Walk into the offices of Startupbootcamp Barcelona and you’ll find little evidence that a leading global accelerator used to call the space home less than 3 weeks ago. Even during the final month of this year’s program, the office felt eerily quiet and empty. It was a such drastic change from the excitement and clamour of the first year when mentor meetings and expert workshops seemed to be running round the clock.
Startupbootcamp IoT and Data arrived in Barcelona in 2014 as the first really big name of international accelerator programs moving into the city. The program has now accelerated 30 startups from all corners of the world, and successfully raised funding for companies like Hutoma, Teraki and Datumize.
However, after wrapping their 3rd edition during the Mobile World Congress, the future of the Barcelona program is in limbo, and it’s not certain that Startupbootcamp will continue to live on in Barcelona at all. According to co-founder of the program Aldo de Jong:
“We create and fund programs for the period of 3 years and then reconsider the format, the vertical theme and other aspects which allow us to refresh the ecosystem of partners, investors and mentors around that theme. We have come to the end of the first 3-year period and are now in this period of reflection.”
The former managing director and co-founder of SBC Barcelona, Angel Garcia is uncertain how he wants to continue his involvement.
“I would be involved somehow, but I wouldn’t need to be the number one person. It would be a shame for the city to lose the brand and the possibilities Startupbootcamp offers”.
We completely agree and that’s why the abrupt closing of Startupbootcamp IoT and Data came as such a shock to the local startup ecosystem. People are asking, “What happened?” and, more importantly, “What’s next?”
Working towards a solution
In addition to Garcia (year 1), the program featured 2 different program directors during its 3 year run – Ian Collingwood (year 2) and Richard Legrand (year 3). As of today, there are 4 startups still using the space for another 3 months and there is a reduced team working at Startupbootcamp like any year in between programs. The co-founders and mentors are continuing to work with the teams as well, to help them with their next step: expanding their sales internationally and raising funds if necessary.
Aldo de Jong, who started the initiative to get the program up and running says he’s looking into different solutions:
“I’m doing everything possible to keep the program alive, or launch something new, still aimed at acceleration of startups in Barcelona.“
On the question on why co-founder Garcia is leaving, the answer is clear:
“The plan was always to do three years, and take it from there. I’m involved in several companies, both as an investor and as a board member, so I have multiple things going on.”
Garcia says he will take a couple of months to reach a final decision, but certainly a 2017 edition doesn’t seem likely.
Competition increasing between accelerators
With an increasing number of accelerator programs popping up throughout Europe, attracting startups to Barcelona becomes harder each year, according to de Jong who’s also a co-founder of Claro Partners, an innovation consultancy:
“Even though few global accelerators can match what we do at Startupbootcamp, it’s hard to show that through a website. Many so-called accelerators are confusing founders, making it harder for those of us with a track record and a good format to find the best teams.”
Director Garcia agrees:
“It’s a numbers game, so it’s all about attracting enough participants and have the best deal-flow. The competition has become harder every year.”
De Jong points to a shift in their vertical and IoT and Data, their current focus, might be on the way out:
“There is one thing we focus on when we help founders, and that is that all the startups are there to make an impact. We were one of the first vertically focused accelerators around, and this is one of the reasons why we’ve been able to attract so many great founders. Maybe it’s time to look for new verticals, to be even more at the forefront of innovation.”
As of today, de Jong is looking for someone else to lead the program, but first they’ll need to raise new funding to get themselves up and running again. Three years ago the city pumped significant capital into the accelerator, but it’s currently unclear if the city would be willing to invest to keep the program alive.
That’s the big challenge with the accelerator model in general. By the time you run out of cash, not enough time has gone by to see whether or not you were successful. On the final day of a 3-year program, only been 2 years will have passed since the first batch of startups graduated. In such a brief timespan, it’s difficult to generate enough success stories to give investors the confidence to re-invest for another 3 years.
Even though we currently don’t know if Startupbootcamp Barcelona will live to see another batch of startups, both co-founders appear to be very proud of what the program has achieved.
“The program has been a success, and we’ve worked with so many amazing companies and entrepreneurs. Just look at our numbers, over 80 percent of our companies still exist today, it’s not many other accelerators that can deliver that kind of metrics,” says de Jong.
It’s clear he won’t be going down without a fight.
“I want it on the record that I’ll work to keep Startupbootcamp in Barcelona, so we can continue to attract international investors and startups to the city.”
There’s no doubt that Barcelona’s startup ecosystem has grown and prospered over the last three years, all graphs and metrics will back that. However, the closing of what many thought was the city’s top accelerator has sent shockwaves throughout the startup community. With programs like Numa Barcelona still enjoying that new accelerator smell and Wayra announcing another call for startups, it may be tough to regain the momentum Startupbootcamp had just a couple of years ago.
Garcia hopes for the best, but doesn’t have any qualms with whatever comes next for the Barcelona franchise:
“In the end, no matter what kind of future Startupbootcamp has in Barcelona, I’m very proud of what we’ve achieved.”