France doesnt need more accelerators, it needs more mentors

Oct 26, 2012
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This article is written specifically using my knowledge of the French ecosystem, but I think that this easily applies to any “emerging” ecosystem – every ecosystem outside of the Silicon Valley, New York & London can be seen as “emerging.”

I’m often asked what I think is the best incubator, accelerator, co-working space or cafe in Paris for startups – it’s a great way for people to ask “where can I go to leach off of other people?” I’ve spent time at LeCamping, I helped out at Dojoboost for its first season, and I recently had the pleasure to meet Juan Hernandez, one of the coaches at l’Accelerateur. While I think these are all great initiatives, I’m not convinced that accelerators are the answer for an Emerging eocsystem. After all, Tech Stars & Y Combinator aren’t what made Boulder, Seattle, New York, or Boston great places to build startups. It was the other way around – their success was an indicator, and was a result of the fact that those places had build an environment to foster innovation.

But what do they have that we don’t have?

Mentors. What is a mentor? Is it a former entrepreneur just trying to feed off of young talent? Is it a corporate guy telling you how he build his company in 1842 thinking you’ll be able to relate to his stroy? Is it a presentation uploaded on to SlideShare that we can read with no context? If so, Paris has got TONS of mentors.

Last week I asked a question on Quora: Which Paris startup mentors help their startups the most? the least? The question got plenty of attention on the social networks where I posted it, with people agreeing that they wanted to hear the answers, but no one has come forward to say anything. Perhaps this is because it’s hard to criticize someone publicly, especially someone who has achieved the elite level of “mentor” status (sarcasm), but I at least expected to hear one stroy of someone who worked their butt off just to get a startup a meeting with a client. No financial return, no sweet partnership with their company, just helping great people succeed.

Just look at the equivalent question for the Silicon Valley – the questions mentors help startups get through are the same ones that accelerators are claiming to answer in Europe & in France.

I fear that we’re creating accelerators in the hopes of attracting mentors to the startups, instead of creating a solid network of mentors, and then bringing them together in an official network like an accelerator.

I understand that it’s hard to be critical in France – it’s not in the culture – but I’m not French, so I don’t care. If we’re ever going to get anywhere, we need to learn to be a bit more critical of each other, and stop saying “everything’s great” when we know it’s not.

Looking forward to hearing your Mentor stories below!