France: how many startup accelerators is too many?

Jan 27, 2012
Vote on Hacker News

Behold the startup accelerator. You know, the YCombinators and Techstars of the world. The concept is anything but new, yet it has started spreading like wildfire since US companies like Dropbox, Airbnb, Disqus, Scribd and more have proven the model successful. I’m sure you’re familiar with this by now so I’ll cut the dictionary definition here.

The special case of Europe.

Ah, and then there’s Europe. Europe saw its first accelerator back in 2007, which is now  the prestigious Seedcamp. But the Seedcamp model is somewhat different from the rest as the program is for somewhat later-stage startups and doesn’t comprise a 3-6 month incubation period where all startups go through the same camp-like training.

In fact, the programs that more closely resemble YCombinator, Techstars and the like started popping up in Europe around 2009: Springboard (UK, 2009), Startupbootcamp (Denmark, 2009), HackFwd (Germany, 2009), etc. And since, many other have followed in countries across the continent, including Gamma Rebels (Poland, 2011), Startup Highway (Lithuania), Rockstart (Amsterdam, 2012) and many others (the list seems to include everything from Founder Institute-like programs to more traditional co-working spaces and incubators).

L’exception française.

And then there is France. France’s first accelerator, Le Camping, held its first program in 2010. Since then, there have been announcements of additional accelerators Dojoboost and l’Accelerateur – to be launched by serial American entrepreneur John Lewis and serial entrepreneur Michel de Guilhermier (check out the website, looks awfully similar to YCombinator). And on a not-so-different note, 3 of France’s biggest web entrepreneurs announced the launch of EEMI, which functions more as a cross between a university program and the Founder Institute.

So, how many accelerators is too many?

The first question that may come to mind is whether or not France actually needs so many accelerators. There are already criticisms of the high-number of accelerators in Europe. Some find that there just isn’t the same quality of mentors, that there aren’t enough innovative young teams to really fulfill the demand and that the organizers of the programs may lack the experience they need to guide entrepreneurs. I’m definitely not sure I agree.

First of all, France is home more Startup Weekend events than any other country in the world – not counting the US. Yet, often times, Startup Weekend and Garage48 participants, don’t have a way to develop their projects after the 54-hour event is up. Accelerators may have a huge role to play there.

In addition, Europe (at least France) sometimes seems very quick to judge whether or not something actually works. YCombinator was founded in 2005 (coincidentally the same year as TechCrunch), yet the YCombinator effect took several years to really develop into what it is today.

Still, the development of numerous accelerator programs also translates into fragmentation.  What if everyone teamed up and worked on one super startup school together? Or do too many cooks spoil the soup?

Oh, right. Money.

Regardless of how people feel about the individual programs, at the end of the day there also needs to be someway to sustain the startups (you’re right, I’ve said this before). Yes, I’m talking about money. This is where I have to applaud Kima Ventures (again) on filling the seed gap that was very, very evident in France prior to the fund’s existence. Maybe France also needs another Kima. Anyone? :p

Hey, Ashton, what about FRANCE?!

At the end of the day, good ideas find the money, right? I mean, if Ashton Kutcher is looking at Berlin and investing in companies like SoundCloud, Amen and Gidsy, that’s proof right? And he’s probably got his eye on startups in France too…? Actually, Im not convinced he does (but if he would like any recommendations on hot French startups to watch, he’s more than welcome to ask!). Or maybe he’d like to come out to LeWeb next year and see for himself (*insert invitation from Loic Le Meur here*). I admit that it’s nice to see a high-profile American like Ashton paying attention to Europe (and not diving straight-away into the English-speaking markets).

But back to my point. Money. Everyone in Europe seems to feel that the investment community is not as easy to navigate as the crowd on Sandhill Road. Getting investors and the media to come to Demo Days can be challenging – especially with so many programs across the continent. But what if there was one (or several) mass Demo Day(s) with multiple accelerators? (I mean, it’s not so different from when some programs decided to link up their applications.) I think that could definitely work for France – a country where the investment community is smaller and tightly knit. But it could also potentially work cross-country. I’ve been asked by multiple accelerators to help with the exact same things – so why not get 3 accelerators to team up and host a joint Demo Day somewhere? Come on Europe, work together! After all, this is more about the startups than about the individual programs.

In the meantime, check out some of these upcoming accelerator events and feel free to add yours to the comment if I did not include it.

Demo Days

January 30th – Startupbootcamp London Demo Day

February 8th  – LeCamping London Demo Day

Application Deadlines

January 29th – Springboard (London)

January 30th – Dojoboost (Paris)

January 31st – Rockstart (Amsterdam) checkout the impressive, recently-announced mentor list here

February 17th – Emerge Lab (London), a program specially for social entrepreneurs

March 7th – Founder Institute (Paris)

March 18th – Founder Institute (Budapest)