12 February 2014

Bristol’s new home for web innovation

Andrew’s recent Bright Stuff post about Engine Shed, Bristol’s terrific new business facility at Temple Meads, got me thinking some more about the fast developing tech scene in Bristol.

The city’s SETsquared incubator has its home at Engine Shed now, and is a proven tech innovation hub. But alongside SETsquared at Engine Shed is another less familiar operation, WebStart Bristol. (It’s less familiar simply because it’s very new.)

WebStart Bristol is the brainchild of tech entrepreneur Mike Jackson. Mike has noted that web and app startups are seen by investors as high risk, because the competition is so fierce – which means even good and well-executed businesses might be commercial failures. Given the risks and also the potential rewards, Mike has decided to deliver wraparound support to the best startups in this space by investing himself, and getting others to invest, through an equity-based crowdfunding model. Using Seedrs, WebStart has attracted 133 investors who have put a combined £150,000 into the pot: this for a ten per cent stake in the first ten WebStart businesses. Future groups of ten, kicking off later in the year, will look for similar backing.

So how does WebStart work? Like this.

Every year WebStart takes 30 web or app startups – in groups of ten at a time, and crowdfunded as described – and gives them a home, some money and 10 weeks of intensive mentoring from a team of experts.

At the end of each ten week programme, WebStart will host a demo day where each startup pitches their business idea to a room full of potential investors. From there, anything can happen.

It’s an exciting prospect and the first group of ten is now proceeding, with Mike himself in position as a full time mentor-in-residence. There are also several other experts involved, for Mike and his chosen startups to call on.

As well as drawing in investors through Seedrs, Mike is putting up £100,000 of his own money and says he is determined to make WebStart Bristol the best internet incubator in the UK.

TechCrunch thinks the crowdfunding element of it in particular is a great idea; for me it’s fantastic end-to-end. As a Bristol adviser and business owner who is also active in the London technology scene, I’m thrilled to see this happening in our city. It's another great step forward for Bristol which keeps us on the cutting edge, in this most exciting part of the UK's commercial life.

Also, while I am on the topic of Bristol’s evolving tech scene, another area where activity is hotting up now is Stokes Croft: facilities like 77 Stokes Croft, opposite Hamilton House, have some interesting organisations in the mix, including Bristol Games Hub and AgileBase. "Workspace in the centre of Bristol's coolest quarter" proclaims the homepage of 77. I’ll write more on this another day.

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