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entrepreneur first - accelerator of the month - vestbee
07 September 2021·9 min read

Magdalena Balcerzak

Manager, Vestbee

Accelerator Of The Month - Entrepreneur First

Entrepreneur First is the place where the ambitious come together to build globally important technology companies. Through the program running in 6 cities across 3 continents, the Entrepreneur First (EF) team invests in high-potential individuals to help them meet their co-founders, develop their business ideas, and secure funding from leading investors in the shortest possible time. 

They have built over 500 companies from scratch; have over 3000 alumni worldwide, and their startup portfolio is valued at over $4B. 

Accelerator Strategy Overview 


Geography: Germany, UK, France, Singapore, India, Canada
Preferred industries: N/A
Company stage: pre-idea 
Product stage: pre-product
Product type: B2B, B2C, B2B2C, B2D, B2G, 
Revenues: No


Duration: 6 months 
Participation fee:  No. 
Equity Investment: Yes. If a company is offered a place in the second phase of the program, they invest €90,000 in return for a 10% equity stake in this company. They also commit to investing in a seed round where their local fund structures permit – so future investors know they are “all in” on their companies.
Grant: Candidates receive a stipend of €2,000 for each of the first 3 months.
No of batches per year: 2 batches
No of entrepreneurs in a cohort: 50 

Q&A with Philipp Herkelmann, General Manager Germany

What are the 5 most important things you look for in an entrepreneur? 

Entrepreneur First is a talent investor, where we invest in individuals who we believe have great potential, and give them the tools they need to succeed at an accelerated pace. We’ll back you before you have a team, and before you have an idea, based purely on your talent and potential. Criteria we take into consideration are: 

  • Outlier Trajectory: World-class founders are outliers, so if you can demonstrate exceptional abilities and behaviours relative to your peers, there’s a higher chance that you are an outlier and that you’ll succeed not only on EF, but in the global market as well.
  • We want people who are excited about building companies that solve technical problems - that might mean commercializing scientific advances like quantum computing or nuclear fusion, or it might mean tackling software engineering problems, as Dropbox or Stripe did.
  • Edge: You would have identified your “Edge”, or your unfair advantage in terms of knowledge and/or skill in solving a problem, to increase your chances of success when building a startup.
  • We want people with a variety of backgrounds. We’re looking for outliers, who have done unusual things. But this doesn’t necessarily mean academically smart, it refers to your ability to process and solve complex problems. You might have dropped out of school to build something yourself, or teach yourself to code, or compete in hackathons, maths olympiads, chess competitions.
  • We require founders to commit fully for the period. The pace is intense, and our goal is to help you move quickly and amplify your impact, and this can happen only with 100% engagement from your side.

What entrepreneurs should take into account before applying?

We accept people based on their potential, rather than the strength of their idea, but we do look for entrepreneurs who have great insights and observations about their field of expertise. If you have an idea, EF is a great place to explore it further and build a company around it. If you don’t have an idea, that’s not a problem. Either way, we’re looking for you to demonstrate useful insights and observations in your application, and show that you’re excited about technology.

Can you share some of the red flags that can disqualify an entrepreneur from joining your program?

As a founder in our program, you have the chance to own your outcomes. We will give you the network, the environment, and get out your way so that you can focus on building your startup from scratch.  Founders need to be highly motivated to use their time optimally, as the whole process within EF is competitive (just like it is on the market), so lack of motivation is the biggest red flag for us. 

However, remember that we will make it easier for you to find a co-founder and follow up on your ideas faster than you expect.  So if you’re unsure whether or not you’re a good fit, we’d recommend going through the application process anyway, as it’s the best way to determine whether EF is right for you.

What are the most valuable skills that selected entrepreneurs can develop thanks to Entrepreneur First? 

Selected entrepreneurs will go through an intense 6 months in which the first two are dedicated to learning how to select the right cofounder, testing founder relationships and learning the basics about how to build a successful venture with the potential to global scale. 

We focus strongly on methodology around customer development to validate your hunches and problems, market sizing, 10X thinking, strategies around MOAT and defensibility, sales and product strategies, and of course how to identify and develop promising ideas but also soft factors such as taking care of your well being as an entrepreneur. 

Last but not least, participants do get access to experienced entrepreneurs and investors who support them with coaching and advising from the very first day onwards.

How do you support founders during and after the program?

Entrepreneur First brings together skilled individuals – many with deep academic expertise – in order to match them as co-founders, provides initial funding and coaching necessary to launch a startup, and connects them with other investors both locally and globally as they scale. During our program entrepreneurs get:

  • Access to pre-vetted CEOs and CTOs co-founders: You’ll be introduced to a pool of exceptional people who have complementary skill sets, and are committed to founding a company.
  • Motivating environment: You’ll be working in an environment where you get a chance to test out ideas and working relationships with multiple potential co-founders.
  • Access to networks: Networks normally take years to build, but at EF, you have the opportunity to instantly become part of a global network of smart, talented, creative founders, experts and investors, from Reid Hoffman (Founder, LinkedIn) and Demis Hassabis (Founder, DeepMind), to Benedict Evans (Independent Analyst, Former Head of Microsoft Windows and Former Partner at a16z).
  • Tools: We provide our startups with access to software to help them scale with partnerships ranging from hosting, finance, legal, sales, recruitment and more.

Additionally, if your startup manages to successfully exit EF, you will be supported by access to our expert and advisor network, investment opportunities, VIP events (as it fits), and PR and comms assistance connected to success stories of investments and deals.

What are the best-performing companies in your portfolio? 

Over 3000 individuals have joined EF so far, we have built 500 companies and our combined portfolio value is over US$4B. A couple of companies worth highlighting include:  

  • Tractable, a company that provides machine-learning automation technology for claims assessment in the automobile insurance industry hit a US$1B valuation.
  • Omnipresent, a HR technology solution for companies to employ remote-working local teams in over 150 countries, has been able to raise its Series A within 9 months of founding.
  • Closer to home, Deepspin, which is disrupting the industry by providing proprietary technology for a portable, AI-powered MRI-system at a fraction of the cost, size and weight of standard systems, is one of our most promising startups from the Berlin cohort.

What key lessons have you learned from projects that didn’t work out the way you expected?

The founding team members, their commitment to each other and to the company and their work attitude are the strongest predictor for mid to long-term success. On the other hand, even these aspects can be absolutely right, sometimes ideas and companies still do not lift off due to a closing window of opportunity or other external factors.

Why, in your opinion, are talent-oriented acceleration programs and talent-investing itself should become more popular?

Entrepreneur First pioneered talent investing 10 years ago when we started in the UK. The core idea of talent investing is that it's possible to identify and fund great founders before they start a company, which is a huge chance for individuals. We seek out people who we think could be exceptional entrepreneurs, back them at the pre-idea stage, and support in finding a matching co-founder and building a company from scratch. 

Venture capital has proven an amazing tool for enabling founders to fulfil their ambitions, however, talent investing has an even bolder promise - to increase the supply of great entrepreneurs. Tractable's success is an important proof point. 

What are the hottest markets you currently look at and where do you see the biggest hype?

Often the main goal in an early-stage company is to find the best team to make an idea a reality. However, in many locations, founders lack networks set up for paths to cross. For Entrepreneur First, we aim to accelerate that process of creating that development-friendly environment in other ecosystems. To date, we are in 6 locations (Berlin, London, Paris, Toronto, Bangalore and Singapore). 

We look closely at any Talent Market and Germany is definitely one of the hottest places to support individuals in founding companies. Also, we see India, specifically Bangalore,  becoming a very relevant entrepreneurship hub for tech startups.

Vertically speaking, we are very excited to see an acceleration in the development of Biotech and Bioinformatics industries in this pandemic era. Energy, Healthtech, Fintech continue to be key areas of focus among applicants, and we have also seen that Devtools from Lowcode to Nocode are also leveling the playing field, enabling more founders to unlock engineering superpowers. 

Do you have any predictions about the key trends that will shape the European accelerator scene in the near future?

Personally, I’ve seen the flywheel of Talent Investing start to accelerate and I expect this model to be increasingly adopted by more venture builders, with individual or regional adjustments. This increased democratization of access to talent and capital will in turn lead to more community-enhanced accelerators or micro and thematic-based accelerators.


Related Posts: 

Startup Accelerator Of The Month -  Startupbootcamp (by Magdalena Balcerzak, Manager, Vestbee)

Scaleup Accelerator Of The Month -  Kickstart Innovation (by Magdalena Balcerzak, Manager, Vestbee)

Startup Accelerator Of The Month - Founder Institute (by Magdalena Balcerzak, Manager, Vestbee)

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