The X-Factor for startups

Twice a year, Entrepreneur First (EF) brings 100 strangers to its south London headquarters with the aim of turning them into entrepreneurs. As the world’s first technology startup accelerator, it is “a kind of X-Factor for startups”, says Rowland Manthorpe in Wired. The individuals arrive without teams or ideas, and six months later, some depart as co-founders of brand new companies. Since its establishment in 2011, EF has launched 143 companies with a collective value of more than £400m.

Its founders Matt Clifford and Alice Bentinck (pictured) created EF to stop people “drifting into predictable fields” such as banking. In contrast to famed San Francisco accelerator Y Combinator (YC), which counts Dropbox, Airbnb and Reddit among its alumni, EF is an accelerator where individuals build a startup from scratch. “If YC is getting together with friends, EF is speed dating and [dating app] Tinder,” says Manthorpe. EF celebrated success in June 2016, when Twitter acquired Magic Pony Technology, an EF graduate, for $150m. EF had an 8% share of Magic Pony – now worth $6.5m.

The six-month courses at EF are intense and 30% of the founders fail to make it halfway. Anyone who hasn’t found a business partner and a commercially feasible idea after three months is asked to leave. The incubator is now growing both geographically and financially. In September 2016, it launched an international branch in Singapore. The same month, it also revealed that it would be funding companies for two years, thanks to a new £40m fund.

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