Company builder Entrepreneur First is expanding to Berlin

Entrepreneur First (EF), the London-headquartered company builder that invests in individuals “pre-team, pre-idea” to help create new technology startups, is continuing to expand internationally. Following adding an outpost and program in Singapore, in addition to London, the so-called talent-first investor is setting up shop in Berlin, kicking off its first German program this April.

That perhaps shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, given Germany’s reputation for technical education and the city’s growing tech company ecosystem, the two pillars of EF’s recruitment funnel as it seeks out the founders of tomorrow. It also follows EF’s most recent funding round that saw $12.4 million invested in the company builder, with the primary aim to scale EF, including running more programs in European cities and elsewhere.

At the time of EF’s funding announcement, Reid Hoffman, who led the round on behalf of Silicon Valley’s Greylock Partners, told me he could see “a universe in which there’s 20 or 30 or 40 cities, maybe even 50, where Entrepreneur First is integral to creating a set of interesting tech companies in those areas”. Furthermore, he argued that EF can reach scale if it gets the formula right, pointing to how Silicon Valley’s Y Combinator has grown in the last decade.

To that end, EF says that its Berlin program will only be three months long per cohort, not the six months seen by London and Singapore. That, explained EF co-founder Matt Clifford, is a realisation — or, perhaps, hypothesis — that for the company builder to scale globally without becoming an ever sprawling organisation and in turn too large to manage, it needs to focus locally on the part most unique to EF.

That is, attracting talented individuals into entrepreneurship and matching them with a complementary co-founder so that they can form a startup that might otherwise never exist.

The second three months of EF’s program in London and Singapore sees it support these newly formed co-founder teams to develop their business plan and be ready to pitch for and receive investment at Demo Day. In Berlin that won’t happen through a formal and locally run program but teams formed at EF Berlin will still be eligible to participate in its London demo day and receive investment from the existing EF investment fund and take advantage of EF’s investor network.

Clifford also makes the point that while “talent is local, venture capital is global,” and London VCs are as likely to invest in Berlin as in their home city and vice versa. It’s a “more modular” form of EF, he says, and should this model work as well as the longer London and Singapore programs it will pave the way for EF to scale up quicker across Europe in future.

Aside from its strong academia and technical industries, including a growing number of scale-ups, I asked Clifford what else made Berlin a good choice over, say, Paris or other European cities that have burgeoning startup scenes. Quite candidly, he says that Berlin, especially compared to London, which has grown up a lot over the last few years, has more left-field ideas and founders. “Berlin is a place where we see a little bit more contrarian thinking, a little bit more weirdness. And I mean that in a really positive way,” he says.