Startupbootcamp – the hardline moniker and logo may conjure up notions of spindly-legged CEOs, their hornrimmed glasses caked in mud while being barked at by a jackbooted VC, but Alex Farcet, the tall, affable Dane behind the Berlin-bound project could not be more removed from this authoritarian image.
“It’s madness in the Startupbotcamp offices, but there’s structure to the madness. There are ten very early-stage startups all sharing the same space and mentorship, so there’s an amazing feeling of friendliness and co-operation.”
The European take on Techstars has been spreading across the continent like wildfire since its launch in 2010, led by the former globetrotting DHL executive and self-described “born-again entrepreneur”. So why has it taken him so long to get to Berlin, what can we expect now it’s here? And how could the Samwers get involved to claw back some respect in the city?
The burning desire to be in Berlin
The Startupbootcamp formula is simple – take ten promising, super-early startups and give them 100 days of free office space, funding and mentorship from existing startup stars before pitching to next-stage investors. Since its launch in Copenhagen in 2010, it has already spread to Madrid, Dublin and Amsterdam. Berlin has just become the next pin on the Startupbootcamp globe, with tentative plans for London “with a twist” to follow.
Farcet explains why it’s taken so long to land here: “Berlin has always been on the radar for us, but recently that’s been stepped up to a burning need.
“What I needed to start here, however, was someone who was competent, passionate AND available to head it up – there were plenty of competent and passionate people, but none who were available. That’s when I decided that I would simply have to make the move here myself.”
Follow your dreams, realise the true meaning of risk
Farcet’s trajectory as the European startup drill instructor came after an especially harrowing year for his family: “In 2006 my son Noah was diagnosed with chronic leukemia, and 12 months after that I was diagnosed with skin cancer. It changed my whole outlook. My definition of risk changed and I realised that our time was limited and that I wasn’t a very good entrepreneur. I conducted a total life 180.
“I approached David (Cohen) of Techstars and said, ‘This is my dream, I want to do this in Europe’ and after getting some great advice from him, we’ve never looked back. My son and I are both fine now and I’ve never been happier.”
Could Samwer “secret sauce” be part of the startup recipe?
“The secret sauce in what we do is mentorship,” says Farcet. “We get some super-cool serial entrepreneurs on board, so our startups get access to two years’ worth of contacts in three months. We can give these guys access to the right people at places like YouTube or Coke, so they have access to amazing networks.”
We really do have some of the top talent in the city – there are 24 mentors already onboard in Berlin, including Eric Wahlforss of SoundCloud, Maria Lindinger from Twago, and Gidsy’s Edial and Floris Dekker to name but a few, and their help can range from talks and seminars to totally hands-on help” says Farcet.
When asked if he’d like to get the Samwers on board, Farcet responded with typical optimism: “I’d love to get the Samwers involved – most of our mentors are in “give-back” mode, so to see such established business names engage in helping young startups would be great. I’d love to see what advice they’d give”.
Berlin and beyond – a global accelerator network
Farcet firmly believes in Berlin’s Startupbootcamp’s success. So much so that he’s uprooted his wife and children to come and live in the city for a year while it launches. “The idea is that I’ll head it up in 2012, then pass the reigns to someone else to run. My family are super-excited about moving here – and I’ve already ben hanging out at Oberholz and Betahaus – everything feels really international and vibrant here right now.”
“We already have 60 cities in the world that want to be involved in this project, and we’re still a startup ourselves. I think that there is an opportunity here to take this idea and make it global.
“What keeps me going is the affect this has people’s lives on such a personal level. I love the people side of this, there are so many different personalities that you come into contact with. It’s the best life decision I ever made.”