Entrepreneur First recruiting U.S. investment team because European VC lags European talent

Entrepreneur First (EF), the London-based so-called “talent first” investor that targets technical graduates in Europe and beyond to put them through a six-month program where they form teams and in turn found startups, is building its own U.S. based investment team and network.

The move, explains Matt Wichrowski (Head of Investments at Entrepreneur First) in a Medium post, is in recognition that “European capital has not effectively kept up with European talent”.

And to bridge that gap, which he says has seen Europe “trail the U.S. in both deal count and aggregate investment,” Wichrowski is moving to Boston to head up EF’s U.S. office and specifically to build better ties to the investment community across the pond to help EF portfolio companies raise future funding — a metric the “pre-team, pre-idea” startup builder will increasingly be judged on.

“For the past few years, EF has primarily been measured by the quality of the teams coming out of our core program at Demo Day. Over time, however, our KPI will transition to whether we can consistently nurture alumni that grow into global businesses,” writes Wichrowski. “That growth requires investment, and a key component of success will be our teams’ ability to fundraise. The world’s best companies require the world’s best capital”.

Much of that capital, of course, resides in the U.S. (as does some of EF’s existing LPs, for that matter), and the plan, says EF co-founder and Chief Executive Matt Clifford, was always to recruit a U.S.-based investment team and build a U.S. investor network as the program scales from tens to hundreds of startups/alumni. However, I get the sense this may have happened a little more urgently after Wichrowski, who only joined EF a few months ago, announced he intended to move to the other side of the Atlantic.

“We wanted to do this anyway and didn’t expect Matt Wichrowski to be the guy,” admits Clifford. “He joined us in March, worked with us for four months and absolutely aced it, so when he announced he was moving to the U.S. we decided to kill two birds with one stone”.

The EF co-founder is also keen to stress that the move is less a diss to the scale and ambition of European VC (and its sometimes reluctance to invest in the types of “deep tech” that EF, with its focus on technical talent, aims to foster), but more a necessary move given the scale at which EF itself is growing.

“This isn’t about Euro VC lagging, it’s really about EF’s scale,” he says. “In 2014 we created 9 companies we needed to get funded; in 2015, 25; this year, 50; and next year 75… We’re scaling a lot faster than the U.K. funding ecosystem, so it’s important that we can access the best early stage capital for our companies, wherever that happens to be — London, Singapore, U.S…”.

To that end, Clifford says EF is already seeing tonnes of inbound interest from U.S. investors, fuelled in part by the recent exit of alumni Magic Pony to Twitter for up to $150 million, which raised a few eyebrows given that the startup was less than two years old.

Adds Wichrowski: “Early-stage investment is a relationship-driven business, and we are excited about our ability to nurture those relationships and offer them as a value-add to our EF alumni. My mission will be to provide our teams a highly curated view of the most relevant investors and tailored guidance for their unique fundraising needs. And my hope is that this upfront effort will significantly reduce the time and energy drain for our founders.”

In addition to Wichrowski building an investor network in the U.S., Business Insider reports that Entrepreneur First partner Wendy Tan White and Entrepreneur First head of programme Jade Read, will liaise with investors in the U.K. and Europe, and Alex Crompton, the director of Entrepreneur First’s Singapore operation, will look to build investor support in Singapore.