SHM2019: Accelerator Rankings

In 2019, we have for the first time included accelerators and conferences in the survey, asking founders and the tech community which of these they would recommend to an aspiring entrepreneur.

Again this ranking measures the perception of these startup places, which gives us an idea of their brand power. It is not an attempt to judge their overall quality.

The Role of Accelerators in the Ecosystem

Our research team’s experience in Europe’s startup ecosystems cautions us to look skeptically on accelerators. We have seen a multiplication of offerings in the past decade and too often the impact of individual programs stayed vague. More than once, we have seen accelerators struggling to find a purpose.

When considering to join a startup program, we therefore encourage every founder to try to understand some basics first:

  1. The initial idea of an accelerator is based on selection and aggregation of the best talent from a wide pool and matching them with the best tools and network to grow their business. This Y Combinator model is based on the idea that once you participate, investors will come flocking to you with their money in hand. However, it is not clear if it is replicable by any other program due to the competition and lack of “stand-alone features” that would make one accelerator be the clear winner who takes them all.
  2. A slightly different model is proposed by TechStars, the second oldest running accelerator program, which sees itself less as an elite investment club but as an “immersive education” for talented entrepreneurs, who afterwards grow out their limitations and succeed due to the knowledge and inspiration the program provided. It is clear that in contrast to Y Combinator, TechStars runs dozens vertically or regionally specialized programs.
  3. If an accelerator is not working like Y Combinator or TechStars, there still might be a purpose it is serving. David Ventzel of Overkill Ventures in Copenhagen has put together a convincing typology. Before joining a program you should therefore take many points into consideration, like what is it that you need help with: A PoC with a Corporate, help with finding your product-market fit or do you expect them to help you raise funds? Only if you feel the program can help you in your actual problem you should consider joining them.

On a different note: We see many positive effects of accelerators for the creation of an ecosystem as they are functioning as a central reference point and can be important for the rule setting in the community, e.g. an accelerator can establish rules of engagement between local industry and startups by defining mentorship models, etc. However, as important a role the accelerator can play, the wrong players in this position might have the opposite effect and destroy the culture. At the very least a bad accelerator will create a parallel world in the community where entrepreneurial talent gets sucked in and is likely not being connected to real venture capitalists, collaboration partners and peers.

This said, we want to contribute to the understanding of how European accelerators are perceived and how they are able to aggregate entrepreneurial talent from a wider area. For this we look at who would recommend a program and also break down the results by region to identify regional differences. This analysis is based on >1,400 votes by 750 respondents including founders and other members of the tech community from the 2019 survey.

Top Accelerator Brands in Europe

Brand Rank Program % of vote
1 Techstars London 12.61%
2 Seedcamp 10.88%
3 Station F 9.88%
4 EIT Digital Accelerator 8.59%
5 Techstars Berlin 7.68%
6 Founders Factory 7.59%
7 Axel Springer Plug and Play 6.16%
8 TheFamily 5.19%
9 50 Partners 5.14%
10 hub:raum 4.90%
11 Startup Wise Guys 4.66%
12 Microsoft Accelerator 4.64%
13 Startupbootcamp Amsterdam 4.63%
14 Entrepreneur First 4.38%
15 Barclays Accelerator 4.35%
16 Rockstart Accelerator 4.28%
17 Beta-i 4.15%
18 Plug and Play Accelerator 4.11%
19 500 Nordics 3.78%
20 EIT Digital Venture Program 3.76%
21 ABC Accelerator 3.60%
22 TechFounders 3.29%
23 APX – Axel Springer & Porsche 3.28%
24 Ignite Accelerator 2.73%
25 Collider 2.73%

Regional Champions

The strong divergence between the regions shows that accelerators rather fulfill a regional aggregation function than a global one. Many of the accelerators will see themselves as a strong player in a limited regional area fulfilling an array of functions from educating entrepreneurial talent, activating corporate players, and accumulating funds – of which many might also be public and targeted to specific regions and therefore contributing to the more dispersed spatial pattern of accelerators.

Nevertheless, we also see players with a clear ambition to lead large regions like the CEE, like Startup Wise Guys. Based in the Baltics, they reach 14% of the Nordics and Baltics as well as 13% of the CEE. Other players, like the EIT Digital Accelerator, which focuses on international expansion of mature scale-ups, has a stronger hold in the CEE and the Mediterranean, which could make sense as founders from there look for expansion into Western Europe and the UK.

Seedcamp is another super-regional player aggregating attention across the Nordic & Baltics, the Mediterranean and the CEE. Station F has a huge attention in Western Europe (25%), but little visibility across other regions, as for example in the CEE only 1.5% mentions it. Also in Benelux and the Nordics, we have pure local champions with HighTech XL in Eindhoven and STING in Stockholm.