8 Ways on How to Find Startups to Invest In

10 minute read

* Article updated September 21, 2022.

You’ve been googling startups to invest in all night long, looking for the next Uber to capitalize on. The research hasn’t been fruitful, though. What are you doing wrong?

Chances are you’re not exploiting all the existing weapons in your startup hunt.

Time to step up your game. Worry not, here’s a list of eight ways to find the most brilliant and promising startups.


1. In-person professional networking


Why is in-person networking useful for finding startups?

Consider this: how much time and energy are you investing in your social media presence on networking sites? Instead of spending hours at your desk screening and analyzing startups, get out there and start shaking some hands.

In-person professional networking allows the building of human professional relationships that last longer than partnerships born in the digital world. It's a tried and true method to find and promote startup companies.

Why is the human element still so relevant in networking? Because humans have social needs.

“Dependence on and cooperation with each other enhanced our ability to survive under harsh environmental circumstances.  Although the survival threats of these circumstances have lessened in today’s world, people continue to have a need to affiliate with others.” - Sreenivasan & Weinberger, Ph.D. in clinical psychology

The need to connect and socialize is fulfilled when meeting people. In fact, communication through a screen alienates human contact.

The best Startup investment can come from word of mouth. That’s why most startups that haven’t built an online presence do so by spreading the word in the traditional way. That is, through in-person networking strategies. Be sure to be the one they network with.

How can you practice in-person professional networking?

Startup hunting can take the form of competitions, summits, meetups, and conferences.

Attending industry-specific events will allow you to meet startups with similar interests. Moreover, it will make a more decisive impact than just sending a mail or scheduling an online chat. This means you are in a better position to make an informed decision regarding which startups to invest in.


2. Startup online aggregators


What are aggregators?

Online Aggregators are a smart way to improve efficiency and save time navigating the web and analyzing information. Consider this - would you rather cruise your way through pages and pages of Google pages to find the perfect office chair, or would you rather leave the job to Amazon’s filters?

In the era of digitization and automatization, we are submerged in information. Business-wise, we simply don’t have the skills nor the time to filter through the masses of knowledge on the web. It’s overwhelming and incredibly time-consuming.

Here’s where these firms come into the picture. In fact, online aggregators are network business models which collect and regulate unorganized and large categories of information. The providers of goods/services are grouped per industry under the aggregator, which functions as an umbrella company.

The providers become partners, or they can be collected by the online aggregating firm. Best of all, the providers continue to be the owners of their products/services. The whole situation is a win-win. The aggregator assures leads for the partners, which in turn makes sure to provide a quality product/service for the customers.


Why are aggregators useful in finding startups?

The advantages they have in finding startups to invest in are straightforward. Aggregators of startups will do exactly that: collect startups for you.

An important feature to mention is that for aggregators to be trustworthy and efficient, a quality check is needed. It is not enough to collect random items under an umbrella if the items collected are of no value to the customers.

Not all startup aggregators take quality checks seriously. That’s why we are here to recommend you the ones you should bear in mind.

How AI plays a role in online aggregators

Instead of plowing through what seems like an eternity of data on an excel spreadsheet, artificial intelligence (AI) has changed the way we work, saving us the time we never knew we had in the first place.

Single platforms that utilize this new intelligent technology can streamline information at the click of a button. With AI, you can analyze bucketloads of data quickly and identify trends that would otherwise take days to understand. Insights that would have otherwise stayed hidden are brought to the forefront.


3. Startup Hackathons


What are hackathons?

If you’re in the tech or coding industry, you have surely heard of hackathons. They are idea-building marathons where the most creative and daring entrepreneurs get together to develop a product from scratch.

With a very limited amount of time (usually around 48h), startup hackathons provide a space to shape a prototype that would otherwise have taken several months to develop.

You get it, participants here are as crazy as the ones running marathons. Basically, the efforts are the same. Lots of preparation, a tremendous effort throughout the run and a glorious feeling when you surpass other participants. Your role in all this? Watch from afar and select the best apple from the bunch.

For entrepreneurs, these events are a chance to get high-quality feedback on their skills and build a solid network. At the end of the creation stage, entrepreneurs get to pitch their ideas in front of corporations and judges. Finally, the spectators will choose a winner and award a prize.

Why are startup hackathons useful in finding startups?

For startups, hackathons are great events to spur new opportunities for exploring innovation, showcasing talent, and staying ahead of the competition.

For corporations, they provide the perfect pool full of innovative and groundbreaking startups to invest in. Here you’ll find hard-working startups coming up with avant-garde products. You'll find the most motivated entrepreneurs working at a hackathon to the best of their ability.

Participating in the event and evaluating ideas will give you some criteria for determining which startups are worth investing in. Plus, it will inform you of their working style and how much they have to offer. What’s not to like?

Which startup hackathons should you go for?

With topics ranging from social impact to augmented reality, the hackathon that fits your interests is just a click away.

Look for an industry-related hackathon where the chances of you finding the perfect startup to invest in are higher.

Here you’ll find a list of the next season’s startup hackathons with filters for date, location, and category.


4. Innovation labs or innovation hubs?


What are innovation labs?

Innovation labs were the new cutting-edge, must-have profit boosters to stay ahead of the competition a couple years ago. In 2018, Forbes published an article dismissing the myth of innovation labs, quoting “[...] teams in innovation labs use lean startup tools without really understanding how they work”. Ending up with wasted capital and no scalable product. That's a mess!

But let’s get to the source of the issue. Why build an innovation lab altogether? And what’s an actionable alternative to it?

Jeff Gravenhorst, the former CEO of ISS World, sums up the purpose of building innovation spaces in a straightforward question: “How can we speed up from ideas to implementation and get innovation on the floor?”. That’s a pressing question that you might have asked yourself, too.

So, instead of defining innovation and choking it, let it roam freely to unveil its true potential. Innovation hubs might just be the perfect place for that.

What are innovation hubs, and why are they useful for finding startups?

From an old shipping warehouse in Barcelona to a refurbished train depot in Paris or a redo of an auto repair shop that went out of business, innovation hubs make use of repurposed iconic buildings to host the trends of the next innovative era.

Innovation hubs re-appropriate urban spaces that lost their purpose and give them fresh, vibrant meaning. These buildings abandoned by society reflect the creativity and entrepreneurial spirit of those revitalizing the spaces.

These spaces are not limited to innovative startups co-working their way to success. Investors, researchers, business experts, and academic representatives are welcome too. That means that if you’re looking for a revolutionary startup to invest in, here is a pretty good place to start. There are innovation hubs sprouting up all over the world. Here are some you cannot and should not miss out.


dare2mansion logo

A coworking, innovative space in the heart of Copenhagen’s hipster district, Nørrebro, Dare2Mansion found its home in a renewed auto repair shop; and they take the concept of “home” seriously.

The style is completely in line with the Scandinavian chilled attitude at work. The Mansion hosts a meditation/nap room, a café, a “Lego Room” and even a “Superhero Room”. Ready to tap into startups superpowers?


brooklyn navy yard logo

After hosting warships during WWII and remaining unused for decades, The Brooklyn Navy Yard found its purpose in innovation and creativity.

The Yard hosts various businesses, including a brewery, craft studios, and food courts. A sense of community spreads in these courts thanks to collaborative opportunities and in-loco business support. The whole yard is bike-friendly.

It’s worth a bike tour if the vibrant future of manufacturing inspires you.


Station F logo

In Paris, Station F is only one year old but has attracted big names like Facebook, Microsoft, Airbnb, and L’Oreal, who have established incubators and accelerators here.

It is attractive to startups because of its low prices for renting a spot. They democratize the process by making the campus accessible to all, even to those who are not yet able to afford rent (named “the fighters").

Station F “[...] support[s] Fighters because [they] believe diversity is what fosters innovation, and we believe that everyone has the right to become an entrepreneur.

With graffiti rail wagons turned into cafès, Station F re-appropriated an old train depot and turned it into “the world’s biggest startup campus”. If you’re looking to invest, you’ll find startups in the food, e-commerce and beauty sectors here.

5. Corporate accelerators

If you’re involved in the world of startups, chances are you’ve heard of accelerators. A fixed-term (usually a few months) full-immersion program are meant to speed up a young startup's life cycle. Usually supported by a mentor and part of a cohort.

Investors tend to get interested in these events (for obvious reasons). They participate in the last days of the acceleration programs, where startups pitch their accomplishments on the so-called “demo day”. Here, interesting partnerships take place.

The accelerator industry eventually evolved to the point where investors increasingly understood the value of this powerful tool. Consequently, the link between corporations and startups became so relevant to the point that in 2016, 53.7% of accelerator programs in the EU were funded by corporates.

Why are corporate accelerators useful in finding startups?

The benefits of funding your own startup accelerator are self-explanatory. A corporate-funded accelerator program efficiently boosts innovation and improves the areas where your company is lacking.

Moreover, it saves you the hassle of looking for startups yourself. Set up an application process and a good-looking program. You’ll just have to sort through relevant, creative minds ready to give it their best shot.

How do you look for them?

If you’re looking for traditional accelerators, word is that Antler, HighTechXL, and Entrepreneur First are trustworthy names in Europe. In the US, look for YCombinator, AngelPad or The Brandery.

Moreover, look out for Barclays Accelerator in South Africa, InspirAsia in Singapore, or creative ZooLabs in the US. However, if you’re into corporate accelerators, go ahead and make your own.

6. Incubators

As the saying “Innovate or Die” took hold, the business world saw the rise of creative ways to increase profit and stay ahead of competitors. One of these is incubators.

Incubators are co-working spaces that allow startups in their infancy to focus on and refine their business. Here, startups get mentorships and guidance to develop their core business (instead of focusing on administrative or minor tasks).

The program can last several years and is a way for startups to grow a network, get sponsors and hopefully finish off with some solid business goals and the right tools to succeed.

However, misinformation about incubators is diffused, even in the startup world. It is essential to keep yourself well-informed because failure is around the corner. You get distracted, you lose track, you fall behind. We don’t want that, do we?

You don’t have to reach Apple’s level, whose developers immediately work on an improved version of a product they have just launched. However, you do need to be updated on the latest innovation trends. Both to not miss out on anything and to pinpoint the strategy that best fits your needs.

That being said, let’s clear the air about incubators.

What is the difference between accelerators and incubators?

For clarity’s sake, we’ll compare startup accelerators and incubators based on the different interactions they have with investing corporations without blabbering on about tedious details. We promise you’ll leave with a clearer take on the two. For a world where incubators and accelerators aren’t considered the same thing.

At an incubator, the engagement between the investing company and the startup is more intense, long-term and overreaching. The interaction doesn’t settle on the development of a single idea, but on the establishment of a whole business.

ROI will take longer to develop, but it will be more stable and long-lasting.

On the other hand, accelerators take a more competitive, short-term direction (a few weeks to a few months). The investing firm gains early access to groundbreaking ideas based on a fixed set of criteria in return for mentorship, network access and a small amount of equity.

Why are they useful in finding startups?

Apart from obvious financial reasons, investing in incubating startups will eventually bring renewed innovation. On top of that, it will cover those holes the investing company can't fill by itself.

“The long-term potential of innovation cannot always be measured in terms of monetary growth. It takes a company that thinks outside the ordinary, everyday core business to invest in new startups and experience true growth of the company.“Nick Stafunski, Consultant.

How to find incubators?

Navigating the sea of lists and “best 10” or “top 5” can be a daunting experience, especially with the confusion around accelerators and incubators, where the two are often mixed up and presented as the same thing. 

We saved you the hassle of googling through all this mess and hand-picked some popular incubators in the startup community of the EU and the rest of the world.

Incubator in Denmark, Project A in Germany, 500 Startups in San Francisco, or promising CcHUB in Nigeria. Or, check out a more comprehensive list of the best incubators and co-working spaces around the world.


7. Startup competitions


Why are they useful in finding startups?

Startup competitions can differentiate into competitions funded by private companies launched to find the best startup to develop the most innovative solution for a case study. Or academic competitions organized by universities for ambitious students.

The latter has the potential to unveil the hidden talents of a young group of recently-graduated entrepreneurs with bold business ideas. So, if you’re not keen on going through the fuss of launching and funding your own competition, then a university-funded one might just be the thing for you.

Which ones should you look for?

If you want to go all the way and fund your own startup competition, remember to start way ahead and be ready to go through a lot of stress. Otherwise, academic competitions for entrepreneurs are a golden occasion to hand-pick startups and get a real feeling about their capabilities.

Academic competitions vary per industry focus and sponsoring partners.

If you are in the US, make sure to check out their academic competitions. They have some of the world’s largest and most known ones.

In Copenhagen, Denmark, the University Startup World Cup hosts teams from more than 100 regions and has reached up to 600,000 students. They mainly focus on the health sector, logistics, service innovation, products & design, FinTech, and GreenTech. However, they introduced an open category too, to provide space for out-of-the-box ideas.


8. Online networking platforms

What are online networking platforms?

Online professional networking platforms answer the highly competitive business of investing in startups. Random connections and personal acquaintances can’t keep up with the potential outreach of online media.

Online networking platforms will connect you to an otherwise off-limit pool of talent, new knowledge, and partnership opportunities.

Why are they helpful in finding startups?

Digitalization has reached such a critical social impact that only doing “offline” networking equals no business growth. Research says that professional networking surpasses incubators and accelerators regarding entrepreneurial success.

Key takeaway

Finding startups can be tricky as an investor, and with all of the startups out there now, it can be like trying to find a needle in a haystack in the dark. We see online that aggregators can be your best friend in helping you find a startup.

They can help take some of the burdens off your shoulders. Mix this with solid professional networking when looking into incubators and startup hackathons. Finding the proper startup will become more accessible, and you will eventually find that one-in-a-million needle in the innovative haystack. 

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