Thursday, December 10, 2009

Seedsummit - network for active seed investors

Tomorrow morning we're bringing together around 60 folks like Jeff Clavier, Martin Varsavsky, Brent Hoberman, Lukasz Gadowski, Stefan Glaenzer, Dave McClure, Andy Philips, William Reeve, Robin Klein, Jyri Engestrom and Sherry Coutu for the first edition of Seedsummit.

Seedsummit is a new event produced by Seedcamp, which aims to bring together twice a year a critical mass of our region's most active seed investors to try and establish a stronger, more cohesive network to support entrepreneurs.

Creating a distributed network for European startups
To succeed in creating an start-up ecosystem that can repetitively and sustainably build global leaders, Europe has to deal with the critical issue of fragmentation.

Seedcamp has spent the last few years very focused on building the beginnings of a network model for entrepreneurs. We've tried to lessen the constraints and isolation of geography by giving people the best possible access to a distributed network of advisors, funding and investors across our region, who can help them aim high and build ambitious global businesses.

At Seedcamp we believe we need to make our geographic distribution and cultural diversity part of our strength, so we've pushed the network out across the region with programs in London, Berlin, Paris, Ljubljana, Helsinborg, Tel Aviv, Warsaw, Kiev and San Francisco. In 2010 we intend to extend this to Copenhagen, Barcelona, Prague and New York.

This network model is the right focus and one that Seedcamp will deepen and maintain.

Leveraging the network for seed investors
One of the things we've learnt with Seedcamp is that there is a huge amount of seed investment activity across our region.

But right now it is fragmented, in pockets, shares no learnings and almost never networks. In fact, there is no dedicated regional network that brings together active seed investors in a concentrated way and these are the folks that entrepreneurs (including Seedcamp ones) often look to as their first source of capital.

So with Seedsummit, we are trying to create an informal forum where the people most actively investing in seed can get together, share best practices and dealflow.

Why is seed so important?
While micro-seed funds like Seedcamp, Techstars and YCombinator do an awesome job of helping start-ups get off the ground and traditional venture firms are great at providing early stage and growth capital, seed investing provides a vital bridge between prototype and establishing product/market fit.

Even before today's well worn arguments about the lower cost of starting businesses, seed has always played a vital role in any vibrant and successful start-up ecosystem. In the Valley, enlightened seed investors like Mike Markkula ($250k into Apple in 1977), Andy Bechtolsheim ($100k into Google in 1998) and Peter Thiel ($500k into Facebook in 2004) have given some of today's biggest technology players their start.

But more than just capital, the best seed investors provide critical advice, mentoring, connections and qualified access to top-tier capital when and if that becomes appropriate for start-ups.

Seed networks are developing strongly outside of Europe
While seed investing used to be the preserve of a few well intentioned individuals, seed in all key markets is becoming professionalized and there is now an incredible network of active stage investors and firms.

In the Valley there are folks like Jeff Clavier, Aydin Senkut, Mike Maples, XG Ventures, Reid Hoffman, Ron Conway and the SV Angel crew, Dave McClure, Chris Sacca, Allen Morgan, True Ventures and OATV. On the East Coast there is Union Square, First Round and the emergence of Betaworks and Founder Collective. Obviously there are also great investors in Boulder, LA, Vancouver, Boston and Seattle as well. In Israel there is Yossi Vardi of course and the TechAviv angels and across continents float Esther Dyson and Joi Ito.

In all of these markets - especially the Valley and Tel Aviv - there is enough concentration and flow that not only do startups have great choice but investors can share best practices, access more filtered dealflow and find great syndicate partners. As with any network, everyone improves by more participation and information flow.

So what about Europe?
In Europe we do have some very active seed investors and some venture firms like Index, Mangrove and Eden are institutional investors who are active at the earliest stages in the market.

People like Oliver Jung, Lukasz Gadowski, Martin Varsavsky, TAG, the Samwers, Atomico, Morten Lund, Brent Hoberman & Michael Birch, Klaus Hommels, Stefan Glaenzer, Sherry Coutu and the Cambridge angels have collectively done hundreds of deals in the last 5 years.

But the market is fragmented - syndicates which form easily in the Valley, Israel or New York often are hard to create. Sometimes it even hard to get people in London and Cambridge investing together, never mind Germany and France.

This is the goal of Seedsummit
Get these guys together - at least twice a year and make it easier for these active seed investors to work together and learn from each other, so it becomes easier for entrepreneurs to source and experience superior seed capital.

As with so much else in Europe we have a long long way to go, but like Seedcamp three years ago we have to start somehwere and that where is tomorrow when we have over 50 active investors from UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Nordics and the US come together to connect....

I'm really looking forward to it and seeing what happens.

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