MIT eTeams shows effective acceleration for international startups in Boston

photo courtesy MIT
photo courtesy MIT

Contributed article from Jos Scheffelaar, chief executive and co-founder of the Launch in US Alliance and EuroUS Accelerator. He is also an MIT eTeams organizing committee member.

In earlier editions of this blog you have been reading about a group of European companies participating in the unique MIT eTeams international acceleration program that was held in Cambridge from May 2-16.

The international teams have now left and returned to Europe. As one of the organizers of the program, I am happy to give you a look behind the scenes of this program, and show what makes this one of the few effective international accelerator programs in Boston.

The eTeams program originated as the U.S.-portion of the €1 million Building Global Innovators (BGI) venture competition organized by the Institute of Lisbon, MIT Portugal, and Caixa Capital. The competition is supported by the Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT) of the Portuguese Ministry for Education and Science.

The BGI competition has attracted entries from 22 countries and four continents. The companies involved have collectively raised an additional €17 million in financing, with 60 percent stemming from risk capital sources, making it the second most impactful acceleration program in Europe. The program was managed by Jose Estabil and Luis Barros at MIT, and in Portugal by Gonçalo Amorim and Catarina Madeira.

In 2013, to engage the Boston ecosystem for European startups, Dr. Abi Barrow of the Massachusetts Tech Transfer Center, Christa Bleyleben of MassGlobal Partners, and myself joined the eTeams organizing committee.

We all realize that the United States does not have a monopoly on the best technologies. As a matter of fact, in many cases European technology is comparable if not better. What is usually holding European companies back from building disruptive new businesses is a less vibrant ecosystem, lack of entrepreneurial skills, experienced mentors and culture. In most cases, European programs that bring teams to the U.S. do not exceed a level of “Innovation Tourism,” with delegations usually bussed from MIT to Harvard, and other standard stops and events.

There is no better way to start remedying this problem than by getting groups of promising European startups to Boston, bringing them to MIT and Kendall Square, and having MIT faculty and other experts train them, mentor them, and make sure that they are equipped with a compelling message about the value of what they are offering to the market and potential investors.

We help them with advice and introductions, and connect them with hand-picked catalysts from our networks who are able to help them in their specific niche markets.

This year a total of nineteen teams participated, from Portugal, Italy, Switzerland, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Russia, and also from the emerging economies of Slovakia, Hungary, and the Czech Republic.

The teams met with potential investors, partners, and customers. Some found experts for their advisory boards, and some even found potential future employees. After everything they learned, some realized that they are not ready for the U.S. market. But they all go back home better, more inspired entrepreneurs, who may come back immediately or when their venture warrants a U.S. presence.

Several teams told us that they had never considered Boston as a potential starting point for entering the U.S. market — most Europeans jump to the conclusion that Silicon Valley is the first place to start in the U.S. But the program made them realize that Boston is a good fit for their business and a better place to make a soft landing due to more manageable time zone difference from their engineering team, the presence of “hardcore science,” and the density of the Boston/Cambridge innovation hub, which makes it efficient to schedule multiple meetings per day.

We thank all who have contributed to the success of the eTeams program. The discussion about the next edition of the program has already started!

Jos Scheffelaar is CEO of Launch in US Alliance and the EuroUS Accelerator.