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Russell Buckley’s government program has helped UK startups raise $80m

UK tech startups UK tech startups
Photo credit:

Clive Darra

Free scheme pays off big time for first cohort of 25.

Is there any more visible flagwaver for UK tech than Russell Buckley?

Well, he has lots of competition. But then Buckley has loud shirts, so he probably edges it on a sartorial split decision.

Shortly after leaving AdMob in 2011 (the mobile ad network bought by Google), Buckley became an enthusiastic speaker about, evangeliser for and investor in UK tech startups.

He was having great fun doing all this. And also being a board member for various businesses such as Touch Surgery, LoopMe and Eagle Eye.

He didn’t expect to get a job.

Then the UK government made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.

No, it didn’t threaten to kill him. But it did ask him to solve a particular problem: how to get more series A funding for UK tech startups.

Specifically, he was to look after the tech unit within the UK Government’s Venture Capital Unit (headed by veteran entrepreneur Chris Wade).

This was how he described it at the time.

“In the first instance, my focus will be on developing a portfolio of the very best UK tech startups to showcase what a fantastic place the UK already is.

“And in time, my new colleagues and I will use our best efforts to help find overseas investors, to complement the UK investment community, to help these companies flourish.”

The free ‘Afterburner’ programme started in April 2014, and this week, Buckley revealed at Hot Topics London event that its first cohort of 25 had raised $80m in series A to date.

An amazing result, and testament to the success of the project.

On stage at Hot Topics London, Buckley explained the rationale behind the scheme.

“We identified that for a lot of UK tech startups series A funding was difficult to find. Quite simply, it’s hard to be good at fund raising if you’ve never done it before.

“It gets easier the more you do.

“So we found 25 companies and taught them how to develop a narrative for their pitches and coached them on how to speak to investors.

“There is so much talent in the UK that’s not on the radar of VCs, so it’s really quite powerful.”

The programme also works on curbing the natural self-effacement of the British.

Buckley says: “Brits do tend to be more modest about their achievements, so we encourage people to shout about them.

“A good tip is to pretend to be 24 year old Californian bloke. That can really work.”

Now, the search is on to find the next cohort of 25 UK tech startups. There is no shortage of candidates, as Buckley’s full-to-bursting email inbox shows.

That said, he is quick to spot the many imposters.

“We have over glamourised the idea of doing startups,” he says. ”I meet lots of ‘wannapreneurs, but serious founders know that doing a startup is a hard grind for up to ten years.

“Most days are bad and you never feel you’ve done enough.

“But if you have a good product, team and story, we have shown that there is plenty of money out there for you.”

If you’re interested in being part of the next cohort, here’s how it works:

1. A panel of judges, consisting of leading early stage investors and entrepreneurs, selects 25 companies to support over 12 months.

2. Mentors provide feedback on pitches and materials – until they’re happy that the startup has the best possible approach.

3. The programme makes introductions to appropriate investors in the UK and overseas.

Best of all, it’s free. Apply here.