Simon Jenner, Oxygen: “Many accelerators will become VCs with their own funds over the next couple of years”

We’ve talked here recently about the relationship between angels and accelerators. It’s a hot topic that we addressed also at How to Web Conference 2014 on the Angel Investment track ‘Working with Accelerators’ panel with Mike Doherty (moderator), Lyuben Belov, Simon Jenner and Marc Wesselink.

Simon Jenner started his career working for British Telecom’s R&D division, and built his experience working for large enterprises, but his entrepreneurial drive motivated him to found 4 startups and act as Head of Incubation at Birmingham Science Park, where he incubated 50+ tech startups in 36 months.

Now he is an innovative director, helping maximise profitability and efficiency for the startups in Oxygen Accelerator. At How to Web 2014 Simon announced that  Oxygen Accelerator teamed up with Fielder Capital to create a program dedicated exclusively to startups in the CEE & Baltics.

How to Web: As a startup founder, did you go through an acceleration program with your own ventures? If not, do you wish you had?

No accelerators did exist when I had my last startup. Yes it may have not failed if I had gone through an accelerator and had the sort of support that they provide.

Generally is there difference between the startups’ expectations to what an acceleration program can provide and what the program offers?

I think we do a pretty good job of managing those expectations so startups know what we will deliver and what we won’t. I think startups think that once they are on an accelerator they will get written a cheque on demo day but its hasn’t happened yet.

An accelerator is not a golden bullet for a startup, startups are hard work whether you go through an accelerator or not. An accelerator just helps you on your journey.

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Is there a change in the profile of the startups that apply now to Oxygen versus the ones applying in the beginning?

We have many more applications each time we run the accelerator, so the numbers have changed massively. We are getting more mature startups apply these days, lots have already raised a small round of investment or are revenue generating.

Did this influence the way you evaluate these startups?

The more mature the startup the greater chance we have of getting them investment ready in 13-weeks so we will always looks for amazing teams, great ideas and startups with traction.

What do you look for in a mentor that gets involved in your acceleration program?

We are so lucky to have such amazing mentors that give up lots of their time. We look for mentors that get startups and can add real value. Startups always find the accelerator alumni some of the best mentors because their experience is so fresh.

Do you usually involve angel investors in your programs? What type of relationship do you have with them?

Yes, the accelerator is funded by angels so we have lots of them involved. They use the accelerator to see which startups they like the look of.

What geographical areas of Europe do you believe have the most potential?

We think Central and Eastern Europe has some great talent and have been spending an increasing amount of time talent scouting in the region.

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Has the increasing competition in the world of startups accelerators influenced your strategy?

We focus on delivering an amazing programme and supporting our startups rather than worrying about competition.

How do you believe that accelerators will evolve and (if so) how will their role change within the tech ecosystem?

Many accelerators will become VCs with their own funds over the next couple of years. As they move to supporting more mature startups because they need to de-risk their funds, that will leave a gap for support for early stage startups, kind of the thing they were set up for in the first place. Oxygen has its pre-accelerator which runs 4 times a year which we think will help fill this gap.

Would you like to share some of the key lessons learnt as a programme director for Oxygen?

  • Startups are hard.
  • Team is everything.
  • Investors are slow.
  • Traction is key.
  • Working with startup founders is inspiring & amazing!

Angel investment track has been initiated and developed in partnership with VIBE (Venture Initiative in Balkan Europe), a regional eco-system accelerator supported by the European Commission. VIBE is one of the projects of the South-East Europe (SEE) Programme.

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