An accelerator is a private or public organisation that speeds and supports the development of entrepreneurial businesses by providing needed resources and services, such as funding and mentoring.
Last Friday 29th June, EMC2 hosted the European Commission’s first meeting of European accelerators. Chaired by Isidro Laso Ballesteros, representing the Commission, the meeting at Queen Mary, University of London provided a forum for exchanging ideas and experiences on supporting web-based innovation across Europe.
Participants in this initiative include Tech All Stars, springboard, f6s, PwC’s Accelerator, Startup Weekend Europe, Accelerator Academy, seedcamp, Startup Bootcamp, White Horse Capital, Bethnal Green Ventures, Microsoft BizSpark, Social Innovation Camp and Wayra -- among them some of the largest technology startup accelerators in the European Union.
The meeting began with a presentation by Isidro Laso about the Commission’s prioritisation of web entrepreneurship (Isidro Laso: (112)). Entrepreneurs, he explained, are crucial to Europe’s economy because they create the most jobs, and web-based businesses have the additional benefits of comparatively small start-up costs and potential for rapid growth.
Emphasising the need to act at EU level, Mr Laso outlined the EC’s comprehensive strategy and actions for encouraging and supporting web entrepreneurship in Europe. The actions include developing local entrepreneurial hubs, increasing the visibility of public and private resources for new companies, providing tax incentives for investors and entrepreneurs, fostering ‘crowdfunding’, opening up public data to web startups, improving technology education and culturally reinforcing the entrepreneurial ‘mind-set’.
He outlined new EU support for technology entrepreneurs, including funding for those seeking to apply Future Internet technologies developed within EU programmes, support for network building (mentors, entrepreneurs, investors, students) and finance for web innovation in areas of public interest.
A wide-ranging brainstorming session ensued, during which participants discussed specific ideas for encouraging and supporting web start-ups and enumerated current barriers to web entrepreneurship in Europe. These include a lack of role models at EU level, the need for skills development, under-involvement of large corporations in the startup ‘ecosystem’, and inflexibility of employment and immigration laws. The group considered ways in which the Commission might work with accelerators to strengthen the environment for web entrepreneurs.
Participants with experience of both US and European contexts were able to make interesting comparisons between the two. It was said, for example, that whilst Europe has “great technology”, the US is “way ahead” in management, investment, sales and marketing. The lack of a common, Europe-wide legal/ business framework was also cited as a significant barrier to investment, growth and cooperation.
Some argued a need for much more support activity for would-be entrepreneurs -- startup weekends, innovation camps, also social networking events connecting entrepreneurs with potential mentors and backers. Another highlighted need was for stronger linkage between technology industry and academia.
The meeting was very well received by participants, who broadly agreed that this could be the basis of a permanent forum for sharing ideas and experiences, for identifying the needs of European accelerators and web entrepreneurs, and for establishing clear channels of communication between accelerators and the Commission.
Mr Laso suggested that, as a first step, each participant submit a 2-page outline of thoughts and suggestions, considering especially the needs of web entrepreneurs in Europe and how the Commission might best address them.
A follow-up meeting has been scheduled for October 2012.