I attended two accelerator demo days in London last week. EF’s on Thursday, TechStars on Friday. Both were impressive for the same reasons even though as “accelerators” they are very different animals. EFers are typically computer science graduates (or dropouts) who’ve jumped from college directly to EF, connected with cofounders there and over a 6 month period built an early stage product and company. TechStars grads are more seasoned folk; some are serial entrepreneurs, others are on their first startup after a chunk of years in industry.
I was wowed by the depth of technical expertise and business talent I saw at both events. I was also wowed by the fanfare and the hordes of mentors, customers and investors in attendance. It reminded me of New York but with possibly even more calibre and prestige oozing from every corner.
Demo Days in Dublin don’t measure up to those of London or New York and a big part of the reason why is scale.
Dublin is a small city of one million people and by any reckoning, Ireland is a tiny domestic market. So, while our lights shine as bright and as early as others, we have a much more limited pool of mentors, investors and early stage customers to help accelerate our companies to success.
So if scale is a barrier, should we continue to invest in accelerating companies out of Dublin or should we push our high potential startups into deeper markets like London, New York or San Fran trusting they’ll come home again as winners?
My instinct is that we should do both: encourage our companies to apply to the great accelerators, and more than encourage, we should prep them for a successful application. We also have the opportunity to enhance the accelerator experience right here in Dublin by recognizing our strengths and putting them to work for our companies.
The more I travel in Europe, the more I realise how incredibly unique Dublin is as the global HQ for innovative multinationals. We do “international” so well here and yet our accelerators and funding organizations have few to no international board members. US multinationals abound in Dublin and yet we lack international mentor pools and connections into corporate accelerators just across the water. And what about our powerful international diaspora networks? A short conversation with Karl Duffy of LIBS in London and the mind just boggles with the possibilities for high value connections.
Great companies can accelerate from Dublin. Our accelerators can even become magnets for foreign startups looking for global reach early. It won’t be easy or fast to accomplish but if we figure out how to engage that dynamic mosaic of expertise, experience and talent within our reach we can make it happen, and sooner rather than later.