eLab Interview Series: Q&A with Matt Kuppers

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eLab Contributor

eLab Contributor

Picture © The Economist

As far as knowledge of the startup ecosystem goes, it doesn’t get much better than Matt Kuppers. He’s the founder and CEO of Startup Manufactory and works as an independent consultant in private sector development, entrepreneurship training, and conference speaking. Luckily, we were able to sit down with him and get his insight on some interesting topics.

For global innovators, what are the advantages of the European startup ecosystem compared to America and Asia? 

It’s difficult to compare the UK and the US startup ecosystems. The United States started back in the 1950s while the UK didn’t start until the 1980s. The advantage of the UK is that it’s closer to the Middle East and more importantly Africa. It also has a long relationship and history with Africa and has the eighth largest African diaspora outside of Africa. There is also a close connection to Singapore and Hong Kong which is helpful. However, scaling is easier in America. You have about 330 million people to sell to with the same regulatory framework while Europe has 27 countries with loads of different regulations. 

For European VCs, what kind of projects do they value most? or would prefer to invest in more in recent years?

Venture Capital is on the rise and the trend seems to be funding projects in AI, Blockchain, drones, fintech, insuretech (insurance), regenerative energy, and electric cars - Tesla just announced a new factory in Berlin. Impact investing is also on the rise.

Who is the European entrepreneurial role model in your mind?

The founder of SAP, Hasso Plattner is definitely a role model. Lord Sugar the founder of Amstrad - came from nothing, just lived on an East London council estate and now he is a Lord. Although there wasn’t a startup scene at the time, he is definitely a role model. Also, Richard Branson is equally a role model.

Are entrepreneurs in Europe more interested in social entrepreneurship than entrepreneurs elsewhere?

No, it depends on the individuals. Jack Ma (founder of Alibaba), and Changpeng Zhao founder of Binance, both have philanthropic projects and are from Asia. African billionaires also have social projects and Jørn Lyseggen who is a social entrepreneur from Norway started Mest (Pan-African entrepreneurial training program) in Accra, Ghana. 

Tell me about your best and worst days at work.

Some of the worst times are when things don’t work out because employees or consultants don’t deliver, and the client is unhappy as a result. The best days are traveling and seeing clients internationally -  I travel 150 days a year on average.

If you had three pieces of advice to give to someone just starting out, what would it be?

Firstly, there are a lot of people who want to exploit you, whether that’s by employees, investors, or business partners, so you must have your wits about you should move on very quickly. Secondly, always be open to opportunities and don’t be scared. Thirdly, go with the flow and don’t lose your cool because that’s when you make mistakes. 

Are you born or taught to be an entrepreneur?

You cannot teach entrepreneurship but you can train entrepreneurship because it’s a practical thing. Everyone can learn entrepreneurship because it’s a collection of skills, all of which you can learn and improve on.

Lastly, female entrepreneurs raise far less money than male entrepreneurs, and it is difficult for us to change this discrimination overnight, but for women entrepreneurs themselves, what can they do to change the status quo?

Young women entrepreneurs should take advantage of support groups such as Blooming Founders (women only accelerator) and the VC’s and angels which target women specifically. The rest of the community should also acknowledge the innate advantages women can bring to the table. Grameen Bank is an example of a business that targeted women by lending them money because they were safer with it.

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