Accelerator programmes in Amsterdam

In three years, Rockstart’s accelerator programmes have helped 39 companies raise a total of more than €15 million. In exchange for a space to work, participation in the programme, a €15,000 investment, mentors and access to a funding network, Rockstart gets 8% of each startup that takes part. ‘Of the 39, one didn’t make it. There are a couple that are doing okay, and the rest are actually doing well. Statistically, we’re really doing well because normally eight out of ten startups fail within the first three years,’ says Oscar Kneppers, Rockstart’s founder.

Originally a journalist, he set up and sold tech websites www.emerce.nl and www.bright.nl, then found himself with a lot of time on his hands. ‘I was interviewed by a magazine and this journalist said, “What are you going to do next?” Coming from a media background, I thought: I need to have a headline. So I said, “Start-ups are the rock bands of business: small teams, great ambitions. It’s not about the money, it’s always about sharing the stuff that they create with their audiences.”’

And so Rockstart was born. Today, it helps new companies in a number of ways. It has accelerator programmes that guide startups through their first 150 days (the last programme had more than 500 international applications for its ten spaces). It rents space in the building and through Rockstart Answers it brings together startups and industry experts for networking. ‘What acceleration does is create pressure. It’s really good on the team and they have to excel, but if the team is not good, they explode,’ says Kneppers. ‘You see a lot of frustration and anger and anxiety or fear, but that’s what it needs to get out of your comfort zone.’

But for all the stress that might exist, the atmosphere between companies feels collegiate. Jelte de Jongh’s business, Leer Unique, which uses big data to help teach children to read, is also located in the building. He chose to base himself at Rockstart, despite not going through its accelerator programme. ‘There’s a very collaborative mindset,’ he says. ‘Learning from each other is the most important thing here.’

But if sharing is one benefit, so is outright copying. Filemon Schöffer is one of the founders of 3D Hubs, which has just been through a Rockstart accelerator programme and received funding of $4.5 million from Balderton Capital. 

Schöffer’s company has built the world’s largest network of 3D printers, with some 8,000 in 140 countries. ‘Here, you look around and see, Oh, they’ve done it like this and it makes sense. And the ability to copy from other companies takes you a lot further,’ he says. It’s a format that Kneppers himself is following, as he aims to take the Rockstart format beyond Amsterdam, with the first licensee opening in Athens. The band, it seems, is going on tour. 

Rockstart, in brief

Rockstart was begun by publisher Oscar Kneppers to provide support to startup tech enterprises. It does this in a number of ways. Its accelerator programme guides startups through their first 150 days. In return for 8% of their company, startups get space to work, participation in the intensive accelerator programme, a €15,000 investment, the guidance of mentors and access to Rockstart’s funding network. It has two verticals in which it runs its accelerators: smart energy and web/mobile. The 39 firms that have been through the accelerator have so far raised a total of €15 million in funding. Rockstart Spaces lets out space in the firm’s grand Herengracht HQ, while Rockstart Answers is a series of Q&A sessions around the world, where startups can present their ideas and get advice and input from their peers.