“Venture Capital in Europe is undergoing an evolution. And it’s happening” Carlos Espinal, Seedcamp

Category: Interviews

Seedcamp is one of the most important startup accelerators in Europe, having backed over 110 companies since it was founded in 2007 in London. Its program is different than most accelerators in the continent, as it also operates as a micro-seed investment and mentoring program all around Europe.

To know more about Seedcamp and how it operates the way it does we’ve talked to Carlos Espinal, partner at the firm.

For those who don’t know you. Who is Carlos Espinal and what’s Seedcamp?

Seedcamp is Europe’s premier micro-seed investment and mentoring program. We have two key areas of focus: firstly, in meeting and backing the most ambitious founders from across the world. We’ve backed over 110 companies since we started in 2007, and we’ve developed our own mentoring process, called Seedcamp Academy, to help founders find and scale product-market fit whilst also having access to our global network of mentors, which make a lot of the learning possible. Our program, including our US Trip, has opened doors for founders far faster than any other program. We want to continue to support this development and provide the bridges that founders need to scale globally.

“At Seedcamp we focus on adapting what we do to support the needs of our founders. we are unlike many others accelerators in how we work.”Carlos Espinal

Secondly, our focus is also to help develop startup ecosystems around the world, and having hosted Seedcamp events in over 30 cities ranging from Mumbai and Singapore to Lisbon and Thessaloniki, we’ve made a big impact wherever we have gone. We’ve also helped the ecosystem through our Seedsummit.org initiative that brings together angels from across Europe, but also providing free standardised legal documents for all to use and to help expedite deals across Europe.

As for me, I’m one of a team of four that help drive Seedcamp forward. My colleague and fellow Partner Reshma Sohoni, along with our Chairman, Saul Klein were the co-founders of Seedcamp back in the day, and I joined the team as Partner to help grow and expand it from the original 22 companies that were invested in as part of Seedcamp’s first three years.

If I’m not mistaken you were born in Honduras and spent your first few professional years working in the financial industry. How did you end up in London and later in the venture capital/technology industry?

Yes, I was born in Honduras, and did quite a lot of traveling in my formative years, but my first jobs were in technology actually, with the last one being with the NYSE/SIAC (the stock exchange’s technology group). I was part of the team that built the wireless trading network used on the trading floor. Thus, I’ve come from a love of technology into investing into technology. I ended up in London because after doing my MBA, I wanted to explore working in Europe. As far as being an investor, I was inspired to go into investing in technology after a long conversation with a friend of mine in the industry.

Since you joined, how has Seedcamp evolved in the past 3-4 years?

Seedcamp has really evolved over the years, and it will continue to evolve. It isn’t static. We don’t believe that there is such as thing as a ‘standard approach’ to supporting founders as they build their companies. Rather, we evolve the program as the needs of founders change. Other than the fact that we’ve added 100 new members to our family since I’ve joined, everything else has evolved and changed, including how we provide support via Seedcamp Academy, to our US Trips, and to the expansion of our network of amazing mentors.

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Seedcamp has been considered for several years in a row the best accelerator in Europe and one of the best in the world. From the inside, in what areas should Seedcamp become an even better accelerator? How can you improve yourselves?

First of all, we don’t focus on defining what an accelerator is, as in many ways, we are unlike many others in how we work. Rather we focus on adapting what we do to support the needs of our founders. If that means that sometimes we look like something that’s not an accelerator, then that’s ok with us.

In terms of how we improve ourselves, we have a multitude of different initiatives internally to help customise and scale the support we provide founders. We are constantly evolving and getting feedback on all our initiatives. For example, we recently launched an initiative with the London Business School that benefits both the students seeking real-life experience, and the founders that have access to talented human capital. We hope initiatives such as these can provide value to our founders. Another example of how we customise support, is through our office hours, where we and our experts in residence spend time with our founders to walk through specific concerns.

From the outside it seems that there’s an ‘understandable’ obsession of becoming the next Silicon Valley or San Francisco. However, in the past you’ve written that European startups should, in general, focus more on NYC than SV. Do you still believe that’s true?

New York and California will continue to be amazing hubs for startups to scale their companies, both in terms of market scaling and in terms of the investment capital aggregated in those two hubs. However, NYC has a logistical advantage that is hard to argue against for founders with teams based in Europe, in that the time zone difference plays in their favour when trying to conduct team meeting, phone calls, as well as when flying to and from Europe.

However, startups need to decide which hub(s) are best for them. The best criteria is always to choose proximity to your customer as long as it doesn’t negatively impact your team’s cohesiveness. It is a trade off for sure, but if well managed, can really help expedite the success of a company looking to expand globally.

Nick Halstead recently said: “I have not found a single VC [in Europe] that understands future-looking data platforms; they tend to think in terms of apps, not the things that power the apps. They have to have a lot more risk taking, they have to see there is a bigger picture.”

Series A/B crunch, limited capital in growth stages, etc. In your opinion, what’s the current status of the European venture capital industry and what are its most urgent needs to develop even further?

As with many industries where new entrants iterate on the efforts of the more established, Venture Capital in Europe is also undergoing an evolution. Due to the nature of how funds work, for some, sometimes the perception may be that the evolution isn’t fast enough for, but I assure you that it is happening. Ideally, we will continue to see a growth in the creation of new and innovative funds, for that can surely only help the further funding of any promising startups born out of Europe.

For those readers interested in being part of the Seedcamp family. How can they apply to join one of your programs?

Easy! We have events going on around the world all the time. This week we have Berlin and Serbia, in a few weeks, Bulgaria, and then Italy. Simply go to our events page within our website and find the next event that works for you!

Just a clarification, all these events are just a way for founders to meet our team and for our team to meet amazing founders. Once a team is selected, no matter where we meet them, our HQ is in London and we encourage teams to spend their early months working along with us at Campus.

Photo | Netokracija

 

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