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5 startup accelerators that can boost your UK visa chances

The United Kingdom is home to over 30 startup accelerators that provide pre-seed funding to entrepreneurs in return for equity. Every year, they attract thousands of applicants from around the world, competing for a handful of positions in each programme.

Many applicants are from outside the European Union. As a non-European entrepreneur you will not only need to beat the competition to get into the accelerator. You’ll also need a visa if the accelerator requires you to stay in the UK during the programme.

Here’s the thing:

There are five accelerators in the UK that can potentially give you an advantage in the visa process. These accelerators can not only support your application to enter the UK, but will significantly lower the amount of investment funds needed to secure a Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) visa.

The entrepreneur visa normally requires £200,000 in investment funds, but because these accelerators are ‘endorsed’ by the UK government, the amount drops to £50,000.

The accelerators are:

1. Techstars London

The Techstars London seed investment programme runs out of the Warner Yard co-working space in Clerkenwell. They’ve had 32 startups run through the UK programme with close to 200 alumni in the US. So far, 73 companies have been acquired and over $1.6B raised.

  • What’s on offer?
    $18,000 in seed funding, plus $100,000 in convertible debt for 7-10% equity.
  • How long?
    3 month programme
  • Entrepreneur visa used by (example):
    Print to Peer, Canada

2. Oxygen Accelerator

One of Europe’s most established tech accelerators is Oxygen Accelerator. Having accelerated 46 startups both past and present with a 71% funding rate, it runs two programmes a year, in two different locations, usually in Birmingham and in London.

  • What’s on offer?
    Oxygen take 8% in equity and invests funds in two batches:
    1. A ‘founders investment’ of up to £18,000; made up of £6,000 per founder, capped at 3 founders.
    2. A £15,000 investment for ‘programme fees’
  • How long?
    13 week intensive bootcamp, plus 13 weeks of incubation
  • Entrepreneur visa used by (example):
    Stylect, United States

3. Seedcamp

Seedcamp leads the pack for European accelerators. Running at over 150 pre-seed investments so far, they boast a 91% rate of follow on funding, including Transferwise’s $58m round led by A16Z. Find them in the heart of London’s startup cluster at Campus London, Shoreditch.

  • What’s on offer?
    Initial investment of €25,000 for 5% equity, followed by an option for a further €50,000 for up to 2% equity (totalling €75,000 for 7%)
  • How long?
    3 month programme
  • Entrepreneur visa used by (example):
    Wealthkernel, Canada

4. Wayra

Wayra is Telefonica’s startup accelerator with programmes in Latin America and Europe. Over the last 3 years, the startups at Wayra UK & Wayra UnLtd (the UK’s first accelerator facility for digital technology social ventures) have raised over $50m. They have 22 startups running in their 2015 cohort and the London workspace is located in trendy Fitzrovia.

  • What’s on offer?
    Funding of up to $50,000 for 5-10% equity.
  • How long?
    6 month programme

5. Collider

On the south bank of the River Thames near Waterloo station, you’ll find Collider – an accelerator that focuses on marketing and advertising (AKA MadTech) startups and brands. They’ve invested almost $4m into 27 startups and accelerated 42 brands.

  • What’s on offer?
    1. A straight-up £50,000 investment for 11% equity for an initial 4 months (£10,000 of this is a ‘programme fee’ charged by Collider)
    2. After 4 months, half of the cohort will receive £100,000 for a further 11% equity (another £10,000 is charged for 8 months support)
  • Entrepreneur visa used by (example):
    Perceptiv, Canada

Locations

Things to look out for

Covering the shortfall

Note that the investment amounts currently offered by Oxygen Accelerator (up to £33,000 if there are three founders) and Wayra ($50,000) are less than the £50,000 threshold for the entrepreneur visa.

If you’re applying for these accelerators (or any in this list for that matter) you could still come to the UK as a ‘prospective entrepreneur’ on a six month, Standard Visitor visa. Then later – provided you meet the investment conditions – switch into an entrepreneur visa. Make sure you raise your visa status with them up front and find out exactly what your options are.

Entrepreneur teams

In most cases, founders will apply to an accelerator as a team. The entrepreneur visa lets you share the same investment funds with up to one other entrepreneur visa applicant.

This works well for two co-founders, but might cause issues for teams of three or more founders if they all need a visa. Again, flag the issue up front so you know where you stand.

Find the right expert

The UK visa process is difficult even for the most sophisticated entrepreneurs. Not only are the rules complex (and ever changing), you’ll need to supply a vast amount of documents and evidence to support your application.

Accelerators will often recommend or partner with immigration lawyer who can help you through the process. But remember, immigration law spans everything from Tier 1 visas to asylum cases – the best lawyers focus on particular niches.

If you’re introduced to an immigration lawyer, ask them:

  • How many Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) visas have they done for startups?
  • Which startups, accelerators and investors have they worked with?
  • What contacts have they developed at the Home Office?
  • What’s the current time frame for processing applications (e.g. how long did their last application take)?
  • Regarding costs: what’s the government fee (currently between £944 – £1,180) and how much is their professional fee? (Ask for fixed fees, not hourly rates)
  • Does their fee include ongoing advice and work after submitting the application?

Many lawyers are happy to do a free initial call or consultation for you to ask these questions. So shop around. They’ll need a solid understanding of your circumstances to give you a fixed quote, so expect them (in fact, demand of them) to ask you questions.

Once you’re feeling reassured and confident in their expertise, then perhaps you’ve found the right match. But don’t be afraid to get a second opinion. It’ll take a little more time, but when it comes to visa applications, there’s a lot at stake.

David Bushby is Head of Operations at Lexoo – a service that handpicks specialist lawyers to give you multiple, fixed-fee quotes based on your particular circumstances. 





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