Hang up a map of Europe on the wall. Throw a dart at it. If you've managed to hit land, chances are pretty high that you've hit upon a region where there's an active startup business accelerator.
To wit, there's an ever-growing number of seed acceleration programs popping up across Europe, to the extent where it's getting difficult to keep track of all of them. In fact, even doing a headcount is a challenge.
It doesn't help that there are different types of business accelerators, and even the definition of an 'accelerator' isn't set in stone. We gave it a shot anyway, and wonder out loud whether there's an over-abundance of startup accelerators operating in Europe today - or vice versa.
Y Combinator blazed a trail that has been walked by many, including in Europe
Inarguably, Y Combinator was the first of its kind when it started in March 2005, and its success has inspired many to follow into its footsteps, often by outright copying its modi operandi.
In Europe, the biggest names are international startup accelerators like Seedcamp, TechStars London (formerly Springboard), Founder Institute and Startupbootcamp. Other notable pan-European initiatives include Startup Weekend, Launch48, GameFounders, Garage48 and StartupBus Europe.
Then, there are an increasing number of big corporation-backed accelerators such as Wayra (Telefónica), hub:raum (Deutsche Telekom), Orange FAB (Orange), the ProSiebenSat.1 Accelerator, the Axel Springer Plug & Play Accelerator, Bonnier's Accelerator, BBC Worldwide Labs, Mediafax's M.incubator, Pearson's Catalyst for Education and Yandex's Tolstoy Summer Camp.
Perhaps not a big surprise, but notable nonetheless: Europe's telecom and media companies are seemingly most keen to set up accelerators and incubators of their own.
And then, there's a plethora of regional startup acceleration programs, some private and some government-backed. A hopelessly non-exhaustive list includes the likes of Startup Wise Guys and Buildit (Estonia), Ignite100, Bethnal Green Ventures, dotforge, Beta Foundry and Oxygen (UK), Rockstart (The Netherlands), OpenFund and The Accelerator (Greece), Le Camping and Nextstars (France), betaFACTORY (Norway), DCU Ryan Academy’s Propeller Venture Accelerator and NDRC Launchpad (Ireland), Black Forest Accelerator, German Silicon Valley Accelerator (Germany), TechPeaks, SeedLab and H-Farm / H-Camp (Italy), Huge Thing and Gamma Rebels (Poland), Startup Sauna (Finland), SICS (Sweden), Startup Yard and StarCube (Czech Republic), StartupHighway (Lithuania), Beta-i (Portugal), Startup Reykjavik (Iceland), Tetuan Valley and SeedRocket (Spain), ZIP (Croatia), Eleven, LAUNCHhub and 3Challenge (Bulgaria), Idealabs and NEST'up (Belgium), Garage (Moldova), TexDrive and Farminers (Russia), ACME Labs and iCatapult (Hungary), Eastlabs (Ukraine), Elevator, 8200 EISP and UpWest Labs (Israel), Inovent, Etohum and Fit Startup Factory (Turkey).
In case we've lost you there: we've listed about 70 active startup accelerators above, and by our count, that's not even close to the total number of accelerators operating in Europe today.
First things first: what makes an accelerator?
Startup accelerators are a relatively new, 'modern' breed of for-profit business incubators, which typically attract small teams through an open application process and provide a select number of fledgling technology companies with seed funding, mentoring, training and more, for a limited time.
While anyone with an idea can theoretically apply to an accelerator, the chances of actually getting in are very slim indeed: U.S.-based accelerators like Y Combinator and TechStars boast application acceptance rates between 1 percent and 3 percent.
Usually, a program lasts about 3 months, though some accelerators' programs run longer, up to 6 months and even a full year for some. Your average accelerator doesn't charge for the privilege, but takes an equity stake in participating startups, typically between 6 and 12 percent.
After 'graduating', startups are supposed to have used the capital, mentorship and feedback to gradually evolve into a viable business, or at least to a point where the team is able to convince more deep-pocketed investors to make a bet on them.
Who's keeping track, anyway?
Let's take a look at the available resources out there to get an idea of how many active startup accelerators currently operate in Europe.
In March 2012, there was a noteworthy attempt to create a comprehensive list of European accelerator programs called Startup Factories - which grew out of an eponymous NESTA research report published the year before - but it hasn't been actively maintained, and thus no longer gives us a full picture of just how many startup accelerators there are in Europe.
Another helpful but waning resource is Seed-DB, founded by Jed Christiansen, a member of Google's EMEA Channel Sales team in London. Much like Startup Factories, Seed-DB offers a great but hardly complete overview of accelerators, and efforts to keep it up-to-date seem to have dwindled in recent times. In an email conversation, Christiansen tells me that this boils down to how one defines an accelerator, but we think the Seed-DB list is missing out on quite a few programs in Europe either way.
Startup community F6S, meanwhile, lists more than 600 accelerators and programs across Europe, but that's counting many separate programs and there's no way to filter down to accelerators only.
Earlier this year, the European Commission set up a Startup Europe Accelerator Assembly in an effort to connect accelerators with policymakers, and to strengthen the support environment for Web entrepreneurs in Europe. While laudable, it's a far cry from representative for the time being: clearly, the forum could use more active members and supporters from all across the EU to bring it up to speed.
In the interest of being complete, there's something called the Global Accelerator Network, but it's a rather selective community and filtering down to Europe currently shows a mere 8 startup accelerators that apparently meet the criteria.
That leaves us without a clear answer, so tech.eu decided to have a go at it and come up with a new, comprehensive list of active startup business accelerators in Europe.
Making it count: how many startups accelerators are in Europe, and how many are enough?
Using the above definition of an accelerator as a guideline, we found that there are currently approximately 141 active European acceleration programs, although some are put on by the same accelerator in different locations. Taking that into account, we ultimately listed 94 organizations that we would classify as startup accelerators operating somewhere in Europe.
We've organized the data to show all the active startup accelerators we could find in Europe on this interactive map (zoom in for more detail).
For the sake of clarity: we included corporation-backed, government-funded and vertical accelerators, as well as U.S. accelerators with operations in Europe, and opted not to include clear-cut company incubators or 'startup studios' such as Team Europe or Rocket Internet.
As stated, there is a degree of subjectivity to the definition of ‘accelerator’. Consequently, there are many fine programs that do not fulfil all specified criteria.
The Israel office of Exodus Hub, for example, rents its space to startups. Novelook, also situated in Israel, invests in an idea and seeks the right entrepreneurs to become founders, rather than focussing on established company. Bento doesn’t take any equity in its companies. Latvia's Eegloo doesn’t offer office space to the startups, while the University of Surrey 100 Club is an angel investment fund, with close ties to other programs, but does not really run an in-house accelerator.
Furthermore, there are many accelerator-like initiatives that do not fit all the criteria for inclusion in the list. Organizations like Startup Weekend and Startup Bus, mentioned above, are programs that last only a few days, and are designed more as a platform for entrepreneurs to meet, create ideas, and form teams for the future. Neither actively invests in 'graduates'.
Still, if you think there's an accelerator missing, please let us know.
In such a relatively small part of the world, a total of just under 100 active startup accelerators appears to be an extremely high number and the number actually runs much higher if you define the concept more loosely.
Still, there are some who argue that there aren't enough accelerators in Europe, and that will likely never be, just like there could never be enough business angel investors to go around. There's something to be said for that, as the possibilities for attracting early-stage capital are scarce in many a European country or region, and accelerators are one possible way of meeting founders' needs.
Ultimately though, the quality of the accelerator in question is what matters, and whether entrepreneurs are better off joining them rather than going it alone or by other means (e.g. crowd-funding). Next week, we'll go deeper into what differentiates accelerators from one another, and add some industry perspectives from insiders to the mix.
But let's hear from you.
Do you think 94 startup accelerators is far too high a number for Europe? Or not enough?
Featured image credit: Peter Gudella / Shutterstock