There are two versions of this story – for now I will go with the simplified version.
Fortunately for the world, a failed interview in September 2008 for a position at North East Finance resulted in the right person getting a job (and me not)¹. However during the interview, I was asked what would I do differently from the current venture funds being offered in the North East of England, as a new series of funds called JEREMIE was being considered.
I suggested a Techstars/Y Combinator like accelerator programme – which was immediately dismissed. However, over the following months the idea did not seem completely unreasonable and I prepared a draft whitepaper called “A Perfect (Disruptive) Storm” explaining the rationale for an accelerator. I subsequently published the whitepaper in late 2009 a few days after the Difference Engine was launched (as embedded below).
During my research for a potential accelerator I participated in a Techcelerate event organised by Manoj Ranaweera in Manchester (“Cloud Computing Event” on 15 April 2009) that included Ivan Farneti (Doughty Hanson), Bindi Karia (Microsoft) and Simone Brunozzi (AWS) – who all went on to become hugely influential to me over the following 5 years.
Particular thanks goes out to Ivan who spoke about the need for positive role models which I still recall and Bindi who has supported throughout including providing facilities for the first Difference Engine Demo Day in London.
I also received huge support locally in the North East from multiple people including Ross Cooney of SuperMondays, Herb Kim of Thinking Digital, David Dunn of Sunderland Software City and Mark Elliott of Digital City Business. It was one of the residents of Digital City Business in Middlesborough that became instrumental.
Kevin Mann, the founder of Graphic.ly (aka Take Comics) became Techstars’ first overseas participant in Boulder in 2009. It was Kevin who made the introduction which subsequently led to David Cohen agreeing to meet with me on the morning of 31 July 2009. About 10 mins into the discussion David leaned across the table and did what David always does – he asked me “What can I do to help?” #givefirst.
In the following months I returned to Boulder to meet with David to understand the Techstars model better and he then spent a few days in the North East meeting with the key influencers including attending a meetup (“SuperStartup“) which was recorded by SuperMondays (unfortunately the videos have since gone) and some very bad pictures.
During the intervening period, an article written by Mike Butcher for TechCrunch article “Seedcamp data shows the startup trends in Europe” provided the final evidence that highlighted the massive demand that had built up in the ecosystem for support.
So, over the last three years Seedcamp has reviewed 1,500 applications, seen teams from 53 countries, has about 500 mentors in its network, held mini Seedcamp events in 10 countries, mentored 280 companies and invested in 14 startups, 11 of which had have follow on funding in the form of more Angel or Series A
As we got closer to the launch, the original working title “Cloud Foundry” was scrapped due to potential confusion with the Foundry Group that Brad Feld who was a partner of (as well as a cofounder of Techstars). After several stressful days we settled on The Difference Engine which quietly launched to the world on 30 November 2009.
¹To provide context at this stage, I was a Business Development Manager at Patricia J Arnold – a small local accounting practice in the Tyne Valley. My wife and I had just moved into a 300 year old barn that we had converted about 10 miles away; which by this stage was bulging with nappies/diapers from three kids in rapid succession.