As well as its biggest ever Demo Day, Entrepreneur First, the UK accelerator which has designs on becoming the ‘Y Combinator of Europe’ today added former serial entrepreneurs Wendy Tan White and Joe White as General Partners.
It’s understood that the husband and wife team — who co-founded the website builder Moonfruit which was sold to Yell in 2012 for $37m in cash — had been looking at various options such as Angel investing, as well as building their own VC fund. But after a stint as Venture Partners with EF, they are now joining as General Partners to assist extending the existing six month EF programme for a further six months.
Entrepreneur First is now looking to raise a new £40m ($56m) “Next Stage” Fund to provide loan notes to EF companies at Demo Day thus giving them an immediate injection of capital. EF says the fund will then do follow-on in seed and series A rounds to maintain its stake in the companies, but will shy away from taking lead rounds or set valuations, presumably because the fund is just not big enough or designed for that use. The fund is set to be deployed for later in 2016. EF said it has “significant commitments in the fund which will close in July 2016 to be deployed to the EF6 cohort who graduate at demo day in September 2016.”
EF’s formula is that it is a pre-seed programme and fund focused on early stage ‘deep’ tech companies only, invests in from scratch, which matches co-founders and adds weekly mentoring with an exited entrepreneur. It also now claims to be the biggest recruiter of Computer Science graduates from Imperial College and increasingly Cambridge, Oxford, UCL and ETH Zurich. In other words, it’s very much positioned as meeting the market failure between academia and venture in Europe.
Matt Clifford, CEO of Entrepreneur First said the support of the Whites would be “invaluable as we continue moving forward.”
In a statement Tan White said: “We have been Venture Partners at Entrepreneur First for nine months now and we were blown away by the quality of the talent and the accelerating performance of the Entrepreneur First portfolio. The platform Matt and Alice have created is unique in its talent first, pre-idea, pre-team approach.”
She added that she believes Entrepreneur First is at “an inflection point. EF is at the stage YC was when Sequoia came in. The opportunity of the next stage fund is unique.”
Joe White admitted that the pair were looking at doing another startup, and were offered investment to do so, as well as roles in government and industry, but that Entrepreneur First’s “philosophy of company building vs. deal selection as a route to generate high performance returns was critical in our choice to join as General Partners and to help hone tomorrow’s technical talent.”
Wendy Tan White told me: “Our involvement is very much a collaboration with the early stage VC community. We believe the first year of a startup’s life, particularly after they raise their seed round, is critical. It’s easier to make the wrong decisions once you have money! How the business is set-up operationally will set its trajectory. The fund is more than half committed and will close in July to be deployed in the EF6 cohort in September 2016.”
“We chose to continue working together. As one of the cohort teams puts succinctly, you’re good separately but you’re magic together. We wanted to leverage the experience we had and build companies at scale.”
Wendy Tan-White is also on the Advisory Board for UK Government Digital Services, the Board of TechCityUK. As well as co-founding Moonfruit Joe White has been a non-exec director of Demotix and COO of Gandi.net.