France: how many startup accelerators is too many?


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)

34 Responses

  1. Yann Klis

    Fragmentation ? Let the market decide ! I mean, accelerator’s market is blooming but we don’t know yet which ones will survive.

    • Liam Boogar

      What does the market know about fragmentation? That kind of a “Laissez Faire” (said with a strong american accent) attitude causes a lot of problems – markets need regulation. What are the indicators that the startup/accelerator market doesn’t also need regulation?

    • Yann Klis

      So you’re speaking as a french socialist and me as a republican american ?
      More seriously :
      1. we don’t know yet which are the best accelerator out there because it’s kinda fresh idea in Europe. We’ll soon know after 1 or 2 pilgrimages (Terra Nova inside).
      2. Europe is more a hub than a concentration facility as the Valley is. So, certainly, the more accelerators there is in different part of Europe, the better

    • Roxanne Varza

      Hey guys – I’m just surprised not to see accelerators working together more, that’s all. I didn’t say they should all go out and acquire each other…

  2. Pierre-A. Duchateau

    This may sound stupid but I believe this fragmentation is also good because of timing. A startup that needs acceleration won’t be able to wait 6 months because they missed the application deadline.

    • Liam Boogar

      But doesn’t that assume that all Accelerators provide equal value? Assuming that the city itself has the potential to produce a good accelerator (mentors are willing, funding is available, startups are of a certain caliber), wouldn’t more accelerators fragment the mentors/accelerator (I know mentors: they can’t go to every accelerator, so they commit to one) and the amount of funding/aid available to each accelerator (if Microsoft Bizspark supports 1-3 accelerators, they can probably offer a lot more that if it has to spread it’s resources between 10-15 accelerators in the same budgeted area)

    • Roxanne Varza

      Agreed. Spreading resources too thinly across Europe’s already dispersed ecosystem could be a hurdle.

    • Pierre-A. Duchateau

      I completely agree with that. I do think that the amount of good accelerators will depend on the amount of good mentors. Furthermore, even if the number of entrepreneurs is rising in France, the number of good mentors will logically always be one step behind.

    • Liam Boogar

      “The number of good mentors will logically always be one step behind” – this implies that we are currently making use of all the existing potential mentors, which we are not. It is not a direct correlation.

    • Roxanne Varza

      I don’t know that those startups that “miss the application deadline” will necessarily be of better quality, but I agree that optionality isn’t a bad thing.

    • Pierre-A. Duchateau

      I didn’t mean “miss the deadline” like one would miss the deadline for some homework 🙂 I meant that startups can evolve fast and need acceleration 2-3 months after a session starts.

  3. Mathieu Goudot

    Just for clarity’s sake, EEMI is more of a fully-fledged and assumed school that teaches youngsters (“post-bac”) the skills necessary to work in the internet industry than an accelerator.
    It’s even nowhere near an accelerator, except the fact it teaches internet stuff. It’s not fully oriented toward making those students start their own companies. It’s teaching them how to be devs, graphic designers, webmarketers & so on.

    • Roxanne Varza

      Yes, you are correct. But it is still worth mentioning – as it is a “startup school” run by entrepreneurs that could potentially show interesting results.

    • Cyprien DECOUTY

      Thanks Mathieu.  EEMI has nothing to do with a school for wannabe/future entrepreneurs… (I read their class materials). 
      Please, stop quoting EEMI in every post because it’s the only “Internet school” you know. There are plenty of better school than EEMI.

    • Liam Boogar

      I hear a lot of QQ, but not a lot of suggestions. If you know of other “Internet School” like EEMI, go ahead and share them. I’ll be waiting here patiently on the internets:
      PS: i, too, know how to google “France Internet School” so at least rearrange the order of results you get to make it look like you had the ideas in your head in advance 😉

    • Sylvain Abélard

      There are lots of “internet” schools, though they are more “CS-schools turned Web 2.0” or “CS-schools students getting traditional diplomas then getting to work where it’s hot: Internet companies”.
      I mostly know of my alma mater EPITA, and its group Ionis which also includes Epitech and SupInternet. Many students from those schools went on to be entrepreneurs, in France or any other country.
      The schools regularly hosts events such as the latest Meetup Ruby on Rails.
      Competition around similar schools often turn into trolls so I won’t elaborate 😉

    • Cyprien DECOUTY

      +1 “CS-schools students getting traditional diplomas then getting to work where it’s hot: Internet companies”. -> all internet formation, both school and university licence/master. Some of them were created in 2002 (IIM, Hetic, IMAC and other).

    • Roxanne Varza

      Not sure who your comment is addressed to. I agree that there are potentially better schools (although EEMI just launched, how can you be so quick to judge?) but it is very difficult not to mention a project created by 3 of France’s best-known Internet entrepreneurs. That said, I agree that I could’ve added all the French tech schools but this article was about “new” entrepreneurial education.

  4. Hugh Knowles

    Perhaps the question is whether there are two many of the same kind of accelerator. How many consumer internet startups do we need? Perhaps we need more accelerators in the areas where we face really interesting challenges and where there are great financial opportunities e.g. energy, food, water, smart cities etc and less focused on what might be called more shallow value propositions.

  5. Alain Baritault

    Interesting Roxanne the way you don’t speak of the Founder institute, which is the first structured accelerator which was launched in Paris in Feb 2010. As far as you know pretty well the Founder Institute (you’ve been a mentor there), and you know also pretty well Le camping, you may have investigate a little on the economic conditions under which these accelerators are working and elaborate on the impacts of these budget conditions on the cursus, the results,etc… . It is a little too early to elaborate on the conditions Dojoboost and the Accelarator will’s not clear on their web site…but after a couple of months, it would be interesting to check… I’m open to tell you my experience about 2 years of work at the Founder Institute in Paris at least. Alain

    • Roxanne Varza

      Hi Alain, like EEMI and even Seedcamp, I feel that Founder operates using a slightly different model – so comparing it to the other accelerators that provide “seed” capital, physical office space, etc. is perhaps not very relevant. That said, I absolutely love the program (would not be a mentor otherwise) and did recognize that it fits into this “accelerator” movement. 
      Also, since FI is from the US and is not a “European-grown” program, I think it is somewhat different from the European programs. It has a bit more “history” to live off of and has a much wider reach than just Europe. I agree with you regarding Dojoboost and l’Accélerateur, naturally. Even LeCamping is very young. Which is why I encourage people not to jump to any conclusions.

    • Alain Baritault

      Sure Roxanne, The FI’s Model of bringing the Silicon Valley’s DNA of entrepreneurship in France is kind of different. Same for the very structured program it is based on and the way to execute it. But, I’ve been working hard (and you know Adeo Ressi, CEO of the FI, is a strong character) to localize and adapt the model to the French reality and the french way of doing business… It allowed me to (re)discover a lot of this reality which was buried into my education and culture and confront it to the the American reality of entrepreneurship which is the core of the FI, in which I have operated during abour 25 years of my tenure in the Silicon Valley… I’m not completely done yet and I guess I have a lot more to do, and to discover…. We can discuss this later…

  6. Nicolas Metzke

    Roxanne cleverly picked a title on this post to get people’s attention and draw comments. Which is great. However, as she says in her post and many of the comments here indicate, the term “accelerator” here is mixing apples and peers. There are really three parts in her question: quantity, quality and money
    While some of the European so-called accelerators might look similar, I guess the only thing they really have in common is the objective to help people, mostly younger people, develop their (entrepreneurial) skills and contribute to a stronger web-ecosystem. Guess what: Europe is fragmented: different cultures, different markets, different education systems, different rules (and regulations), different currencies, etc etc. But the younger generations more and more look beyond this and we have to turn this diversity into an opportunity. It’s great to have a wide or widening choice of “accelerators” and to me the real question for entrepreneurs is different: It is not whether there are too many, but which one is the right for you and your project. This answers the point about quantity.
    Regarding quality, I slightly disagree with Roxanne. Undeniably there is mentoring talent in Europe, but it’s not equally distributed amongst the so-called accelerators. Most of the mentors do this as part-time hobby and can’t provide regular advices and follow the teams with a stronger time commitment. Not even to mention the mentors who’s primary objective is to market themselves. I believe that some accelerators will not make a second year because they can’t provide the sustainable mentor support they need. Then, keep in mind that France for example has a strong tradition of elite education; I wouldn’t be surprised to see accelerator rankings come up soon, which will then lead to a self-regulation of the market. This ranking will have to take into account the quality of teams, of mentorship, and the likelihood to get funding. So much about quality, and it leads me to the last point: money
    As Roxanne implicitly mentions in her post it is a very important one: Is here enough money for all those programs. Is there a danger that even good teams and projects don’t get past the accelerator program because the system is broken. This is not a pure problem of the accelerators (though it certainly is a main concern to them), and I am sure that all program managers try to build ties with seed-funds. This is a (very well known) weak spot in the European start-up eco-system and very complex topic. Slightly contradicting myself, but I guess that if the seed funding across Europe doesn’t follow the same dynamics as the “accelerators”, then yes, there might be too many programs.

    • Roxanne Varza

      Great comments Nicolas. I think we actually agree on the mentoring quality – I meant simply that the quality is there, that it isn’t a question of there not being experienced entrepreneurs in Europe to help mentor. But whether or not the models are optimal for leveraging their expertise is a different question (in my opinion).
      And I really agree with your last point. More seed is clearly needed in Europe – regardless of whether it goes to the accelerator startups or not. 

    • Zsalloum

      I really liked what you have said about mentors trying to market themselves. I had the experience, where mentors try to get their share from any funding the startup might get. Once they feel you won’t have any funds (at least in the short term) they will turn their back and leave you alone, instead of helping you pivot or find out what is the problem.

  7. Sardar Mohkim Khan

    Quite right, there is definitely a massive boom when it comes to startup accelerators and mentoring programs and while “too much is never enough” they are broadly categorized in 2 methods like the one followed by the likes of Garage48 and those like Startupbootcamp in Denmark.
    What i think should be happening now is that the accelerators look beyond expanding outside the European region. Say like the Middle East/South East Asia, the latter being the most volatile market, primarily for the fact that these are massive talent pools (in my humble opinion).
    Not sure how seriously accelerators there have thought about this, but is definitely a good option. Would love to connect with anyone interesting in talking about this further.

    • Roxanne Varza

      Seedcamp is one of the few that went international rather quickly. Founder Institute is another. But these are both not really the traditional accelerator model. I think TechStars from the US is working on developing an international network of partners (which Starupbootcamp and many others are already part of). 
      But one thing that was said (by Paul Graham and many others) is that the model works in Silicon Valley because there is an active business angel community to support the startups after the 3 months are up. The system is all in place. Locations that don’t have the local financial support may not be able to have successful accelerators.

    • Sardar Mohkim Khan

      Many  thanks Roxanne. I agree with you at large here, the primary reason is an ineffective support culture in these regions. They lack mentors to help founders/aspiring entrepreneurs fine tune their idea, the right mindset, the youngsters would gladly adopt a compromising present instead of a promising future and lastly the overall eco-system isn’t largely supportive.
      The most obvious thing you hear when pitching is either “no money in this” or it’s X years ahead of its time. What i strongly believe in is that Universities within such reasons should build collaborations with these Boot Camps, likewise the bootcamps should be very open to similar partnerships. Easier said than done, but something i have personally tried for almost 3 years now.

  8. regisb

    With so many startup accelerators around, we need to come up with an evaluation system: how many seedfunded startups have had a successful exit in these accelerators? do these accelerators increase the life expectancy of their mentored startups?

  9. jdbradford

    I personally think that more (rather than less) accelerators are better for the startup community, however there needs to be greater transparency around the offering, the T&Cs (the devil is in the detail) and the results from the programmes at a micro level – company by company (it is all too easy for one team to massively distort the results).
    I, as a matter of policy, allow potential participants to reference ANY Springboard team that has participated – whether they have raised funding or not.jon [at] springboard [dot] com

  10. Nicolas Metzke

    Post in German about the same subject
    But it’s really just saying that there are more and more “incubator / accelerator” – type initiatives in Germany of which most are too young to be judged (with the exception of Rocket Internet –  of course). There is a list of companies (and there are a few more that aren’t even listed here). It also raises the concern about funding and scalability of those accelerators …

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