What do Dropbox, Reddit and Airbnb have in common? All three are multi-billion dollar enterprises and indisputable giants of tech, innovating and leading the way in their industries. Yet without the investment, workspace and mentoring support of pioneering tech accelerator Y Combinator, all three could easily have become just another statistic — relegated to the scrapheap of startup failures.
Following the success of the Silicon Valley-based program as well as Techstars, which opened soon after, a new type of tech accelerator is now proliferating across Europe - the mega accelerator.
‘Mega’ in both size and scope, this type of accelerator houses large numbers of startups, investors and industry leaders all under one roof, reflecting the tight-knit community and ecosystem of Silicon Valley. Let’s look at the mega accelerators leading the way:
Location: Paris, France
Established: April 2017
Founder: Xavier Niel
The brainchild of multi-billionaire French telecoms tycoon, Xavier Niel, Station F is a mega accelerator par excellence. Based in the heart of Paris, the mammoth structure of glass and concrete reflects the scope of its ambition: to assemble the largest tech ecosystem anywhere in the world — an ambition which is fast becoming a reality.
Backed by President Emmanuel Macron in his quest to make France “the leading country for hyper-innovation", the superhub is to become the home of Microsoft’s AI startup program, as well as hosting Facebook, Amazon and Ubisoft. The vision of Niel and director Roxanne Varza is to make entrepreneurship more accessible to all. Speaking to Wired earlier this year, Varza said: ‘It's not just for MBA or engineering school grads. We want more international profiles, more women and also more people from underprivileged backgrounds creating startups.’
Location: Lisbon, Portugal
Founders: Ricardo Marvao, Manuel Tanger & Pedro Rocha Vieira
Occupying a vast nine-story building in central Lisbon, Beta-i has worked with more than 500 startups since its inception in 2010, helping to put the Portuguese capital firmly on the map as a major tech innovation hub. In 2014, the European Enterprise Promotion Awards named Beta-i the biggest startup and entrepreneurship promoter, and their accelerator program, Lisbon Challenge, is acknowledged as one of the top five most active investor programs in Europe.
Amongst Beta-i’s many success stories are student accommodation site Uniplaces and Talkdesk, whose clients include Box and Dropbox. Co-founder Pedro Rocha Vieira had this to say about Beta-i’s ethos: ‘For us, fostering great ideas and watching them grow to achieve their full potential is key. Because the world is changing, but the startup world is changing faster, we challenge teams to embrace change, to take off their shoes, to make things happen, and above all we challenge entrepreneurs to be the best they can be.’
While Silicon Valley evolved into an organic community of like-minded tech entrepreneurs and investors, rubbing shoulders in the local coffee shops and talking shop over frozen yogurt, European cities have to create these environments synthetically. The purpose is to create a space which emulates these serendipitous and fortuitous meetings, kick starts conversations and inspires valuable innovation.
The question is, do they work?
There is cynicism. The top comment on the Techcrunch Station F YouTube clip above is from an S-M Robinson stating: “If anything of value or use is ever created in a space like this, I will be shocked and amazed...I know people who have run successful startups. And they would run a mile from a misguided utopian "collaborative" idea like this.” But Beta-i which has been going for the last seven years, has certainly paved a successful path.
In an interview with EU Startups, Beta-i founder Ricardo Marvão explains: “Our 175 alumni startups have raised over 55 million euros, we got three alumni at YCombinator, three at Techstars, two at 500 Startups and eight at Seedcamp, and 40% of alumni got invested.” In addition, Beta-i have created partnerships with some of the biggest names in tech: Microsoft, Google, SAP, Cisco, Deloitte and many more. Station F aims to emulate and surpass this success.
The true sign of success, however, is whether these mega accelerators can generate mega success. If that happens, prepare to see more major cities starting their own similar projects.