Accelerator programmes are vital to the startup ecosystem because they give promising early-stage businesses access to industry know-how and development tools. Traditionally, exciting startups spend weeks, or even months, in incubators — but in the age of Covid-19, face-to-face meetings are impossible, moving accelerators online.
London-based Seraphim Capital is a specialist space tech VC fund. Its Space Fund launched in 2017 at $100 million, and since 2018 it has run bi-annual accelerator programmes for startups across the spectrum. The fund’s latest “Space Camp” cohort — Angoka, Aquark Technologies, ESpace, Klepsydra Technologies, Lift Me Off, Opteran Technologies, and Wyvern — participated entirely virtually this year.
Despite initial concerns about the feasibility of conducting 600 hours of work via video chat, the fund claims its online experiment was successful — and it could pave the way for future hybrid accelerator models that mix in-person and virtual meetings.
“I think we had a closer relationship with our cohort than usual because we’ve seen peoples’ home and family life over video,” Rob Desborough, programme leader at Space Camp and partner at Seraphim Capital, told Business Insider in an interview.
“We spend 600 hours with these startups covering everything from marketing, pitching, product, sales, and financials.”
Space Camp is aimed at early-stage startups looking to raise seed funding, and it also helps prepare companies for Series A rounds. To date, 35 companies have graduated, including this virtual cohort, and they have collectively secured £30m ($38 million) in equity investment in pre-seed, seed, and series A rounds, as well as £10 million ($12.65 million) in grant funding.
“We found it easier to get corporate advisors into virtual calls than in person which is an added bonus for the companies,” Desborough added. “We thought taking the programme online might impact the social side of things but we still managed to do our wine tasting night over video.”
Space tech is booming, and not just because of major names like SpaceX or Virgin Galactic. VC funding for space related enterprises has rocketed in the past two years — 182 companies won funding last year, compared with 131 in 2017, while in the year from 31 March 2018 the number of companies winning funding rose 42%.
The boom in space tech in the UK comes as the government faces derision for investing £400 million into previously collapsed satellite operator OneWeb as part of a deal with Indian telecoms conglomerate Bharti Enterprises.
Seraphim remains bullish. “Although One Web was potentially a victim of multiple factors from COVID to an overreliance on Softbank, this represents a unique opportunity to leverage that investment and infrastructure to build a broader offering,” Desborough said.
Despite a few video glitches during the startups’ pitching efforts, the accelerator’s investor day was a success in Seraphim’s eyes. One-hundred-and-fifty investors tuned in from 25 countries alongside representatives from Airbus, BAE Systems, Boeing, and The European Space Agency. “Space is a global opportunity so for our platform to provide this engagement for space tech startups to a global audience is great,” Desborough added.
“We originally assumed we’d have to setup physical hubs to internationalize but we’ve managed to achieve so much more without.”
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