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How Entrepreneur First sources deep tech startups

How Entrepreneur First sources deep tech startups
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Celebrating its 12th Demo Day yesterday, Entrepreneur First (EF) presented 27 startups on stage at London’s Kings Place, and deep tech was a key theme for the talent investor once again.

The demo day included pitches from startups based in London, Paris and Berlin, with the primary focus areas being AI, machine learning, biotech and, increasingly, sustainability.

ef toronto

Founded by Matthew Clifford and Alice Bentick in 2011, EF has boasted a unique model of talent sourcing, which differs from traditional startup incubators and accelerators. Rather than seeking already formed startups in early-stage, EF sources exceptional individuals with the potential to start a business, putting them into cohorts and helping them to find a partner, develop an idea and create the startup from scratch.

It has since expanded globally across Europe and Asia, with talent programmes spanning to Singapore, Hong Kong and Bangalore.

“Our core principle is not that we invest in tech, but that we invest in people,” Clifford told Techworld during the London demo day. “So we will fund whatever the most ambitious people want to build and right now we think that is going to be tech. We think that the global scalability of tech makes it very attractive to ambitious people, but we’re really comfortable with the idea that’s going to change.” 

Clifford is confident that EF will continue to lead the way with startup trends, by not going for what’s big in the market but what founders are passionate about.

“We try to go the other way around. I think the reason we ended up investing in machine learning before almost anyone else in the UK was not because we saw that as a macro trend, but because we went out to look for talent and we’d go to computer science departments at universities and ask what the smartest people on campus are interested in. Machine learning is what they said.

“So we don’t really want to follow top down trends,” Clifford adds. “I think it’s very easy if you do that to fight the last battle and miss the way. We’re much more interested in what these exceptional people are interested in and that’s the trend we’d like to follow.”

Read next: EF’s Alice Bentinck talks #MovingForward and the need for more diversity and less excuses in VC

The rise of deep tech

Over the years, the tech sector has become the biggest market for ambitious startup founders, and the investment has duly followed.

Technology is always changing though and where EF was seeing mobile and AI as key themes over the years, it has now shifted to what they brand as ‘deep tech’.

For example: “We’ve seen a big shift towards biotech,” Bentick told Techworld earlier this year. “Now because we do active sourcing we do dictate to some extent who applies to EF, but the cost of producing a biotech company has fallen significantly. It now looks like you can do AI-style investment into biotech. We’ve got a bunch of interesting companies coming through doing clean meat, membranes, pretty much everything that you can imagine. It is definitely cutting edge.”

According to the cofounders, deep tech currently provides plenty of opportunities for investors and is a popular theme amongst big name investors in Silicon Valley.


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