The Difference Engine aims to bring the YCombinator or TechStars mentality to European startups

The Difference Engine is shaping up to be the kind of raw, Web 2.0 incubator the UK has lacked for some time. Whereas Seedcamp tends to take more fully formed early stage startups on, The Difference Engine is closer to having a hacker mentality. When you want to just go and build a product, this might be the kind of programme that appeals. Word on the street is that the programme is sidlign up to the TechStars programme in the US, but nothing is confirmed as yet.

Based in the north-east of the UK, TDE has £200,000 of public funds to put into 10 start ups from anywhere in Europe. Closer to Y Combinator (Silicon Valley) and TechStars (Boulder, Colorado), this is a full time programme to accelerate early stage digital start-ups from an idea to version one of a product/service during a 16 week programme. The equity funding comes down to £20k for up to 10% of the business, but comes with mentoring, coaching and training. The new start-ups are typically 2 to 3 members of which at least 2 are developers.

Afterwards the the businesses are expected to be investor ready. There will be a demo day of the startups it’s incubating next month in London.

I’ve visited The Difference Engine guys who are based out of Middlesbrough in a funky building built by the local authority to attract new digital businesses. I have to say I was impressed, not just by building and the teams, but by this very simple idea: it’s outside London.

Frankly I think that’s more important that it sounds. When all you need to be doing is coding, eating and sleeping, London’s bright lights can be a distraction. It’s not for nothing that some of Europe’s best startups come out of places where, especially in Winter, things can be pretty low key. Dopplr? Helsinki. Spotify? Stockholm. Sure, these are actually great cities, but they are not big and crucially, the temptation to just stay indoors and get on with the job is strong.

Middlesbrough? Believe me, there is not a hell of a lot to entertain you in Middlesbrough. Which makes it perfect for iterating-up a startup. The second phase will start in July and be based in nearby Sunderland.

Here’s a deeper insight into the programme, courtesy of three videos the teams have made.

Update: BTW, I’m not saying being in Middlesbrough is perfect. The best conditions are still in London. However, for getting that crucial *focus* it’s hard to beat.

The Difference Engine Episode 1 from The Difference Engine on Vimeo.

The Difference Engine Episode 3 from The Difference Engine on Vimeo.