Founders, ICE And The Rise Of The Entrepreneur Influencers

Watching the dawn come up with a bunch of European entrepreneurs on tour in Tel Aviv this week, and hanging out with many of them at the recent F.ounders conference in Dublin, made me realise one thing: these guys just don’t care. They will do anything it takes to make it happen. Their attitude is in stark contrast some of the issues they face. Sometimes, when you look at the dire economies and the regulations European entrepreneurs have to deal with, you would forgive them for moving entirely to another part of the planet. Not only two they generally have to deal with less access to funding than their US counterparts, but also the EU commission looking over their shoulders with continual changes to Cookie and privacy laws. But increasingly they are waking up to the fact that they may just be at the start of a journey which sees them develop not just economic power but gradually, political influence.

As one founder put it to me on a bus ride to a meeting at the British Embassy in Tel Aviv – where the 50 founders as part of the ICE Group were to meet the Israeli startup community and the British Ambassador “I’m going to spend the next year travelling the globe, and then I will make my decision on where to start up.” That means government realising they will have to woo this new economic class, or rick missing out on the high growth companies of the future.

That attitude is endemic in this group of people.

With its combination of mailing list and real-world trips to form bonds between its member entrepreneurs, ICE – the slightly tongue-in-cheek named International Conclave of Entrepreneurs – is drawn from a mostly London-based founders, but has increasingly spread its network to Europe and the US. Founded by Alex Hoye (CEO, Latitude Digital), Joshua March (CEO, Conversocial), Peter Ward (CEO WAYN), Kieran O’Neil (Co-founder Playfire) and Andrew Scott (The Taploid), the group was born in 2009 out of simple informal vacations with fellow entrepreneurs. The group stays within the Dunbar number of 150 – the ideal number for a group to retain strong social bonds.

Since then ICE has been a highly curated member-only network.

But something changed this year when the group decided to take a delegation to Tel Aviv to meet both the startup community there (mainly at the DLD Tel Aviv conference) and officialdom. But what started out as informal networking sessions ended with the the group being presented to the British Amabassador and Israel’s President, Shimon Peres.

It’s at this point the game changes from simple business networking to something else entirely.

This is further evidence that entrepreneurs in Europe are not longer of a mind to simply stand on the sidelines and watch as their governments legislate without their input.

Out of much of Europe, the UK government has been perhaps the most proactive on this score, creating a Tech City body in London which, despite it’s PR brief, has often turned out to be a Trojan Horse for new legislative ideas around startups and, more recently, moves to create a new stock exchange listing mechanism.

Over in Berlin, the German government recently woke up to the rapidly growing ecosystem on its doorstep, with the Economics and Technology Minister Philipp Rösler recently being presented with a ‘Berlin startup manifesto‘ aimed at persuading the federal government to drop tax proposals set to hit innovative young companies hard.

Almost at the same time in France, the Hollande government has been battling a wave of entrepreneurs telling them their new tax proposals will have dire consequences for startups. The jury remains out on the outcome.

And recently, there was good news coming from a less likely place for startups, when Italy’s technocratic government enacted new laws to allow for a new kind of limited company, aimed at startups, and a €200 million fund for startups – this, after much pressure from Italy’s tech startup community.

All over Europe, entrepreneurs are gathering, whether it be Founders Forum, the new CEO Dinner initiative, the new Dutch startup collective, the Silicon Milkroundabout hiring frenzy, the London, the ‘Estonian Startup Mafia‘, and beyond to the Garage Geeks in Israel or the the PEEKs in Ramallah. There’s no way I could list all the groups out there.

But slowly, surely they are organising.

And when the Founders conference in Dublin recently convened for the third time, it wasn’t the Irish President and Taoiseach (Prime Minister) they met (that was last year’s edition), but General Wesley Clark, the former Supreme Allied Commander in Europe of NATO.

Indeed, the links forged at the likes of Founders or ICE may be far more powerful than any kind of lobbying – eventually we will see IPOs and ‘mafias’ like the Paypal mafia go on to launch yet more companies. And because the policy makers see for themselves the creativity and success of these entrepreneurs, they go on to shape the legislation to suit (at least one hopes they do). Success, ultimately, can be more powerful than lobbying and government initiatives.

While Bravo TV in the US is poised to air the Silicon Valley reality TV show, the true reality is that entrepreneurs globally, impatient as always to change the world, are starting to work out how to flex their collective muscles, first by simply forming stronger and deeper friendships, and then by taking their ideas to the highest echelons of power.

As ICE’s Alex Hoye tells me: “The primary goal for ICE is for founders and to get to know one another to then be there for one another over time, and that has not changed. However, the inspired welcome we received from Israeli founders, investors and government make it clear that the community is global with mutual lessons to share, and we will continue to step up our game to match that.” In fact, next up is an assault on WEF/Davos.

And as Alexia Tsotsis has said time and time again, tech is going mainstream. And mainstream implies influence at the top.

Reality TV shows will come and go, but the actuality is that real entrepreneurs are poised to take the world by storm.

Trying watching this: