Summary:

To take on more established accelerator programs, British startup bootcamp The Difference Engine has changed its identity and stumped up a tantalizing reward: more than $150,000 in funding for the 10 startups who make the cut. Can it spur on a new generation of European innovation?

Match strike flame used under CC license by Flickr user Laszlo Photo

Match strike flame used under CC license by Flickr user Laszlo Photo

Last year, The Difference Engine — a startup accelerator based in the North East of England — arrived on the European scene with a splash. While the scheme, which followed the common hothouse model pioneered by the likes of Y Combinator and TechStars, wasn’t exactly a revolutionary one, the fact that it offered new companies a chance to grow in Newcastle — far removed from the London bubble — was an interesting twist.

Twelve months on, however, it seems the Difference Engine as we knew it is no more. This year, the scheme is returning, but with a new name and a slightly different spin: now called Ignite100, the organizers say they are stepping things up and taking it all to another level. So what makes this new incarnation of the Difference Engine, er… different?

The changes seem to be mostly about cash. The program itself is still largely the same, with 13 weeks of mentoring and training, while the short-term team funding has been cut slightly — down to £15,000 ($24,000) from £20,000 ($32,000). But the real kicker is that at the end of that accelerator period, each team will receive £100,000 ($160,000) in funding provided by local investment groups such as Northstar Ventures, Hotspur Capita land Green Lane.

This pot of money means that Ignite100 is now positioning itself as “Europe’s first £1 million accelerator program” — although that may be overstating things a bit. While it’s true if you just look at the numbers, other groups like Seedcamp and HackFwd could probably all claim something similar based on the sums invested. It also means that Ignite100 is able to make direct comparisons to Y Combinator, which was boosted earlier this year by the news that Russian investor Yuri Milner and Silicon Valley angel Ron Conway would begin offering $150,000 to every graduating team.

Does that comparison flatter to deceive? Maybe. Accelerators are largely about getting funding, but if YC proves anything, it’s that great accelerators are about a lot more than money. And even when the cash does come for Ignite100 participants, it’s not from the pockets of traditional technology industry angels: Northstar’s funds, for example, come from governmental development organizations, while Green Lane is actually a property investment business.

Still, the organizers are clearly proud that they’ve done something nobody else has yet managed in Europe, and are urging founders with passion to sign up. It’s a “very compelling opportunity,” says executive director Jon Bradford, who also runs Springboard in Cambridge. The Ignite100 application process is open for just over two weeks.

Photograph used under Creative Commons license, courtesy of Flickr user Laszlo Photo

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