US pre-seed accelerator Founder Institute is opening its first office outside the Valley. The location is the Bulgarian capital city Sofia and its focus will be on operations – growing and strengthening the global FI network. FI already has programs in 180+ cities worldwide but the Sofia office is the first official one that will actually employ staff.
This second headquarters and the European expansion will be led by Janet Todorova, who has been an active member of the startup ecosystems in Berlin and Sofia for the past several years. Todorova has also been a FI Director in both cities.
Wait, but there are 200 chapters already!?
On a global level, FI has chapters in over 180 cities. Every chapter is operated by one or more Program Managers or Directors who have applied to include their respective cities in the FI and take care for the execution of the acceleration programs. The programs themselves follow a strict methodology by FI but always include local mentors. As a reward FI, the directors and the mentors become equity options from the companies that emerged out of the incubator.
Started in 2009, FI has already produced over 3.5K companies that have raised $800M and are worth around $20B. Its business model relies on fees – each graduate contributes 4% of their company equity in Warrants to a fifteen-year bonus pool. When a liquidity (IPO, exit etc.) event occurs the pool’s financial returns are then distributed to FI, the mentors and the local chapter Directors (the program managers). This is the way FI has worked in Sofia so far as well.
The new official office in Sofia, however, will not be responsible for executing a local program – it will be run by the local directors. The focus is finding new FI locations and supporting new chapters in their development. It will serve as FI’s eyes and ears in Europe and will employ two-three associates to do that.
FI in Sofia so far
The pre-seed accelerator has been running a program in Bulgaria since 2015 and around 35 companies have been founded as a result, and around a third of them has survived. The chatbot developer Umni.bg, the data analytics company Yatrus Analytics as well as Damocles, an AI-driven platform that automates profiling of public figures, which was recently granted by Google, are some of the FI Sofia success stories. The fifth season of the local chapter has just ended.