As many of you know, last week was ‘seedcamp week’, the third one since following Saul and Reshma’s initial inspiration in 2007 when what was to become Nauiokas Park became one of the founding investors alongside the (better known and more established) giants of European venture capital. In fact I think it is fair to say that seedcamp may well have been the catalyst which tipped me down the path to creating Nauiokas Park which until that summer of 2007 had only been one idea amongst many percolating in my brain. So perhaps we are in fact the original seedcamp startup!
The concept and the competition has come a long way in a very short time and is testimony to Reshma’s energy and skills and Saul’s vision; I think the best gauge of their success is trying to imagine the European startup scene without seedcamp: hard to do. Perhaps the most exciting aspect of seedcamp’s evolution for me is seeing a more diverse and mature group of entrepreneurs rising to the challenge. And when I say mature I don’t mean older or later stage, but mature in the sense of marrying technical brilliance and/or an inspirational idea with a pragmatic and well-conceived business model. Gone (or mostly) are the ‘build-it-and-they-will-come-and-we’ll-sell-them-online-ads-or-something’ innocents of yesteryear. In their place this year we had a great, diverse and passionate group of talented entrepreneurs who not only had a lucid approach to building a business and making money but also seemed to be incredibly well prepared in terms of knowing exactly what they didn’t know and getting the best out of the amazing group of mentors that is the seedcamp community. Indeed my greatest regret this year was missing a day of mentoring due to an unavoidable (and unscheduled!) board meeting – not only because it meant I didn’t get to meet as many of the teams in person as I would have liked, but also because I didn’t get to soak in the advice and world views of the many other great mentors in parallel.
Judging this year was both easier and harder than in years past. Easier because almost every one of the finalists had a strong and reasonable claim on being a viable business; harder because it was less easy to choose from such a large and diverse number of relatively closely matched competitors. In no particular order, my favorites were Boxed Ice (whom I had originally met at mini-seedcamp London and been impressed), Erply, Codility, Talasim, Joobili and Fabricly.
Of the finalists this year, once again very few would fall within our investment universe and indeed that is something we’d like to help change going forward. Resource constraints – time, money, people – have not yet allowed us to pursue this but I would love to work with seedcamp to run a mini-seedcamp ‘Finance’ to source, develop and encourage more startups to go after a market that is just crying out to be disrupted. Indeed after the incredible success of the geographically focused mini-seedcamps in 2008/2009, perhaps it might might sense to extend the mini-seedcamp idea down a sectoral vector next. While the variety of sectors and business models represented in the applications this year is certainly more varied than in 2007 or 2008, in my opinion the relative lack of diversity is probably one of the few important remaining weaknesses of seedcamp (and indeed the startup ecosystem in general.) Erply, Pearl Systems and Fabricly, while on the edges of our investment universe are definitely companies we will keep an eye on going forward. Fabricly in particular could become more interesting to us if and when they focus on developing their position as a central clearing-house in the fashion supply chain; I thought they had an excellent team and were unlucky not to have been amongst the winners. I was also very impressed by the team at Erply and would question the thinking of anyone who would consider the opportunity they are pursuing as ‘boring.’ With respect to our investment universe, Codility and Advertag I would say are wildcards insofar as their current business models would not fit within our approach but I suspect both have technologies that could be repurposed to target financial services and markets more specifically. Ones to keep on the radar screen perhaps.
Although I am relatively less active than I might otherwise be as a direct result of my significant commitments (of both time and capital) to Nauiokas Park, I have managed nonetheless to make a handful of angel investments over the past couple years, three of which have been seedcamp winners or finalists: MyBuilder (2007), School of Everything (2007) and Kyko (2008, launching soon…) In this year’s class I’d definitely consider investing privately in Boxed Ice, Talasim, Joobili and Fabricly but unfortunately its clear there is no way I would be in a position to lead any of these given my constraints, but if/when they do decide to raise outside capital I’d love to see a term sheet…
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