Incubator? Co-working Space? Accelerator? Growth hacker? Series A/B/X? VC? Angel? Fund of Funds? If you feel a bit lost not knowing this start-up lingo, you’re not alone.
At SSUP, Seb and I have been through the classic ‘hockey stick’ learning curve ourselves. We thought we knew a fair about the world of start-ups. We then realised that we actually ‘knew nothing’ (just like John Snow) and gradually built our knowledge thanks to all our conversations with the various actors in the world of start-ups, around Europe.
No better way to explain this jargon than talking about Annection. It’s hard to put this London-based Investment company’s work in a pre-labelled box and that’s what makes it so interesting.
Alexis de Vienne, founding partner at Annection, met his other founder Patrick Lou through a LinkedIn ‘cold-call’. Alexis was 25 and looking to do something daring and different, already having worked in 2 start-ups by then. Likewise, for Patrick: an ex-investment banker, looking for something different from the trials of a corporate job. Building on the initial idea of bridging Chinese angel investors closer to European start-ups, Alexis and Patrick have put together well-oiled mechanism to actively invest in a diverse portfolio of ventures with funds from Chinese corporations. To make these ventures ready for operational independence, they are nurtured by Annection in their cool co-working space at Leman Street in London, shared with other start-ups and the likes of Business Insider.
Incubators, Accelerators and How Annection bridges the gap
The lines between incubators and accelerators can be blurred. Common to both are access to space, access to some money (varying widely) and access to mentorship for nurturing growth. What makes them differ are the stage at which they take in start-ups and for how long.
The general consensus seems to be: think of incubators are cocooning baby startups, for a prolonged period focussing on the basics to help them pass the very early stages. Accelerators on the other hand are focussing on getting adolescent start-ups to adulthood, as quickly as possible with an intense program (generally 90 days). Sprint Pirates, under Annection, is neither.
“Good money follows good business”, says Marc Ellias, Managing Partner of Sprint Pirates, the growth nurturing arm of Annection. Simply put, Sprint Pirates works with start-ups (with full teams, working products and existing users) to really dig into their business models and find all possible ways of maximising growth and user acquisition – over 6 weeks, with a thoroughly systematic, metrics-based approach (i.e. Growth Hacking). This is really for start-ups to fix their basics and then get even more out of an accelerator program (such as TechStars), ensuring more sustainable growth than burnout due to lack of a firm foundation. Sprint Pirates’s growth hacking programs run 4 times a year.
Among the many start-ups that have undergone Sprint Pirate’s program is Sunlight. Founded by Juan Lagrange, Sunlight is solving the problem of lack of effectiveness of employee training programs (offered traditionally through ‘Learning Management Systems’ or LMS). How? By offering companies a simplified way to empower employees – by giving them a learning budget of their own, (obviously) with alignment with the organizations’ goals. Additionally, Sunlight match-makes employees with online learning modules, the offerings being tailored to their training needs. In simple words, Sunlight is a smart digital wallet for employees and a marketplace for online education.
Ramping up Annection’s Investment Portfolio
Annection’s work on early-stage, B2B Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) start-ups through Spint Pirates is one vehicle among the several they have in their long-term vision. They aim to ramp up their portfolio to almost 1000 start-ups towards 2018, by using a fund-of-funds (FOF) investment strategy for emerging ventures in and around Europe.
A particularly interesting insight we gained from our discussion with Patrick and Alexis was about Chinese corporate investors – that they are looking to invest in the European start-up scene for strategic reasons and not for financial gain. To listen to Patrick talk further on this, click here.
We thank the Annection and Sunlight teams for sharing with us all their great work and knowledge! We wish them all the success!
(Oh, and for those still confused between your Pivots from Exits, here’s an interesting article on TechCrunch on How to Speak Start-up)