London’s startup scene is getting more sophisticated
Gone are the days when barely qualified hopefuls could pitch away
WANT to fly your drone without a human operator, or teach your toddler English with a smartphone app? Build your own satellite, get some online e-sports coaching or even predict the onset of dementia? If so, Entrepreneur First (EF), Britain’s largest tech incubator, might have something for you.
These were a few of the ideas on offer to venture capitalists at EF’s “demo-day” on March 8th. Now the biggest event of its kind in Europe, 25 teams have three minutes each to pitch their startup ideas to an audience that numbers in the hundreds. The presentations are slick, the T-shirts branded and there is a healthy crop of hipster beards. After the show, the would-be entrepreneurs, often looking for investments of up to £400,000 ($570,000), press the flesh with the moneymen. About one-third of the startups go on to become sustainable companies.
There are now scores of tech incubators and accelerator programmes in London, making it, by most accounts, the tech-startup capital of Europe. EF itself has come a long way in its four years. Matt Clifford and Alice Bentinck, its founders, mentored 30 startups in the first year; now that figure is 200. They have opened a branch in Singapore. In contrast to many similar outfits, particularly in Silicon Valley, EF picks people rather than ideas, and then matches them in teams. For an 8% stake in the startup, EF gives the teams a six-month stipend to ready them for launch.
As EF’s demo-day shows, the tech startup scene is getting more competitive, and the qualifications to get into it more onerous. Gone are the days when barely qualified hopefuls and pimply undergraduates could pitch away. Many of the people presenting on March 8th had multiple science degrees. The number of people applying with PhDs has doubled in the past year, says Mr Clifford. Indeed, with thousands of people trying to get onto EF’s programmes each year, it can afford to be more picky. Most people selected have a couple of years’ industry experience. The average age is 26, up from 23 two years ago.
One old problem remains: the chronic lack of women. There was only one pitching on EF’s demo-day, and as those doing startups become ever more skewed towards scientists, that underrepresentation might get worse, for women are generally outnumbered on Britain’s science-degree courses, especially among PhDs. EF helps to run Code First: Girls, which tries to redress the imbalance by teaching female undergraduates to code. But efforts to improve gender equality in the tech world are still in startup mode.