September 19, 2008 6:03 pm

Seedcamp successes defy gloom

While the financial crisis this week has left many business owners and their employees fretting about their future, a group of lucky entrepreneurs in London are dreaming about a bright future.

Seedcamp, an intensive mentoring programme aimed at jump-starting early- stage internet business ventures across Europe, this week held its second annual competition at University College London to find what could be the next Google.

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Founders and senior executives from some of the world’s largest players on the web, including Microsoft, Skype and Facebook, were on hand, giving one-on-one support to people just starting on the entrepreneurial road.

Seven early-stage ventures were chosen from a group of more than 20 by Seedcamp’s panel of investors: they included Soup.io, a personal web publishing system developed in Vienna, and UberVU, a Romanian team who have devised a method of tracking all mentions of a story across the internet.

Each will receive €50,000 seed funding and further mentoring, legal and business support, plus a trip to meet investors in Silicon Valley.

Saul Klein, Seedcamp’s founder, said: “Raising capital is not the primary goal of Seedcamp. It is what the teams learn and the feedback they get and the access to the network of mentors.”

The upbeat mood among many in the seminars and coffee breaks could not have been a greater contrast to the gloom among workers just a few miles away in the City and Canary Wharf.

Brent Hoberman, who is on his second venture after successfully building travel website Lastminute.com
during the dotcom boom, said now was a good time to be starting a business. “So many great businesses have been founded in the economic downturn,” he said.

“I think you will be seeing more people taking the opportunity, the risk and doing a start-up.”

Hoberman‘s enthusiasm is not shared by many in the venture capital community, who have significantly reduced their involvement in start-ups in recent months.

The number of first-round funding deals dropped by almost a third in the first half of 2008 as investors put money into later-stage businesses, according to Library House, which tracks venture capital (VC) activity in the technology sector.

Klein, who is also a partner at Index Ventures, a London-based VC firm, saw the situation differently.

“If you have a good track record, people will still want to put money to work in
venture as an asset class,” he said.

“The better European firms will be able to raise capital. We will see that over the next 12 months.”

Even Seedcamp attendees, however, could not ignore the gloom in the wider world.

Martin Varsavsky, a serial entrepreneur who founded Spain’s second-largest publicly traded telecoms operator, Jazztel, said: “I’m really sorry that the group of people most likely to finance whatever we were going to do are in such deep trouble.”

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