Startup studios are disrupting the accelerator model to create healthy tech ecosystems with stronger business concepts around the world – including Brussels
Brussels- and Paris-based startup studio eFounders announced on Tuesday that it has raised a Series A funding round of $6 million. The sum comes from angel investor Ogel Tscheltzoff, a former partner of the studio’s co-founder, Thibaud Elziere; the two co-founded the stock photo platform Fotolia, which Adobe acquired for $800 million in December 2014. Since launching in 2011, co-founders Thibaud Elziere and Quentin Nickmans have invested in five companies, Mailjet, Textmaster, Mention, Front and Aircall, and sold one, Pressking.
This announcement is yet another manifestation of the international expansion of the startup studio model, which has exploded in the past few years. The startup studio model inverts what a traditional incubator does, which is receive promising ideas from would-be founders, and then incubate a startup, including heavy investment for a period typically between around a year and two years. Instead, a startup studio often has splashy tech stars at the helm who create ideas for new ventures in-house, and then ask capable co-founders outside the studio to implement these concepts.
According to Elziere, finding the right co-founders to build these concepts from mere ideas into functional companies is essential to the studio’s success. In an interview with Geektime he professed, “More than one third of my time I spend interviewing people to be entrepreneurs in our company.”
Startup studios (or startup factories, venture builders, and a host of other names) have particularly taken off in the last three years, even though the first startup studio, IdeaLab, was created in 1996 by Bill Gross. Elziere said in a statement, “We were [among] only a handful [of] startup studios when we launched in 2011. Now, we count almost a hundred worldwide.” In fact, among the 75 startup studios listed with start dates on the eFounders curated website, buildtogether.co, only 22 were in existence just five years ago; 92 studios are accounted for in total.
Why are these studios sprouting up?
For Elziere, it seems the startup studio is an oasis for startups that would otherwise be trekking through inhospitable ecosystems. He continued to say, “We think [the startup studio model] is a very good advantage for Europe, for Israel as well, because it gives us a way to compete with Silicon Valley. What is important in Silicon Valley is the ecosystem, and when you create a good studio what you do actually is create an ecosystem within your own company.”
He went on to lament the pains that tech startups must endure to gain visibility saying, “Now there are so many people, and so many good people actually, who are willing to build startups that if you don’t have any unfair advantages [like studio involvement]…even if you are very good at what you do, it is not easy [to succeed]”.
As a startup studio, eFounders acts as a co-founder to all their ventures. Ideas are developed and tested in-house, then two co-founders, usually a CEO and CTO, are hired and given a combined 50 percent stake. With the help of eFounders’ board and around $1 million of internal funding, they grow the company into a fully independent entity in ideally 18 months.
Why this round is a big deal
Although a small sum relative to those raised by its competitors Expa ($50 million) or Rocket Internet ($452 million), this funding round is quite a large series A for a Belgian company. Seeing only €100M in VC investment in 2014, Belgium’s largest funding rounds and acquisitions were all under $15M except for two: Amplidata and Engagor. So $6 million in Series A funding is a rather significant investment for a Belgian startup.
With this funding, eFounders plans to accelerate its business plan. Since its inception, eFounder has created six companies that have become fully independent and raised VC rounds, and sold one startup, Pressking. Elziere told Geektime that eFounders wishes to boost its production level to four company launches per year, and six new companies by the end of 2016.
Four of these new ideas are already in the works: Illustration media platform Illustrio and office management facilitator Tipi are set to launch in the next two months. Elziere also disclosed plans for a back-office as a service startup called AdminX and a project in the payment industry that should start in the coming year.
To get a sense of Belgium’s accelerator and startup studio ecosystem, you can check out this infographic: