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.
[Related article - The Top 5 Things Investors Look for in 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 in how 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.
[Related article - How to Get in Touch with Investors]
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 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 by 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 a 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 product/service. 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 in order 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 ploughing through what seems like an eternity of data on an excel spreadsheet, artificial intelligence (Ai) has changed the way we work, saving us time we never knew we had in the first place.
Single platforms that utilise this new intelligent technology are able to streamline information at the click of a button. With Ai, you’re able to analyze bucket loads of data quickly, and are able to identify trends that would otherwise take days to understand. Insights that would have otherwise stayed hidden are brought to the forefront.
At Valuer we have taken hold of AI technology, using it to create a unique and highly effective matchmaking algorithm to help investors, enterprises, corporations, and accelerators find the most promising startups.
Based in Copenhagen we stand out from the crowd with our unique business model. The person to person approach in the form of startup agents uses crowdsourcing to find the best startup match. Once they've been analyzed by our team of experts, our highly effective AI matchmaking algorithm finds the best startup match.
Valuer recognizes the importance of the human factor in the screening of startups. Our global network of over 2900 trained agents conduct in-depth interviews and screen hundreds of startups. The resulting data is then uploaded in an online format and presented to customers in a meaningful way.
We value qualitative research over endless lists of randomly-selected, poorly performing companies. In case you want to dig deeper into how Valuer works, here’s a guide we wrote about the win-win relationship between startups and corporations.
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 to the best of their ability at a hackathon.
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 that vary 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 divided by geographical region (Europe, USA and the rest of the World).
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 competition a couple years ago. Forbes recently 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, 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 gone 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 gives them a fresh, vibrant meaning. These building 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 academia 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.
[Related Article - How to Invest in Startups: Collaboration with a VC]
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?
The Brooklyn Navy Yard
After hosting warships during WWII and remaining unused for decades, The Brooklyn Navy Yard found its purpose in innovation and creativity.
The Yard hosts a wide range of different 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 you’re inspired by the vibrant future of manufacturing.
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.
What makes it so attractive to startups is its low-range 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, here you’ll find startups in the food, e-commerce and beauty sectors.
5. Corporate accelerators
What are 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 meant to speed up the life-cycle of a young startup. 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 53.7% of accelerator programs in EU are now 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 is an efficient manner of boosting innovation and improving the areas where your company is lacking.
Moreover, it saves you the hassle of looking for startups yourself. Simply 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 33entrepreneurs, TechStars London, and Accelerace are trustworthy names in Europe. In the US, look for YCombinator, AngelPad or The Brandery.
What are 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 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. Meaning the interaction doesn’t settle on the development of a single idea, but to the establishment of a whole business.
ROI will take longer to develop but it will be more stable and long-lasting.
Accelerators, on the other hand, 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 to the table. 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 normal, everyday core business to invest in new startups and experiences 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 oftentimes 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 EU and the rest of the world.
Thinkubator in Denmark, Project a Venture in Germany, 500 Startups in San Francisco or promising CcHUB in Nigeria. Or, check out a more comprehensive list on the best incubators and co-working spaces around the world.
[Related Article - The Ultimate Incubator and Co-Working List]
7. Startup competitions
Why are they useful in finding startups?
Startups competitions can differentiate into competitions funded by private companies launched to find the best startup to come up with 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’s Startup World Cup hosts teams from more than 40 countries and has reached up to 2500 Universities. 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 are the answer to the highly competitive business of investing in startups. Random connections and personal acquaintances can’t keep up with the potential outreach of online platforms.
Online networking platforms will connect you to an otherwise off-limit pool of talent, new knowledge, and partnership opportunities.
Why are they useful in finding startups?
Digitalization has reached such a critical and social impact, that only doing “offline” networking equals no business growth. Research says that professional networking surpasses incubators and accelerators when it comes to entrepreneurial success.
Which online networking platforms should you use?
If you like it classic and simple you’ll go for LinkedIn.
On top of that, LinkedIn is great at targeting niches where startups proliferate. However, spamming, fake profiles and pricey recruiter plans aren’t issues that go unnoticed.
Targeting startups more narrowly will lead you to platforms like Angel.co.
Angel.co democratizes the investment process and lets you find startups in a faster, easier manner. It cuts down the extensive, time-consuming procedure of hand picking startups.
While it shares some features with LinkedIn, it improves the startup hunting experience with higher engagement, a narrower niche, and a growth booster. Sounds to good to be true, right? So… what’s the downside? The platform requires commitment and patience before navigating confidently through it.
A more user-friendly platform is Crunchbase. Listing major players in the tech industry as well as upcoming companies, Crunchbase is a database that will grant you access to trending startups.
You’ll be able to stay on top of startups investment activity and utilize the tools to select the best company to invest in.
However, we all know life is not a bowl of cherries. So here come the flaws of Crunchbase.
An SEO-oriented platform. Crunchbase is rich in company information and data. However, as quality control and filtering isn’t applied thoroughly, the platform can turn into a “farm” of unutilized, misleading links. Basically, a lot of noise and no juicy startups to be seen.
Check out our video!
We are entering into yet another evolutionary stage of the Internet. As the web grows with information, it creates a universe of endless data, which humans alone cannot filter. So, how does the system get smarter and match the speed and evolution of this disrupting industry?
How do you navigate through this new world to find how to invest in a startup and valuable startups to invest in?
Delegate data collection to digital intelligence systems, but be sure to retain a human element. Digital systems will track, assess and speed up data collection. On the other hand, person-to-person contact will improve communication, build professional relationships and bring value to your brand.
So go digital, but keep it human.
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 hay stack, in the dark. The way we see it is online aggregators can be your best friend in helping you find a startup.
They can help take some of the burden off your shoulders. Mix this with strong professional networking when looking into incubators and startup hackathons and finding the right startup will become easier and you will eventually find that one in a million needle in the innovative hay stack.