Start-up Accelerator Spotlight: Rockstart

Since its inception, Rockstart has invested in more than 150 startups and supported them in their journey to raise more than €69 million and hire more than 700 people. They were kind enough to answer some questions and give us some insider tips. For start-ups, this is a must read!

Describe the Smart Energy Accelerator in a nutshell.

Rockstart Smart Energy is a high-intensity program for seed-stage energy startups using data and digital technologies as a driver and enabler. We help startups build, validate and scale their business, find the best product and market fit to grow internationally and get ready for funding.

In which way does your programme contribute directly to the energy transition?
The worldwide transition to sustainable energy would not be possible without innovative startups that are working towards making buildings, cities, mobility, or grids smarter. We have been working in the energy ecosystem with an accelerator program since 2014, leveraging our network of mentors and investors to bring the best support for the most promising and impactful startups from Europe and beyond, to grow and contribute to the energy transition.

In which way is it different from other accelerator programmes in energy?
Rockstart Smart Energy offers international startups (80% European, 20% emerging markets) access to a dedicated, energy-focused ecosystem of mentors, experts, capital, industry and peers.
The network comprises 80+ dedicated mentors who provide individual, tailored and pinpoint coaching to startups. They have a strong connection to the energy sector and are a divers group of entrepreneurs, investors, business & tech experts etc. who want to share their experience and knowledge. Furthermore, we are closely aligned with leading corporates the field of energy which provide in-depth sector knowledge and can play a leading role in defining and refining value propositions. Additionally, we have relationships with informal investors, VC’s and corporate VC’s with international background and a focus on impact and energy.
And finally, the program is focused and designed to the needs of the startups – it is not a standardised, one-fits-all curriculum. We prepare the content and design every Deep Dive Week based one a close alignment with the startups (and their mentors) to identify their current challenges and issues. Another benefit comes from yearly bringing together a cohort of max 10 startups in 1 program, which allows them to share their knowledge and experiences, an often underestimated value for the entrepreneurs & techies!

Can you give us a few highlights from some of your past programmes? Any success stories so far?

Sympower graduated Rockstart Smart Energy 2016
Sympower is a demand response aggregator that enables smarter energy use for a carbon-free future. They aim to provide a sustainable solution to fluctuations in energy supply and demand, by aggregating energy consuming systems and appliances onto their cloud-based platform. During moments of stress on the grid, Sympower can temporarily switch on or off the devices locally, without impairing the functionality of the appliances.
In September 2017, Sympower raised one million euros from angel investors and investment fund Enfuro Ventures. At the beginning of 2018 Simon Bushell, Co-Founder of Sympower, has been named as both one of the “Forbes 30 under 30” in Europe and as one of the “50 talents under 35” in the Netherlands by the Financieele Dagblad.

SolarCreed graduated Rockstart Smart Energy 2017
SolarCreed empowers farming communities in Africa to use the most of the sunto grow, preserve, package and distribute food in a sustainable way. SolarCreed achieves this mission by providing next generation solar systems ensuring long-life and usage. Adopting a subscription based business model, SolarCreed is able to remove the upfront cost barrier and provide longer term guarantee of support and performance.
SolarCreed was accelerated in Amsterdam at RockStart Smart Energy Accelerator 2017, and has raised €250k in funding. They have made over 220 installations in South Western Nigeria and continue to expand in other territories.

What gives a start-up that leading edge in the energy sector? What makes a start-up stand out for you?
A startup needs to have a clear vision and commitment in line with a sustainable energy which sees the opportunities which come along with that transition. We believe that disruptive business models and digital tech across the value chain are the the game changers. Through the possibilities of AI, machine Learning, IoT, blockchain, cloud computing, big data and analytics we think that the new solutions and business in the energy sector can scale faster and therefore accelerate the energy transition.

What sends a start-up to Death Valley? Any common mistakes you have seen over and over again?
Seed stage investments are an underserved market (see below) and make it more difficult to find an investment from a startup perspective. The mistake they can make, is – and we have seen that quite often – to start fundraising too late, e g. when they are in need for cash. It always takes longer than expected to build a relationship with an investor and trust between each other. Therefore startups should always start with fundraising when they do not actually need the investment right away.

What investment trends are you seeing in the European market currently?
We see two major trends:
1. Over the last decade, venture funds have moved away from early stage, leaving an underserved market for seed stage investments
2. The capital is getting allocated to a smaller number of funds and by this we see that the average fund size is increasing
3. Corporate VCs are hungry for deals, but can’t work effectively with seed-stage startups

Which direction do you see the energy sector going in the next 5, 10 years? What’s next for Rockstart?
We have passed a tipping point. The top-down, centralized, fossil fuel system is being disrupted by a smart, decarbonized, digitalized and decentralized model, offering abundant, clean, renewable, local energy. Old and new energy cost curves are now crossing and will diverge, driving massive and accelerating structural change. The reason is the dramatic decline of the prices for solar, wind and batteries in the last decade. This trend will continue and at the same time we will see also an in increase in investments in the field of sustainable energy to reach the 2 degree celsius target.

We at Rockstart see an investment opportunity which considers the trends in the European investment market as well as in the energy sector: On the one hand we have an underserved market for seed stage investments and on the other hand there is an increased need for investment. Therefore we are building Rockstart Energy which is a €20m fund. It will invest in early stage businesses contributing to the energy transition. It will scout and select initiatives with high impact potential, primarily in Europe, ‘accelerate’ them into investable businesses, and co-invest through to exit.

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