My apologies this is late but alas trying to see my family (all the way in US) meant I was out of blog circulation. Great gems from Alasdair Bell (on loan to us from Oxford) about the Ukraine event. Imagine this will be good food for thought for all applicants this year to Seedcamp 2008!
Seedcamp Kiev – May 21-22
The past few days have seen Seedcamp pitch up in Kiev as part of its mini-Seedcamp tour. This involved bringing together 20 of the best early stage companies from Ukraine (mainly), assembling 27 mentors from the UK and the Ukraine, and offering spaces at Seedcamp week in September to the two most promising teams.
Here is how we got on…
Mini-Seedcamp consisted of several elements: panel discussions on product development, going to market, and internationalisation; one-to-one discussions between experts and the teams, and presentations about each of the companies. Extracurricular activity took place in the evenings, with our engaging discussions on investing in start-ups, web, and markets gradually slurring into the night as Max, our fearless Ukrainian host, insisted on repeated vodka toasts.
This wasn’t a ‘pop idol’-style event with winners and losers, the point was to help all the teams develop. As one team described it, Seedcamp allowed them the “possibility to turn big ideas into great ones”.
The Ukraine is hot for tech. At Oxford Entrepreneurs I mostly see business minds looking for developers; in Kiev, we saw teams of techies needing business minds. One doesn’t work without the other: you either end up with a polished but pointless gadget or with a lengthy business plan, but not a company. I think this confirmed one of the most important reasons why Seedcamp was out there; we’re not a London thing, we’re pan-European. Seedcamp is piecing together teams from around the Europe to invest in and develop. Growing big European tech companies requires Seedcamp’s wide angle approach to nurturing start-ups.
The Ukrainian teams were an impressive bunch. Semantic search, online games, medical networks, and mind mapped browsing all featured. Some had polished products, others hazy demos; what the judges focussed on, however, was potential. An early stage company doesn’t need a polished product, just the potential to produce one.
Judging was tough but exhilarating. The decision-making process took many twists and turns as everyone added their opinions to the pot. The judging group consisted of entrepreneurs, VCs, marketers, lawyers, and product designers all bringing their unique take on the teams to the discussion. A dramatic moment occurred when two teams were brought back into the room only to be corralled by inquisitive mentors.
After extended deliberation the winning teams were F-Dreams and Deepmemo. F-Dream consists of three young (18-21yrs) hackers who have been working on their online football management game for over a year and have produced a good product. The judges were impressed by their drive, the huge market potential, and the consideration they had given to all aspects of the business. Deepmemo, on the other hand, provide a web service to aggregate “quotes” of web content and share them – another bright team who should benefit from the development opportunities and instant network offered by Seedcamp.
The assembled mentoring talent contained all imaginable expertise needed by start-ups when considering how to grow: entrepreneurs such as Alex Hoye (GoIndustry), marketers like Stephanie Bouchet (Skype), product experts from Google , Fjord , and VCs from abroad like Index , Wellington and Atlas and also several local Ukraine-based VCs.
Aside from their obvious expertise, I also discovered, whilst socialising with this inspirational group, that they seriously like to party, that the Ukrainians mentors really like their vodka, and that mixing the two was not advisable for my health.
It is easy for forget that Seedcamp is a start-up itself. It is still developing and refining its offering: lively discussions continued into the evenings about the best way to pick teams and help them create value. How ‘early stage’ should we go? The general consensus was that it is better to have a great teams and OK product rather than vice versa. But how much guidance can you give to a team with no defined product? Is it best to make teams travel to an interview or does that discriminate? It is these exciting discussions that will continue to build Seedcamp as the place for European start-ups.
Alasdair Bell is the sabbatical president of Oxford Entrepreneurs , Seedcamp fan and will be supporting the Ukraine in the Eurovision song contest.