Entrepreneur First is a London-based startup accelerator which assists promising UK and Central European tech graduates and those already working in technology firms to design and run their own startups. Founded in 2011 by Matthew Clifford and Alice Bentinck, the program helped establish 75 startups valued at $450 million in its first four years. Entrepreneur First differs from other accelerators such as Y Combinator and Wayra in that it seeks out individuals with concepts rather than existing companies.
In 2016, Entrepreneur First opened applications for a Singapore programme, its first expansion abroad.
Entrepreneur First aims to attract the top graduates in computer science and engineering, with the goal of encouraging them to start their own businesses rather than enter traditional career tracks in the corporate or banking world. The program also accepts applicants who are already working in tech firms. Applicants do not need to have an idea for a business or a team in place before applying, but are evaluated solely on the basis of technical talent.
The six-month, cohort-based program is divided into two parts. The first three months are devoted to building a team and "identifying a problem they want to solve before creating a product to solve it". During the second three months, participants receive guidance in running a business from mentors in the science academic and venture capital fields. Participants also meet with senior business executives and government officials at 10 Downing Street. The program furnishes each startup team with a monthly stipend for living expenses, office space, and administrative and legal assistance.
The program culminates in a Demo Day at which each team delivers a three-minute pitch before dozens of venture capital investors and angel investors. Entrepreneur First continues to guide startup teams through fundraising and hiring over the next six months.
Entrepreneur First invests £16,600 to £19,900 in each startup in London, and SG$30000 in Singapore. In return, it claims an 8 percent equity share.
In its first four years, Entrepreneur First helped establish 75 startups valued at $450 million. Among its successful startups are Adbrain, Echobox, Blaze bike lights, Pi-Top, Permutive, Tractable, Code Kingdoms, and Magic Pony Technology.
The program receives over 1,500 applications per year and accepts 150 of them every six months. Applicants – generally computer science and engineering graduates, along with "self-taught programmers with arts degrees" – are the products of the University of Cambridge, Imperial College London, University of Edinburgh, and the University of St Andrews. Entrepreneur First conducts its own talent searches to find and interest graduates in the program, encouraging them to apply "rather than joining Google or Facebook or doing a PhD or Postdoc".
Entrepreneur First differs from other accelerators such as Y Combinator and Wayra in that it works with individuals rather than companies. However, its successful startups have gone on to receive investor funding from Y Combinator, as well as from Balderton Capital, Index Ventures, Notion Capital, and Octopus Investments.
In July 2015 Entrepreneur First announced the establishment of an £8.5 million fund, backed by Encore Capital Group, Infocomm Investments, and angel investors such as Robin Klein and Alex Chesterman, which will enable it to accept 200 participants per year for the next three years.
Entrepreneur First was founded in 2011 by Matthew Clifford and Alice Bentinck, who had worked as management consultants at McKinsey & Company since 2009. According to Matthew Clifford, the model was inspired by a McKinsey project to develop a technology cluster in East London, which would tap "talented graduates" to create startups to bolster the cluster. Believing that the model would best succeed independently, Clifford and Bentinck left McKinsey and started the program themselves. Clifford serves as CEO while Bentinck is the COO.
McKinsey & Company provided seed funding, and KPMG, Microsoft, and Sky were early corporate sponsors.
The logo of Entrepreneur First, chosen by Clifford, is a "fierce and scrappy" honey badger.
After 4 years operating exclusively in London, Entrepreneur First announced its expansion to Singapore.
Bentinck founded Code First: Girls in late 2012 to address the decline of women working in the tech and digital workforce which has led to a lack of diversity in the sector.
Clifford and Bentinck were awarded MBEs in the 2016 Birthday Honours for services to business.