European accelerators are going through an interesting time right now. For instance, TechStars Stockholm was all set to launch and then abruptly shut down. And I think it’s now commonly accepted that most accelerators outside of YCombinator can too be often ‘less than adequate’, to put it diplomatically. Perhaps an exception to this oft-repeated phrase, in my experience, is Entrepreneur First out of London/Europe (but now also in Asia), and even then that entity is slightly closer to a pre-accelerator in the way it assembles talent before it assembles the startups (although it does also fund its startups).
Having said that, accelerators still have a role to play in Europe’s emerging ecosystem. Admittedly, in the ‘developed’ countries of Western Europe, startups are generally better off skipping accelerators and raising directly from Angels, HNWs and pre-seed funds. Of course, “your mileage may vary.” However, it’s in Eastern Europe that — I think, at least — that accelerators have their best effect in markets where where the tech startup ecosystem barely exists, if at all.
Central, South Eastern, and Eastern Europe have already seen a number of new VCs recognize the talent coming out of those regions (see Inovo, Credo, LauncHub, Vitosha, VentureFriends, Marathon VC etc). Plus, 500 Istanbul last year relaunched istelf as 500 Emerging Europe with a €70 million early-stage fund. The latter has made investements such in Greece (Plum), Latvia (Printify), and Bulgaria (Cloudpipes).
So it’s definitely of interest that there’s a new kid on the block in accelerator land in the shape of 500 Global’s new program in Georgia (the country, not the US state, for those at the back).
As part of this they have bagged a former partner at Shilling VC in Lisbon, Pedro Santos Vieira. Luckily, Georgia’s gain is not Shilling VC’s loss, as he is not leaving Shilling completely, remain on the Investment Committee as as non-Exec. Shilling continues to be among those Lisbon-based VCs enjoying the tech boom that’s been happening in Lisbon these last few years.
Luckily, this is no ‘left field’ move for Vieira, who is no stranger to the region, having served as a mentor previously for 500 Global in that part of the world.
As a newly-appointed Partner for 500 Global, Vieira will oversee the program, based out of Tblisi, Georgia, which plans to accelerate upwards of 100 pre-seed to seed stage companies from countries in the Caucasus, Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and the Baltics, with pre-seed investments starting at US$100,000.
The program is a continutation of 500 Global’s partnership with Georgia’s Innovation and Technology Agency (GITA) and the Bank of Georgia to bring one of the first startup accelerator programs to the country
Indeed, since 2016, there have been three batches with a total of 43 startups out of the region, such as Payze (Georgia), Cargon (Georgia), Finmap (Ukraine), and TASS Vision (Uzbekistan), with many going on to raise significant further rounds.
Vieira told me: “Three years ago, before Schilling, I was working with 500 Global, doing accelerators for them around the world. And one of one of them was Georgia. We had trained 30 companies here and the results were really good.”
“So we have put together a fund starting with $20 million, and from that fund, we will invest in 100+ companies and train them with an accelerator here in Georgia. But it’s not just for Georgia companies, but regional,” he told me.
He said it’s a very ‘interesting’ time in Georgia: “You have Ukrainians and Russians co-living here! You also have Azerbaijani and Armenians of course. We’re committed for the long run in the region to building a large portfolio in the next few years.”
It seems like a very interesting move, and complimentary to 500 Emerging Europe in Istanbul, which doesn’t have an accelerator program and tends to invest in more mature companies with bigger checks, hence why this new 500 entity out of Gerogia makes sense.
With TechStars’ European strategy wobbling and YCombinator withdrawing from the international stage, perhaps it’s 500 Global’s ‘day in the sun’, once more?