Eleven’s Eleven – Story of a Startup Accelerator - Netokracija CEE

Eleven’s Eleven – Story of a Startup Accelerator

elevenWe launched Eleven a little less than a year ago – how time flies. In April 2012, we posted our first ‘Hello World’ posts, and in May we opened our first application window. Now, as our first year is coming to an end, we’ll be sharing a series of posts here, with some intermediary notes about how things went, and more importantly, where they’re going.

To start with, we have so far looked at over 800 applications, and invested in 19 companies. As I write this, we’re well over 200 applications in our currently open windows, so we’ll be surpassing those numbers in the course of February 2013.

Basically, Eleven is a mentorship-based accelerator program with a seed venture fund attached. With our EUR 25K investments in 10-15 companies every three months, with potential follow-up investments of EUR 25K and EUR 150K, our model is closest to TechStars: we give space, mentorship, and equity funding, and we work close with a star set of over 200 mentors, many of whom are active Googlers through our strategic partnership with Google.

First Accelerator Model – from 2005

The accelerator model was first pioneered by Paul Graham, Jessica Livingston, and Trevor Blackwell when they launched Y Combinator in 2005. Since then, many similar programs have been set up all over the world. In 2012 most accelerators are either places where startups work together in a space, with access to mentorship and support, or early-stage funds with a strong operational focus, or both at the same time. Eleven is the latter.

Currently, Europe has over 20 accelerator programs, with approximately 10 new ones being launched every year. Among the first in Europe were UK-based Seedcamp and The Difference Engine, whose founder Jon Bradford is one of the partners at Eleven. Eleven’s two biggest qualifiers are a focus on New Europe, and a fairly broad interest in technology and global social transformation and enterprise solutions.

Eleven’s Unique Advantage

Two key circumstances separate Eleven and the majority of accelerators that are currently active around the world: we were not launched by a VC fund or funds, with the aim of sourcing talent and diversifying dealflow risk; at the same time, with a EUR 12M fund, we are among the best funded accelerators in the world – actually, the best funded in Europe at the moment of writing.

These two facts give Eleven a unique advantage to be able to operate as a testing ground and learning platform for the best startup-oriented minds in the region known as Emerging Europe or New Europe.

We raised Eleven’s EUR 12M funding through the JEREMIE program of the European Investment Fund (EIF), leveraging a great competitiveness initiative in EU policy, and the Bulgarian government’s rallying to ensure such programs can be realized here in Bulgaria.

The biggest advantage of this setup is that we are able to fund a large number of promising regional teams in what probably are the best conditions for building globally relevant products. Having access to ample funding and a big pool of very ambitious, well-educated, and committed founders, by building startups in Sofia we serve a global market from an EU country with top-notch infrastructure at a fraction of the cost that it would take in cities like London, New York, or Berlin.

Focus on Technology in New Europe

In terms of what we invest in, our current 19 teams are very diverse. We have several consumer mobile and vertical marketplace products, but we also have a team that develops an IoT application, as well as one that works on hardware allowing electricity generation on kids’ playgrounds. Technology is clearly a common theme, but our ambition is to help teams that are solving a global problem through technology.

Among the 19 teams currently in Eleven, one is Croatian, one Serbian, three Romanian, one partly Swedish, one Turkish, and the remaining twelve Bulgarian. We are looking forward to welcoming many more applicants from all over New Europe; a region which for us has no clear boundaries. To be more specific about this, we mainly look at origin countries that have similar dynamics that we have at home: an emerging Western-oriented society, a good educational base, and a young pool of talent that isn’t used to state-driven entitlements. Our extensive travels over the past months have taken us to places as different as Hungary, Russia, Armenia, and Israel, and we believe that all of these qualify as “New Europe” in a broad sense.

What’s to Come

We like to think of Eleven as a common platform for everyone interested in startups in this part of the world, and I’d like to encourage you to give us feedback about this post, which is a first in a series. In the next posts, we’d like to share more information about our selection process, about the particularities of deploying the accelerator model in Eastern Europe, about the metrics we use to measure our progress and that of Eleven companies, and, of course, about the impressive emergence of a brand-new startup ecosystem in Sofia. Let us know if there is anything you would like to know about Eleven in more detail, and we’ll be happy to share it with you.

Be happy. Do what you love. Build awesome startups.

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