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Rockstart: rock steady for over a decade, applications for next Emerging Tech programme now open

With over a decade of rock-solid performance, we sat down with Rockstart CEO Rune Theill and Rockstart Emerging Tech Lead Michael Bjørnlund to discuss what's in store for the next cohort.
Rockstart: rock steady for over a decade, applications for next Emerging Tech programme now open

For the past 10 years, early-stage investor/accelerator Rockstart has nurtured and backed upwards of 260 startups from its Amsterdam, Copenhagen, and Bogotá offices. The results speak for themselves: seven exits, over €150 million raised by portfolio companies, and an alumni value of approximately €750 million.

Focusing on Energy, AgriFood and Emerging Technologies, Rockstart offers financial and company building support from seed stage through Series B, with the overall investment not exceeding €2 million. Perhaps better said, Rockstart isn’t in the 3 to 6 month game, but rather the 5 to 7 year+ haul.

With a call out for applications to its emerging tech programme, we sat down with Rockstart CEO & Co-founder Rune Theill and Rockstart Emerging Tech Lead Michael Bjørnlund to see what the firm is looking for and what startups can expect should they be accepted.

Chemistry. Innovation. Purpose.

When it comes to which startups make the cut, and which don’t, what are some hallmarks you’re looking for?

Rune:At Rockstart we are on a mission to empower purpose-driven founders to drive positive change at a global scale. With that in mind, there are several components that make up our selection criteria. Firstly, we believe in the power of a great founding team and unstoppable founders. We always invest in people first and foremost. Some of the key things we look at in the team are: the right skills and/or experience in the market, a deep passion for what is being built, and perseverance. We prefer startups with a small team and some (early) commercial traction, but we accept that we are often the first professional investor who will back them. Ideally, the team consists of the co-founders and perhaps the first couple of hires. Team dynamics are a critical component of our selection process.”

The phrase first professional investor can conjure up a lot of different meanings and stages, at least in my mind. Any memorable examples you can share?

“We’ve invested in founding teams who at the time of our initial investments only had a deck and their first MVP. One of these startups was acquired for $330 million. We have also invested in companies that had up to €50,000  in monthly recurring revenue and grew substantially during the programme and raised their Series A afterwards. We always look for some proprietary technology which can be defended or some innovative angle towards the market that allows them to win over and keep customers.”

Right. Solid team, solid tech or take. Anything I’m missing?

“Since we’re looking to drive a positive change in the world through our active investing, founders need to have a clear mission and purpose for the company and know how they will make positive change in their respective markets.

The kitchen sink

Upon being accepted to  Rockstart Emerging Tech, what can startups expect?

Michael: “The Rockstart programmes are domain-focused, tailor-made programmes designed to rapidly take early stage startups from MVP to scaling. The programmes run twice per year, in spring and fall. The selected startups for our first Rockstart Emerging Tech batch will join our programme in the fall of 2022.

During the programme we run five deep dives. They are  intensive week-long sessions with workshops, 1-on-1 expert sessions, coaching sessions, peer-to-peer sessions, events and more. Each of these weeks is focused on a specific theme such as building teams, access to capital, markets, community and scaling. We spend a lot of time on bringing value during the programme and also in between by giving  access to the tools, people and opportunities to build a solid and scalable business.”

Rockstart is known for its long term commitment to portfolio companies. I’m assuming the same practices still apply?

Michael: “That’s right, and yes, absolutely.  Our programmes are just the beginning of the journey with each of our startups in the portfolio. We know that building a company takes years, not weeks or months. That’s why after the programme we continue to co-invest in our portfolio companies up to Series B with a maximum allocation to any one company of up to€2 million. This means we have a long-term perspective in mind as we look for founders who want to work closely with us for many years.”

So to summarise, with the Rockstart Emerging Tech 2022 programme, startups receive an initial investment, a customised learning and mentorship process, face time with and exposure to investors and network partners, and potential follow on investments all the way up to Series B, with a hard cap at €2 million?

Michael (laughs): “That’s it in a nutshell.”

Who, What and Where

Sounds like a pretty sweet deal, but is my shoes for dogs startup going to cut it? And if so, what do I do next?

Michael:” Well, unfortunately for Rockstart Emerging Tech 2022, we are especially interested in startups innovating in: Industry 4.0 & Analytics, Smart Cities & Societies, Digital Health Innovations, Data Privacy & Security but we remain open generally to cutting-edge technology that drives positive change.

Founders need to fill in a short form with their contact and company information such as name, email and website plus a few basic questions on their problem and solution. They can also upload their pitch decks for our review. Our team does an initial screening to establish whether there is a possible good fit and shortly thereafter founders are contacted by the Rockstart team for us to jointly find out if there is good reason to explore further.”

And then?

Ok, so I’m going to have to iterate. No problem, once my brilliant idea is (re)formulated, what’s the selection process?

Rune: “The Rockstart Emerging Tech 2022 call for applications opened last week and startups can apply until May 31st. Our selection process is very thorough, and based on Rockstart having more than ten years of a track record in selecting great startups in Europe and beyond.

To give you a brief description: the selection process starts with an initial screening by our analyst team, followed by calls with each of the startups we deem interesting to potentially invest in. Based on this first interaction startups are ranked internally on several criteria and several calls follow with other members of the team. The most promising startups that also have an interest in working with Rockstart will continue the screening process and also meet leading experts and mentors. 

The last stage of the process is “Selection Days'' where the top startups go through two intense days of due diligence, upon which the best ones are selected. These startups will receive an offer for investment from Rockstart and will have the opportunity to join the Rockstart Emerging Tech 2022 fall programme.”

Where in the world?

With the world opening up again, if I’m accepted to Rockstart Emerging Tech, and I can’t see why I wouldn’t, am I tied to physically remaining in Europe?

Michael: “Not at all, startups do not need to be physically in Europe, in our Copenhagen or Amsterdam offices. We run the programme remotely, but during the deep dive weeks some sessions will be offline. After Covid-19 we have started to run hybrid programmes. We believe physical interaction with other founders, mentors, experts, other investors or corporate partners is key to business growth. We organize several events during the programme such as ecosystem days or investor events, some of these are on-site, some online and some hybrid. We believe that we have been able to strike a good balance in these new ways of collaborating and interacting. “

One More Thing

Ok, now for the real question; with shoes for dogs set to revolutionise the Industry 4.0 movement, why should I choose to partner with Rockstart over the 52 other accelerator/investors that (haven’t) been knocking at my door?

Michael: “A very valid question. We look at it like this - startups have many options for partnering with advisors, investors and the likes. It is not an easy task to navigate in, particularly when you are also trying to build a business. We have great respect for that, and we aim to run a smooth process and provide real, valuable feedback along the way. We encourage founders to also take some references and ask some questions about their potential partners. It is a very important decision who to partner with, so it needs to sit right with founders, as it does with us at Rockstart.“

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