Europe’s Rockstart accelerator launches an AI track

Netherlands-based accelerator program Rockstart, which focuses on helping startups through their first 1,000 days, has launched a new vertical program for artificial intelligence startups — touting it as Europe’s first AI-focused accelerator.

The AI program will be accepting applications from next month, and Rockstart says it will pick ten startups for the six-month program, which will commence in September. Teams will be based in s’Hertogenbosch.

Rockstart has been accelerating startups since 2012, and is backed by partners including Google, Amazon and IBM. It says the new AI track will be supported by mentors and partners including the locally-based Jheronimus Academy of Data Science (JADS).

There’s no specific industry focus for the program — with the idea being to attract AI startups from a range of industries. “We consciously decided not to narrow it down in order to have startups from different industries working under one roof — that’s, in my opinion, where innovation often comes from,” says a spokesman.

“We indeed have seen a number of startups with AI at their core in our other programs over the past couple of years. With this new program, we want to be able to add more value for startups like those by delivering relevant tech/business expertise, knowledge, and partnerships,” he adds.

The selection criteria for the AI track will be the same as for Rockstart’s other programs.

“We’re looking first of all at the team, and then at the product/idea and whether it’s actually demanded by the respective industry. If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail, so one of our goals is to avoid employing a technology for the technology’s sake. In the selection process we’re going to focus, among other things, on whether AI is really the best solution for the problem the startup is trying to solve,” the spokesman tells TechCrunch.

Startups accepted for the program will receive €20,000 cash and €80,000 of “in-kind funding”, office space in Den Bosch for the duration, and support from mentors from relevant industries, as well as more than 50 perks and deals (billed as worth some €600,000) from program partners.

Named mentors for the AI track include Dr Eric Postma, professor at JADS; Jasper Wognum, the founder of BrainCreators; Dr Mykola Pechenizkiy, professor at Eindhoven University of Technology; and Christoph Auer-Welsbach, partner at IBM Ventures and initiator at City.AI.

Rockstart says it expects to take a 6 percent stake in startups entering the program — after they’ve raised their next round of funding.

Last month US-based startup hothouse factory Y Combinator also launched a dedicated AI track. So while all startups will likely be AI startups in the future, there are dedicated accelerator programs springing up to plug the gap in the meanwhile.