Helping budding entrepreneurs in Amsterdam
Patrick de Zeeuw first got the idea for Startupbootcamp after his own experience as a 15-year-old entrepreneur. “I made all the mistakes in the world. I had some successes, but I mostly learned from my failures. I had very like-minded friends and entrepreneurs in my field of interest and I said to them: ‘Why don’t we go and help these early-stage companies avoid making the same mistakes as we did and make the most of the network that we have built internationally?’”
Startupbootcamp began in the Netherlands in 2010. It now runs accelerator programmes in Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin, Copenhagen, Eindhoven, Israel, Istanbul, Singapore, Dublin and London and boasts an international alumni group of more than 2,000. Two three-month programmes are held in Amsterdam every year; competition for each place is strong. Participants receive help and advice from the organisation’s 750-strong global community of volunteer mentors and advisers who provide coaching and connections to customers, partners and investors. During the programme, participating startups can use free co-working space and receive €15,000 to cover living expenses. After three months, the startup teams get a chance to pitch to top investors and venture capitalists on Demo Day. On average, more than 70% of teams go on to receive funding. Of all startups to have participated since Startupbootcamp began, 85% are still going strong.
There are more than 1,000 applications for every Startupbootcamp course. The most recent programme saw applications from more than 60 different countries, including North Korea. It’s an arduous selection process. After a series of online pitches and face-to-face interviews over a period of six months, the group of participants is eventually whittled down to ten finalists. De Zeeuw says he’s not looking for complete novices. “What we’re looking for is qualified, high-energy, dedicated teams that already have some skills.” Each programme costs around €1 million and is funded by Startupbootcamp’s corporate partners and informal investors. The ten lucky startups each receive €15,000 to help them launch in Amsterdam and cover expenses for a six-month period. In return, Startupbootcamp takes 8% of the equity in each budding company for up to six years, in which the companies have access to the knowledge and advice of experts and alumni. Any money earned is ploughed back into funding new boot camp programmes.
Finding startup success
One Startupbootcamp participant who thought the programme was so good that she came back twice is Michal Hubschmann from Israel. After seven successful years, she sold her first venture to one of the largest travel companies in the Netherlands. Her new initiative is a data engine designed to help brands get more from their online advertising campaigns. She says everyone tries to help each other. “I learn from my mentors. I learn a lot from the management of Startupbootcamp. They show you the right way to think and validate your product. I’m very happy to be here.”
Each boot camp culminates in Demo Day, where participating start-ups are put on stage and given ten minutes to make their pitch in a room filled with 400 investors from around the world. This is the open door they’ve been waiting for. While some will return home, others will stay in Amsterdam. De Zeeuw says that the bootcamp is not only a place where new tech startups can find success – they can also make mistakes and learn from them without being under pressure of international press attention. He adds that Amsterdam has always been driven by innovation and shown an openness to new ideas. But even though these are good reasons in themselves to be there, he concludes that there is something else. “Business is important, but even more important is that you enjoy the business you run – and you also have some nice free time to spend in a beautiful city!”