The September meeting of the Whitespace Innovation Community sought to explore the practicalities of implementing a meaningful corporate Accelerator program, looking at ‘the good, the bad and the ugly’ of past initiatives while learning from invited expert presenters, as well as the experiences of the community’s own members.
While pragmatism and frank reflection defined much of the discussion, the gathering also asked an important question: why do corporations run Accelerators, and who do they do it for? 1
The discussion also gave voice to start-ups that have passed through several different Accelerator initiatives. Importantly, that provided fascinating ‘customer feedback’ on the Accelerator process, and provided a chance to understand the opportunities and challenges of joining such a process from the end-user point of view.
Why implement a corporate Accelerator program?
While attendees of the meeting largely brought the experience of running an Accelerator, a broad sense prevailed that many corporations are taking on such initiatives for potentially undermining reasons, or spending too little time on the planning, and too much time on the race to execution. Based on discussions ignited by the presentation by invited guests Startup boot camp, three broad themes surfaced as to the why:
While corporate Accelerators can indeed provide marketing and investment functions, it was suggested that a corporate must have a more open-minded, less linear sense of the benefits, while thinking carefully about what the startup teams gain. A good program needs well-defined give/gets, and transparency with this upfront. On that point, the discussion turned to the merits of adopting a ‘lean start-up’ strategy to de-risk and create a new system, which complements and engenders innovation. A well-designed Accelerator can give the corporate’s staff involved a chance to deep dive into new areas to develop their skills and experience, and bring that back into the company and help create a greater understanding of ‘how’ and help better inform the ‘why’.
Practical insights into making a corporate Accelerator productive and sustainable
How do start-ups see corporate Accelerators?
What start-ups want from corporate Accelerators seems clear. They hope to gain mentorship, insights from voices of experience, networking opportunities, business development direction, and education on skills outside those at the core of their emerging business.
However, it appears many start-ups are today spoiled for choice with the sheer number of Accelerators available, where many do not project or assert a clear framework, aim or focus, and where some are more demanding of start-up resource than they are helpful. Equally, the number of corporate Accelerators today has made many start-ups ‘Accelerator savvy’ and ‘Accelerator fatigued’, and as such, start-ups can readily identify Accelerators that are a ‘marketing play’ or have less than useful motives.
Finally, many start-ups are immediately suspicious of Accelerators that require giving equity as a default of joining up, and greatly favour those with a clear focus.
Identifying the disconnect between start-ups and corporates
Start-up culture, experience, and practice are – particularly in this context – very different. As such, much effort must be put into exactly how the two are connected so as to deliver an Accelerator with outcomes that benefit both sides. Successful Accelerator programs have focused on communication, managing expectation both of start-ups and C-suite, and offering goals and focus should be clearly defined. Additionally, it was generally agreed that the aforementioned metrics to measure innovation progress could be adopted.
Simply put, if the impact cannot be identified, felt or qualified, it may be time to radically restructure or entirely abandon your corporate Accelerator.