October 2, 2020

Too many startups are failing and this new members' club wants to help

The team behind Startup Van are opening a new members' club, offering networking, meeting spaces and syndicated funds.

Freya Pratty

4 min read

Startup Van founders Mark McDonagh and Graham Hussey

“Nine out of ten startups fail within the first three years,” says Mark McDonagh, co-founder of Startup Van, the media company that began by interviewing entrepreneurs in a VW campervan. “In 2020, that’s just not acceptable.”

To help, Startup Van is launching Startup Garage — a membership club and syndicate fund designed to support entrepreneurs by providing a space to meet and connect with others, as well as opportunities for financial backing.

The Garage launches in October, initially admitting 500 members. They’ll have access to an events and meeting space that will open in Shoreditch next year, as well as opportunities to pitch to an investing panel, and the possibility of getting a syndicate fund with contributions from other members. 


The impetus for the club, McDonagh explains, was realising startups need more help. “We hear the glory stories, but we don’t hear about the nine in ten sat at home depressed, thinking that their business is in the gutter and they can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. We’re here to prove there is light at the end of the tunnel, and we’re here to support.”

For McDonagh, the most exciting part of the Garage is the syndicate fund. Members will pitch their ideas to an investing panel, composed of people like Zoe Chambers from Octopus Ventures, Louise Rix from Forward Partners and Andy Ayim from Backstage Capital.

If the panel thinks the startup is worth investing in, Startup Van itself will put money in and then open up a syndicate fund to other members of the Garage, for a minimum buy-in of £1,500. This will mean, McDonagh says, startups could end up with a whole team of backers who are themselves entrepreneurs and can offer guidance.

Startup Van has been on a mission to help startups since it started as a media company back in 2016, when McDonagh and Hussey met working at IBM and decided to go and interview entrepreneurs at Web Summit.

The interviews took place in a van because it allowed them to bring the video studio to the entrepreneurs. “We initially considered a Ford Transit, but no one’s going to get into a Ford Transit for an interview, so we went for something more approachable, a VW campervan,” McDonagh says.  

The idea took off — for the whole of Web Summit, they had a huge queue of entrepreneurs waiting outside the van to be interviewed. “From there, things blew up,” McDonagh says. They launched a pop-up video studio in a tube station in Shoreditch and went on tour to interview startups in Australia, Hong Kong, Atlanta and Chicago. 

They then launched a show, Behind the Curtain —  “a kind of Graham Norton show for startups,” McDongh says — where they’d do things like put Monzo founder Tom Blomfield head-to-head with an audience member on who knew more about fintech. 

“We were on a mission to educate and inspire, and give them exposure. It was about them coming on the program to say how great their company was, but also to explain how others could close funding like they'd done,” McDonagh says. 

Whilst interviewing, McDonagh and Hussey would often come across exciting, early stage startups that they would have loved to have backed —  something the new club will allow them to do.

“We met Monzo in 2015, back when it was called Mondo, they were very early stage,” McDonagh says, listing the startups he wishes they could have backed. “We had Hanx [the vegan condom startup] too, back when we couldn’t even put their faces on camera because they were working in their old jobs.”


After the launch of the first club in London, Startup Van wants to open more clubs in different parts of the world — perhaps Berlin, perhaps New York, McDonagh says. “If we do that, we’re opening the bridge between those places too, meaning people have an even group of connections.”

For McDonagh, the goal is always to make startups feel more supported. “Too many entrepreneurs feel alone, too many are suffering from mental health problems. People get trapped inside their own bubble, you put your heart and soul into something and if it’s not going your way, it’s devastating,” he says. “And the most connected entrepreneurs are always the most successful.”

Freya Pratty

Freya Pratty is a senior reporter at Sifted. She covers climate tech, writes our weekly Climate Tech newsletter and works on investigations. Follow her on X and LinkedIn