Building technology companies worth tens of billions of pounds often requires one or two exceptionally talented individuals with strong computer science backgrounds and entrepreneurial spirits.
Finding these people can be time consuming and difficult, which is why a couple of UK organisations have turned to artificial intelligence and software.
In the last month, Founders Forum, a network of successful startup founders and business leaders, and company builder Entrepreneur First, have both revealed they are using artificial intelligence (AI) and custom-built software to identify the UK’s most promising founders.
Finding the “Founders of the Future”
Founders Forum, set up by serial entrepreneur and lastminute.com cofounder Brent Hoberman, used artificial intelligence (AI) to help it select 100 future UK tech founders aged 16-35, or the “Founders of the Future.”
“An AI simulates what a human might do but at scale; with more data and no bias,” said Dr Tom Bowles, data scientist and founder in residence at Founders Factory, a startup accelerator launched by Brent Hoberman. “Our model continually learns, and as we get additional data on the career trajectories of the Founders of the Future community, we’ll be able to accurately predict who will start tech companies.
“By looking at each individual in the context of what they have achieved, within their relevant field, biases like gender or location can be minimised,” added Bowles, who holds a PhD from Oxford University. “This means that AI can have a significant impact on diversity; it doesn’t care about someone’s background, it only sees the potential within them.”
Before Founders Forum created its AI, which it describes as a “complex algorithm,” profiles of successful entrepreneurs were evaluated to uncover overlapping characteristics. Recruiters and venture investors were also interviewed to uncover key characteristics they consider in evaluating top founders.
In addition to the AI, Founders Forum also asked universities, entrepreneurial organisations, and existing founders of successful technology companies for their recommendations on who should make the Founders of the Future list.
The full cohort met at a launch event at No. 10 Downing Street in March, which was attended by digital economy minister Ed Vaizey and successful entrepreneurs like Matt Miller, who cofounded design studio Ustwo.
Reformed hacker Mustafa Al-Bassam and Stanford dropout George Burgess were among those that were selected as “Founders of the Future.”
Rikke Koblauch, 24, a UX/UI developer at Ustwo, was also identified as a Founder of the Future, via both the AI and peer review process. She said: “After working as a designer in the Ustwo Swedish studio I decided to join the London team. I’m Danish and came here with a one way ticket, a pet bunny and just bag of clothes.
“I’m not a typical cut-out of many entrepreneurs, but my ambition is to set up a company and build something that will make lives better — so it’s fascinating the AI found me. I’m very flattered to be also nominated by Mills, the founder of Ustwo and I’m sure the Founders of the Future community will give me an extra push towards achieving my dream.”
Using software to put the Entrepreneur First
Entrepreneur First, a company building programme for deeply technical people, is also using software to help it find technically talented individuals at universities like Cambridge and companies like Google and Goldman Sachs.
Founded in 2011 by Matt Clifford and Alice Bentinck, Entrepreneur First is a year-long programme that helps people find a cofounder and provides them with the support they need to build a tech startup. It began by accepting less than 20 people a year from top universities when it launched in London in 2013.
Today, Entrepreneur First accepts more than 200 people a year from universities, big name firms, and other areas. In the last year, Entrepreneur First has considered over 5,000 people, Clifford said.
“The secret weapon of scale is software,” Clifford told Business Insider at the Entrepreneur First Demo Day earlier this month. “We now have a tech team in house and they build the software that allows us to find the best individuals. They prefilter based on characteristics we know have worked in the past. Then when they’re in the programme, they use the software to manage the programme as well.”
When asked about how Entrepreneur First’s software finds people, Clifford said: “There are certain characteristics that are strongly associated with success at EF. Some of them are really basic like which companies did you work at, what did you study, where did you study, who do you know?
“We’re not in any way trying to imply that we use the software to make the decision. But there are hundreds of thousands of people out there who might be of interest to us. How do we focus our time on those who are the most suited? For us it’s mainly an optimisation problem. It’s who should we even spend the time getting to know.”
The 50 startups that have previously graduated the programme have raised more than $60 million (£42 million) in venture capital from global investors, according to Entrepreneur First. Collectively, these startups are now worth more than $250 million (£176 million). The portfolio includes deep tech firms (Magic Pony Technology, Adbrain, and Tractable), marketplaces (Hubble, ClickMechanic), consumer products (Prizeo, Code Kingdoms), and hardware (Blaze, Pi-Top, Speakset).
Entrepreneur First itself is in the middle of raising a £40 million funding round, which it plans to invest into the companies coming out of its programme.
The fact that investors are lining up to back Entrepreneur First’s model, which has been compared to Silicon Valley’s Y-Combinator, suggests that using software to spot talent could be the way forward.