Godfathers and Cocoons: Dispatches’ debut list of accelerators, incubators across Europe

In the tradition of Wayne Gretsky, Dispatches is skating to where the digital puck will be, not where it is now. We believe Europe is where the action will be in the future. Of course, the action now is in Silicon Valley, Boston and Austin.

But there’s increasing startup-nurturing activity in Europe. Is it enough? Who knows. One thing is for certain … there are now more incubators and accelerators across Europe than startups to fill them  … or at least it seems like it. Robin Wauters at reports there are more than 100 startup accelerators ranging from U.S. import seed accelerators such as TechStars London to corporate-backed accelerators such as hub:raum (Deutsche Telekom), which we’ve included on this list. Obviously, we can’t list them all. But we can tell you which are getting traction.

The latest accelerator to get love from U.S. tech websites is TheFamily, based in Paris. TechCrunch has a post about TheFamily getting $6.6 million to become “a key startup accelerator all over Europe.” With the cash, they’re expanding into Barcelona initially. TheFamily started as a startup accelerator about three years ago, taking a small equity stake in startups, then providing them with advice and connections, according to TechCrunch.

oussSome of the most promising French startups have worked with TheFamily to raise more capital and get connected including Paris/S.F.-based search technology firm Algolia. Interestingly, co-founder Oussama Ammar just posted a long think piece on Medium, “The Continental Europe Toxicity,” about the obstacles to building a serious European startup culture.

Ammar’s appraisal of what ails Europe is all about is pretty blunt:

…. one thing has stayed there from the beginning, and that was on the very first (pitch deck) slide, which asked, “Why are we opening TheFamily?” And the answer was because France is toxic. Now I can say, after traveling around, launching in Barcelona, and launching soon in other countries, that in truth continental Europe is toxic. There’s something so specific about our environment and its relationship with innovation that makes it very difficult to be an entrepreneur.

Ammar acknowledges the one reality all European entrepreneurs agree on: There simply isn’t as much capital available here as in the Unites States, especially in Silicon Valley. That, and there is a pervasive environment of pessimism about what’s possible in Europe.

His solution to diluting the toxicity is strengthening relationships:

This may seem a bit mystical, but you can push to create an environment where so many people are helping others, that it will eventually come back to you. You don’t have to know how exactly, you can’t plan it, but it will be there. And there’s a more immediate benefit as well — helping others creates positivity, it helps you to feel better, it breeds success. It’s one of the ways that you can push a toxic ecosystem in the direction that you want it to go.

(See more about TheFamily below.)

One step down that road might be more Europeans and techpats with viable ideas and business acumen applying for startup incubators or accelerators, depending where they are in the process.

Here’s our debut Dispatches sampling of what’s available around Europe, the first of at least five lists.

228d131546c08ddd0146dc7df9690693-largeBERLIN STARTUP ACADEMY

How it works from the BSA website:

The 3-month BSA program, starting March 31, 2016, consists of weekly (Thursdays and Fridays) mentoring sessions, workshops, work assignments, and individual mentoring, covering the entire startup “story arc.” In a nutshell, you arrive as a guy with an idea – and you leave as the CEO of your own company.

What you need to participate

  • You don’t need a business plan, a complete team, or a demo yet – but you need to have an idea of what problem you’re dying to solve with the company you’re going to start.
  • Your English needs to be good enough to write and pitch with confidence.
  • You need to either bring an incorporated company (e.g. a German UG or GmbH or its equivalent in other countries) or be ready to incorporate before the end of the program.
  • You need to put some 22 hours of work per week into developing your idea into a company, with Fridays and Saturdays spent coworking at BSA HQ
  • You need to be able to personally attend sessions and workshops in Berlin.

You can apply here.



This is a new, ambitious and very promising entry into Europe, announced just last month. Chinese technology and investment group Cocoon Networks is launching a 500 million pound ($720 million) London-based venture capital fund aimed at investing in UK and European tech startups. Cocoon Networks, in partnership with University College London, is also setting up the capital’s biggest incubator space. John Zai, Founder and CEO, Cocoon Networks said: “The fund will provide capital to help the development of some excellent technology and innovative projects in London and the UK.”

The incubator, a 70,000 sq ft building is situated in the heart of London’s Tech City close to Moorgate, Liverpool St., and Old Street stations. Cocoon says it will not only be an incubating space for technology companies but it will also work with some of London’s universities to attract talent, offer accelerator programs and co-working spaces.

Who’s behind it: TransferWise, HXC and ChinaEquity

What they offer:

Spaces: Cocoon Networks Spaces provides creative collaborative spaces that offer the business, professional, technical and production expertise that is required to let ideas grow to their full potential.

Labs: Cocoon Networks Labs is a physical work space inside the Cocoon Networks Incubator (Cocoon Networks London) that provides cutting edge prototype equipment to further the development of hardware and software products.

Venture capital: Cocoon Networks Ventures is the investment arm of Cocoon Networks, and it pursues a China-focused investment strategy. The investment team takes a macro approach towards investment, and actively invests in technological start-up companies that have the potential to be scaled to China, and that they believe will capture the technological forces that will drive the future growth of the Chinese economy.

Accelerator: Cocoon Networks Accelerators is a new model for funding early-stage start-up companies that have the potential and the ambition to expand to the Chinese market. We take business ideas at their seed forms, then combined with an intensive accelerator programme and our value-added resources, we quickly transform these start-up companies into the next stage.

Where are they?: London, Norwich, Beijing, Shanghai and Wuhan.

Contact Cocoon Networks here.


hub:raum connects digital startups ecosystem to Deutsche Telekom, linking tech entrepreneurs and high growth startup companies with the German telecom’s expert network, capital, and business opportunities. hub:raum offers various programs in three locations: Berlin (covering Germany and Western Europe), Krakow (serving CEE region), and Tel Aviv (Israel). Various programs range from acceleration and incubation (including seed investments) to special formats like Fit4Europe. All of these offer benefits like co-working, mentoring and introductions to Deutsche Telekom executives.


  • Telecommunication & Connectivity
  • TV, Video & Multi Screen
  • Cloud based Business Solutions
  • Mobile Payment & Commerce
  • Customer Analytics & Big Data
  • Cyber Security
  • Health
  • Internet of Things

What they offer (from the website):

At hub:raum we want to produce sustainable businesses by providing you with financing, mentoring, co-working space and a pragmatic access to corporate levers. When, after 9-12 months, you’re through hub:raum, your team is a robust, viable, and fundable company. hub:raum is not a place where you get a papertiger to assist you in the digital jungle. The support we provide is focused and makes sense. Our goal is to help you to validate your hypotheses as fast as possible. Failing and pivoting is also part of this process.

Who they’re looking for:

  • Excellent team of 2 to 4 founding members
  • An outstanding, scalable idea
  • Passion, energy, and commitment to get it realized
  • Capital company, founded or to be found soon


• Incubator program supports with seed financing, mentoring, co-working and corporate leverage to build and launch a product. This program is available in Berlin and Krakow.

• The Accelerator program helps to sharpen business idea and to develop a sound business model. Currently available in batches in Krakow.

• Growth program is especially designed to help you expand business to Europe and beyond. Program is available in Tel Aviv.
You can apply here.


(We had difficulty getting the website to work, so here’s a link to the STING Facebook page.)


ICT, Digital Media, Sustainability and Health

In the ICT area we work primarily, but not exclusively, with B2B companies in software, hardware, SaaS solutions, cloud computing, financial technology, education technology, enterprise software and the Internet of Things. ICT is one of our biggest areas and the one where STING has been active the longest.

We’d like to give you more detail about what STING offers and who they’re looking for but again, the STING website doesn’t work. So we cobbled together some info from various news posts. We can tell you they’re a member of the global GAN Network of accelerators founded by TechStars’ Brad Feld and David Cohen.

A Mashable post last month quotes Pär Hedberg, STING CEO and founder, stating Stockholm’s mix of incubator, accelerator, co-working space and network of business angels make it to top startup city in Europe. The post notes Stockholm now has the most “Unicorns” – the billion-dollar startups – in Europe. The STING program provides seven or eight handpicked startups with an exclusive package of funding (32,000 euros), tailored business coaching, access to STING’s network of investors and partners as well as free office space in the heart of Stockholm. In return, STING gets a 2-percent equity stake.

There’s a spring and a fall program.


TheFamily is an unconventional (to say the least) French startup accelerator, entrepreneurial school and startup studio for big corporate clients, according to TechCrunch. In keeping with the Mafia theme, organizers are fond of using terms such as “Godfathers” to describe investors and supporters, and they make it clear they’re very selective about who gets “made,” so to speak.

thefamily-logoGodfathers have both a stake in TheFamily, and an opportunity to invest in affiliated startups, according to TheFamily website. Interestingly, it has set up a secondary market in which Godfathers can exchange shares in various TheFamily investment vehicles while having a stake in the overall holding company, which we’re not sure the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission would go for.

TheFamily has raised $6.6 million (6 million euros) over the past few months and is expanding into other European countries, beginning with Spain. The company now has a small apartment/office in Barcelona to hold meetups and meetings as well as a small office in London to talk with the British tech ecosystem, according to TechCrunch.

Besides an accelerator program, TheFamily also offers community education events such as pitch schools that teach startup teams how to learn to structure, improve and practice your pitch in English, and invitation-only meetups.

When raising capital through TheFamily, an entrepreneur:

– gets money from investors who expect gains, and won’t drown Entrepreneurs under cheap advice;
– finds allies in investors syndicated by TheFamily, who as a syndicate can weigh in against the VCs’ propensity to minimize risks;
– finds opinions when needed, but dispensed with the right mindset by TheFamily’s Partners. They mostly find an infrastructure to rely upon and the freedom they need to innovate.

You can apply here.

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Co-CEO of Dispatches Europe. A former military reporter, I'm a serial expat who has lived in France, Turkey, Germany and the Netherlands.

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