A small scale but significant presence in incubation, White Horse Capital plans to extend its initial accelerator for aspiring entrepreneurs on the ‘escalator of growth’:
* by supporting the conversations that precede commitment to entrepreneurship,
* by supporting the formation of teams and the adoption by them of issues that will generate hi-growth businesses,
* and by supporting them in their later growth phases.
Most investors in early-stage ventures find themselves moving inexorably up the escalator of growth, gradually seeking to invest in more mature ventures because they have a more visible record and because the returns look better, leaving the earlier stages open for newcomers, speculators and subsidies. White Horse Capital is a venture capital company that has opened its hand by running a fixed-price, part-time Accelerator for hi-growth businesses in Tech, Media and Telecoms.
The Accelerator Academy programme consists of a 3-hour session one evening per week, and a 2-hour session every other week for 12 weeks. Each week’s Monday 6-9 pm session starts with a speaker on a topic that is very closely relevant to the development of every early-stage venture eg sales/financing etc – followed by Q & A; and the second session is for groups of 3 or 4 entrepreneurs, to develop worked examples about that problem as it applies to each of their businesses. In the final part of the session they are required to articulate an assignment for themselves which they will present to their mentor, whom they meet once a week. In addition, there is a Clinic at 4-6 pm every other Tuesday, at which the participants bring to the six mentors a current issue with which they are wrestling.
The cost of this programme is £600 per business (ie approx £50 per session) together with a small share option for their mentor and for the Accelerator Academy.
While the applicants for the first three ‘semesters’ have included some who have been in employment and thus not focused whole time on the development of their venture, all of the participants on the fourth semester, just beginning, are self-funded and so fully dedicated to their venture. This represents a move to focus on first year startups that are up and running, not just aspiring entrepreneurs with an idea.
The six mentors (for each semester) are tied closely in to the participants and their businesses: they are committed to give 70 hours of their time to the task (ie about a half day per week, each mentoring two businesses); and they receive an option in each – of between 1½ and 2½% depending on whether the business is in revenue or not; and some invest in businesses during or at the end of the programme – as occasionally does White Horse Capital. (The Accelerator Academy has a panel of 12 mentors, all of whom are exited entrepreneurs and have ‘done it before’, six of whom work with alternate semesters (of which there are three a year).
The Accelerator Academy still uses an electronically based selection programme, but is finding that it broadly matches up with intuitive judgments about appropriate candidates (the mentors all participate in the selection process.) The Academy has received 100-150 applicants for each semester, from whom about 30 are selected for interview by Skype, from whom 15 are selected to fill the 10-12 places on each semester.
The Accelerator Academy is looking to extend its range along the escalator growth (in the footsteps of Biocity in Nottingham ) – by forming relationships with sources of potential entrepreneurs, such as pre-seed programmes, hackathons and bootcamps, by providing coaching via trade and professional bodies, and by running earlier-stage programmes: a half-day programme for introductions, a 2-day intensive Accelerator Bootcamp – for ideation and team creation, a three-month coaching programme – for validating ideas; and then post-accelerator support for early-stage hi-growth investment, and ultimately White Horse Capital’s Accelerator investment Fund. By these means it hopes to raise the quality of its candidates and strengthen its post-programme support and funding capabilities.
Its results are encouraging: Semester 1 included one business that subsequently was absorbed into Groupon, but all those looking for investment have found on-going funding. About 60% of Semester 2 (which finished about four months ago) have received or are on course to obtain ongoing funding, and already a third of Semester 3 (which finished about a month ago) have raised equity. The Accelerator Academy is seeking to ensure that it does not lose participants mid-programme, and like other programmes that they manage to raise on-going funding, and that they turn into hi-growth companies that create long term shareholder value.