SoftBank launches Emerge accelerator for various founders in Europe
The logo of the SoftBank group in Tokyo.
Philippe Fong | AFP via Getty Images
LONDON – SoftBank aims to put its money where its mouth is on diversity.
SoftBank Investment Advisers, which manages the Japanese tech investment conglomerate’s Vision fund, said on Wednesday it will launch its Emerge accelerator program focused on diversity in Europe.
The company first introduced Emerge last year in the United States with WeWork Labs, the office rental company’s start-up incubator, to support 14 start-ups whose founders come from backgrounds under -represented. SoftBank says it has so far invested $ 5 million in 13 start-ups in the program.
Now SoftBank is bringing Emerge to Europe – but with a twist. This time, it calls on Speedinvest and a number of other notable venture capitalists on the continent to provide access to a wider network of potential investors and partners.
“Softbank is a famous investor in the final stages, with massive global successes,” as Uber, Oliver Holle, co-founder and managing partner of Speedinvest, told CNBC in an interview. “But they are not designed to invest in those very early stages of building a business.”
Other venture capital funds participating in the European program include Breega, Cherry Ventures, firstminute capital and Kindred.
Start-up acceleration programs are a common way for entrepreneurs to access mentorship from the early days of starting their business. Many well-known tech companies today have requested acceleration programs and then launched successful businesses including Stripe, Airbnb, and Coinbase.
Catherine Lenson, Managing Partner and Director of Human Resources at SoftBank Investment Adivsers.
Two key differences between conventional accelerator programs and SoftBank’s are that SoftBank doesn’t just focus on black founders and other minorities, it invests in companies as well.
“It went from an accelerator of connections, tools, networks and opportunities to an accelerator that funded businesses in the end,” Catherine Lenson, managing partner and director of human resources at SoftBank Investment, told CNBC. Advisers.
Last year, the murder of George Floyd and subsequent Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality and racism sparked discussions in boardrooms about how companies should approach diversity. Tech is an industry that has a bad reputation for diversity, with people working in the industry predominantly white and male.
Various tech investors, including SoftBank and Andreessen Horowitz, have proposed initiatives to address the issue. Some companies, like London-based Ada Ventures, have supported new standards for venture capital, which places diversity at the forefront of investment decisions.
In Europe, around 91% of venture capital money went to start-ups with all-male founding teams last year, according to a report from Atomico. And 62% of under-represented founders found it more difficult to raise funds, up from 31% in 2019.
“What we are seeing is that founders of various origins went through incredible incubators very early in their lives,” Lenson said. But “when they got to the subsequent fundraising rounds, we found the doors were still closing for them,” she added.
SoftBank’s eight-week Emerge program will be open to a cohort of early-stage companies who already have a viable product with scalability potential, and at least one founder who identifies as non-white, female. , LGBTQ +, disabled or refugee.
Investors would then back the rounds of successful start-ups, with SoftBank injecting up to $ 2.5 million and Speedinvest matching that amount, Holle said. The other venture capital firms would participate with smaller commitments.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, SoftBank was unable to run its 2020 program in person as originally planned. Lenson has said the same will be true for this year, but she is hopeful there could be an in-person component as travel restrictions ease in the coming months.
Emerge is not SoftBank’s first diversity-focused investment initiative. The company has also created a $ 100 million “Opportunities Fund” for minority-owned businesses, for example. SoftBank does not have the best track record of supporting diverse teams, however, having only invested in a handful of companies started by black or female founders.