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In data: The Entrepreneur First portfolio

Sifted looks into the numbers around the startup incubator’s extensive global portfolio.

By Kai Nicol-Schwarz

Entrepreneur First co-founders, Alice Bentinck and Matt Clifford

Today, 36 hopeful startups graduate from Entrepreneur First’s founder matchmaking and incubator programme across cohorts in London, Paris and Berlin. 

It’s the 14th EF London cohort since launching its unique ‘talent investing’ programme in the UK capital in 2015. Paris and Berlin are graduating its sixth and seventh cohorts respectively.

Unlike most accelerators, you don’t need to have a startup in the offing to apply. You don’t even need a cofounder. EF backs its entrepreneurs as “individuals”, says CEO and cofounder Matt Clifford, paying them a salary as they hone company ideas and matchmaking them — not unlike Love Island — with a cofounder.

In the past six-and-a-half years, the company-building platform has expanded into six cities across three continents, creating over 500 startups globally with a combined valuation of more than $4bn. 

But, how have they fared since starting out in the real world? Which VCs have cashed in? And how diverse are the programme’s graduates? Using data from Dealroom and EF, Sifted dug into the numbers to find out. 

Where are they now?

Of the companies listed on EF’s website, about one in 10 have made it to Series A or beyond, so far. 

But, expect that figure to grow in the coming years. Scaling tends to take a little time — unless you’re Hopin — and all 12 startups at Series B, D or exit were founded in 2017 or before. 

Since the start of 2017, EF has launched cohorts in Singapore (2017), Berlin (2018), Paris (2019), Bangalore (2019) and Toronto (2020). Excluding 2021, it’s invested in at least 100 startups a year since then — in comparison to 166 in total before. The number of startups that begin to hit growth-stage funding will only go one way in the years to come.

As it stands, London-based insurtech Tractable has travelled the furthest among the EF alumni. It hit the lofty heights of unicorn status in June, following a $60m Series D raise and a flurry of activity in the insurtech space.

Machine learning platform PolyAI and fintech Cleo, both based in London, have raised Series B rounds in the past year and edtech Pi-Top bagged a late VC round in June — following its Series B in 2018. 

Eight EF founding teams have cashed in on their bright ideas, including machine learning SaaS Bloomsbury AI, which was bought by Facebook for €26.5m in 2018, and online mortgage broker Trussle, which was bought by Better Mortgage in July.

Pre-seeds to watch for the future include today’s graduates Opply, which automates supply chains for SMEs, and animation tool Lottie Lab, says Clifford. Likewise, data startup Intropic and cancer diagnostics company Panakeia — which are at seed stage and graduated from the 11th London cohort in 2019 — are set for big things, he tells Sifted.

Which VCs have cashed in?

But which VC firms have been oh-so-keen to invest in EF’s portfolio over the years? Here are the top portfolio co-investors with a European base.

Heavyweight on the European VC scene LocalGlobe leads the field, with 21. It might not come as a surprise to see the London-based firm top this list, with it also slotting into the number one seed investor spot on Dealroom’s ‘investor prominence’ rankings.

VCs with their own startup accelerators Plug and Play, SOSV and Agoranov follow up in second, third and fourth place. London-based Episode 1, which was ranked as one of the top investors to work with by founders, LP investor Isomer Capital and American accelerator Y Combinator complete the set.

How diverse are EF’s startups?

European tech’s diversity problem is no secret. Between 2009 and 2019, just 0.24% of UK venture capital went to teams of Black entrepreneurs — rising to 23% when including mixed teams — and across Europe 90.8% of all capital went to men-only teams in 2020. 

EF for its part is by no means perfect, but it is ahead of the curve. 42% of its UK portfolio have at least one BAME cofounder and 24% of its graduate startups have a female cofounder.

In terms of gender diversity, the global portfolio fares similarly, with 25% of startups female cofounded. EF wasn’t able to share global ethnic diversity figures with Sifted because BAME is a UK-specific term, says Clifford.

“It’s complicated to find international equivalents because in some of our countries it’s illegal to collect the data,” he tells Sifted. “In non-white majority countries like India and Singapore the politics/sociology of ethnicity are very different and not easily comparable to the UK.”

EF doesn’t use internal quotas to promote diversity among applicants, Clifford says, but they “do a lot to ensure the interview process is as unbiased as possible and have invested a lot in research to achieve best practice”.

The keys to this are “structured interviews against objective criteria and mandatory training and audit for all interviewers”. EF says it’s rolled out both globally.

The programme also benefits from having a pretty diverse team running the show. Clifford says that 50% of around 100 EF employees are women, as are 60% of the management team.

The top 10

One of the ways to measure a startup’s success — and potential — is by how much money the people who are supposed to be experts in predicting success pour into them. Using data from Dealroom and EF, Sifted looked into which EF startups had raised the most from VCs.

1/ Tractable

London-based unicorn Tractable, which helps insurance companies rapidly process claims with AI, unsurprisingly heads up the list.

HQ: London

Founded: 2014

Raised: €104m

Valuation: €909m

2/ Cleo

The personal finance app connects to consumers’ bank accounts to give them advice and information on how to better manage their money.

HQ: London

Founded: 2016

Raised: €52.1m

Valuation: €160-240m

3/ Faculty

The “AI-as-a-Service” startup works with organisations to enable AI capabilities. In April this year, it won a contract with the NHS to help the health service predict its patients’ future needs.

HQ: London

Founded: 2014

Raised: €47.3m

Valuation: €144-216m

4/ Kheiron Medical Technologies

Kheiron enables radiologists to detect breast cancer earlier using deep learning technology.

HQ: London

Founded: 2016

Raised: €32.1m

Valuation: €80-120m

5/ Shiok Meats

The startup develops cell-based meat and seafood, and says it’s the first of its kind in Singapore and South-East Asia.

HQ: Singapore

Founded: 2018

Raised: €27.6m

Valuation: €57m

6/ Permutive

Permutive works with publishers to help them make the most out of their first-party data in a changing privacy landscape, with its real-time data management platform.

HQ: London

Founded: 2015

Raised: €26.9m

Valuation: €66-98m

7/ Pi-Top

The London-based edtech specialises in improving digital skills in education, and increasing access to coding in school and at home through its learning software platform.

HQ: London

Founded: 2014

Raised: €23.9m

Valuation: €15-22m

8/ PolyAI

Using its machine learning platform, the ‘conversational AI’ startup builds voice assistants for automating customer services.

HQ: London

Founded: 2017

Raised: €23.6m

Valuation: €51-76m

9/ NPlan

The construction tech startup uses machine learning to forecast risks, duration and opportunities on major infrastructure projects.

HQ: London

Founded: 2017

Raised: €16.8m

Valuation: €67-101m

10/ Omnipresent

The remote working platform helps companies employ — you guessed it — remote workers globally.

HQ: London

Founded: 2020

Raised: €16.2m

Valuation: €57-86m

Kai Nicol-Schwarz is a reporter at Sifted. He tweets from @NicolSchwarzK.

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