Can Seedcamp join the Ivy League of startup schools?

Reshma Sohoni, SeedcampLet nobody say that Seedcamp lacks ambition.

Since launching in 2007, the organization has become Europe’s premier training grounds for startups, linking some of the continent’s top young companies to a broad network of advisers and investors. It’s already invested in dozens of businesses, and this week pushed forward with more as it brought 16 companies to London for a week of intensive mentoring. But it doesn’t stop there.

Today Seedcamp is unleashing a whirlwind of announcements — including new investors, new advisers, partnerships with 500 Startups and Angellist, and deeper links to a range of European startup events. That’s on top of the already-announced Seedhack scheme.

And the goal? To make sure that, eventually, every startup of significance will have Seedcamp’s fingerprints on it somewhere.

“We want to be the Ivy League of accelerators,” says Reshma Sohoni, the group’s CEO. “All the accelerators, all the seed programs, the Y Combinators and the TechStars and the startup weekends… they are all about teaching entrepreneurship. We know that lots of these universities can and will exist, but we want Seedcamp to be one of the best places to go.”

“I think everyone’s been talking about an incubator bubble,” she adds. “But we just decided to do what we’ve always wanted to do — build the ecosystem to help startups.

That’s why today’s announcements — released en masse — are intended to make it stand out from the crowd. The details include:

  • A partnership with Dave McClure’s 500 Startups initiative in Silicon Valley, which Sohoni sees as a bridge to a future full launch in the U.S. (it has already held an event in New York). “We do want to set up in the U.S. at some point, be the problem is that when we land there we’ll be a European entity all on our own, so this partnership with 500 Startups gives our founders a leg up,” she says.
  • A deal with Angellist to make it easier for European entrepreneurs and investors to use the service. “European companies and angels do go on there, but it’s hard for them to rise above the noise… we didn’t want to make a clone.”
  • New investors and sponsors, including more than 20 venture capital companies (one of them is Reed Elsevier Ventures, an investor in GigaOM), a number of prominent individuals and corporate sponsorship from Microsoft and Qualcomm. In addition, Seedcamp companies will also have access to a package services from the likes of Amazon, Zendesk and Chartbeat valued at $80,000.
    “Our investment is now much larger than most of the other accelerator programs, which means one of the capabilities we have is to do follow-ons ,” says Sohoni. “That’s different to most accelerators.”
  • Partnerships with other, smaller startup events across Europe, including Scandinavia’s ArcticStartup, the Italian eFestival and Garage48, a prominent Baltic scheme. Sohoni says there was simply too much interest in running events to cope with — but that there is value in working with high quality events that already exist in local markets.

    “People were saying how about we do events in Bucharest, in Sofia, in Krakow? But there’s just no capacity to do that, so we’ve decided to help local efforts and take winning startups so they can connect into hubs like London or New York.”

    Why now?

    After five years of events, Sohoni says that pushing forward is a necessary part of staying ahead of a crowd that has exploded in the last few years. There are now dozens and dozens of accelerators across Europe and many more elsewhere.

    “When Seedcamp started off it was a lone wolf, building the ecosystem with venture capitalists and entrepreneurs that were thinking the same way,” she says. “We started off with a few of those guys, but it’s multiplied massively.”

    They’re definitely in it for the long term — she talks of working in three year cycles and of a 15-20 year outlook — and are targeting more success in large hubs like New York, Berlin and the Valley. But even though the group clearly has the intention of becoming a serious international player, the focus, she insists, is still going to be on its home territories.

    “It’s still about the talent in EMEA, but our companies all want to be global,” she says. “And it’s not just about the U.S., it’s about Russia, which is getting a lot more interesting, and we’ll also try to make inroads into Asia over the next year.”