator and Diane Perlman spoke about their experience in other markets and their ambitions for the new programmes across Europe. Jon Bradford suggested – tongue in cheek - that they had stolen the idea after Techstars ran a programme for Microsoft.

Both Simon and Diane were at pains to point out that teams were not locked into the sponsoring corporate; Simon said they would and had facilitated deals with Vodafone etc. and Diane stressed that the teams on the Microsoft programme could build on any tech platform they liked – although clearly links with xBox were a huge advantage for gaming start ups.

But what is it like for an entrepreneur? The next panelist was Brian Taylor who has a start up called PixelPin and is currently navigating the world of accelerators and funding. He talked about the benefits of grants and match funding but emphasised the need for persistence – a point that kept coming up. His view on the key advantage of accelerator programmes? The connections that they open up – he mentioned that he has met 10 banks in then last few weeks – something that would have taken years without the contacts of his accelerator.

Last up was Simon Cook of DFJ Esprirt – the European arm of legendary valley VC Draper Fisher. The track record of both the US and Europe is amazing and he talked from the viewpoint of later stage investing.  He thinks the key role of accelerators is to teach entrepreneurship – giving people the skills to build a business.

His general view probably resonated most with us – he believes there is too much focus in fundraising as a measure of success; there are 10 million SMEs across Europe that people have started and made a success of – compelling evidence of entrepreneurship.

All the panellists spoke of the intense competition to get into their programmes and when asked what were the factors that differentiated the chosen few there was some consensus; it’s all about the team. Jon put it best when he shared his 5 criteria for selecting someone into Techstars:

Team, Team, Team, Opportunity & Team

The questions dug a little deeper into these issues and Simon Cook made an interesting point – despite the rapid expansion of accelerators and the buzz around start ups the actual number of a Series A funding has stayed really constant at around 1,000.

The best advice from the panel? Probably Jon's advice to find the 3 smartest people you know and go buy them a coffee and ask them to tear your idea apart. Then ask them to suggest another 3 people to do the same with. This way you quickly start to find the issues you need to address.

And Simon Cook ended by pointing out that even the biggest successes gave been through tough times. He talked of board meetings where it was feared the next salaries could not be paid – yet these companies had gone on to huge success.

Our take is that too many people focus on the quick win of an accelerator place and funding. The reality is that these are lottery wins – great when they happen, but not something to rely on.

Smart entrepreneurs get their team right and build a business around solving a problem. Getting people to pay for your solution validates your idea and demonstrates you have the grit and persistence to make a success of your business. And that story could well open the doors to the accelerators and the funding.

Good luck.

Chair - John Spindler, CEO of Capital Enterprise (@CapEnterprise),

Jessica Stacey - @JessStacey - Programme and Research Manager, Accelerators and Early Stage Businesses, NESTA
Jessica has been working on an update to NESTA's report on start-up acceleration and will be sharing some of their conclusions.

Simon Cook - @venturejedi, CEO and Co-founder DFJ Esprit
DFJ Esprit are leading VC investors on the London scene. Simon, who has been described by Esquire as "A rock 'n' roll figure with a blonde faux-hawk and some billion-dollar swagger" will hopefully share with us what they look for and how they view acceleration.

Brian Taylor - @Brian_PixelPin, CEO & Inventor PixelPin
PixelPin goes from strength to strength - a graduate from the Wayra London Academy, PixelPin has now gone on the the Fintech Innovation Lab and has interesting stories to tell about raising finance on the way. Not to mention that we're proud that Brian is a graduate of The Mobile Academy.

Diane Perlman - @Diane_Perlman, Microsoft Ventures, Start-ups Lead
Microsoft's own London acceleration programme has just started at Central Working. Diane will undoubtedly have lots of say about selection of candidates and differentiation of programmes.

Simon Devonshire - @simondevonshire, Director, Wayra Europe (Telefonica)
Simon has been responsible for setting up Wayra Academies across Europe, you might call him a serial accelerator creator. He's certainly in a good position to comment on the value created.

Jon Bradford - @jd, MD, Techstars London
To say that Jon has been on the inside track of the start-up, acceleration and investment scene here in the UK and else where would be to miss the point. Jon has promised that his contribution will be "fun and lively" ...