5 ways your corporate innovation team can benefit from a startup accelerator

New Venture Resources

March 27, 2018

Take the time to truly understand your goals for running an accelerator, so you can build a program that will to help you reach them.

Launching new ventures that win shouldn’t be rocket science. (Unless, you know, it is.) But many corporate accelerators and venturing initiatives don’t yield the desired results. Why?

We’ve set out to find out. By diving deep into different accelerator models around the world and drawing on our experience as accelerator leads, investors, and entrepreneurs, we’ll be talking about what works – and what doesn’t.

As Kim Morouney of the Lazaridis Institute reminded us earlier this month at the Canadian Accelerator Summit, it’s not always about “picking winners”, but instead asking: are these startups the right fit for our company?

Before answering that question, ask yourself: what are our goals for running an accelerator in the first place?

To spark conversation, here are a few things (not including returns from equity investments) that your company may be hoping to gain from your startup accelerator.

 

Speed & momentum

“Fast” for a corporation is measured in quarters. But for a startup, speed is measured in weeks, or even days. In today’s ever changing environment, real speed can be the difference between becoming a market leader and being left behind.

One way that large companies can benefit from the speed of startups is by tackling specific problems or areas of interest using an accelerator. Accelerators provide an intensive, targeted framework that can help speed you towards a contract, partnership, POC, or investment with a startup.

An accelerator can also help maintain momentum that would otherwise be lost as a result of internal friction. Funneling the most promising opportunities from an open innovation challenge or an employee ideation program into an accelerator helps maintain that startup-like momentum.

 

Access to innovative new vendors or partners

Your company may already be exploring partnerships or contracts with startups. If this is the case, it is likely that many of the startups you are working with are in the later stages of their growth, with pre-existing priorities and partnerships.

An accelerator is a great way to connect with these potential partners years before your procurement or partnership teams would otherwise come across them.

Your accelerator program might provide a fast track to a pilot, partnership, or contract. This not only helps get these companies on your radar earlier – it helps both you and the startups you work with better understand each others’ needs, and build deeper and more successful partnerships.

 

Explore applications of emerging technologies

It’s undeniable that consumer and business experiences are being transformed by technological advances. And while R&D or innovation labs are a great way to explore frontier tech and cutting-edge software, there is a gap between exploration and commercialization.

Enter your accelerator. A focused program can be a way to explore applications of new technologies within the context of your industry or market. Samsung NEXT has taken an ambitious approach, exploring applications of tech ranging from AR/VR and IoT to Cyber Security, and Smart Cities. You don’t have to tackle everything at once, but leveraging an accelerator is a great way to explore emerging technology that you might not have the bandwidth or resources to dig into in the core business.

 

Gain early access to new markets or verticals

Application of new technologies isn’t the only way you can look to the future. Your company is likely also exploring new ways to capture more value and touch more of a customer’s lifecycle beyond your core product and service offerings.

But committing to a shift or expansion in product or market strategy requires tradeoffs – and your company wants all the information it can get to make smart bets. An accelerator may be a way to partner with startups to gain a deeper understanding of your customer, their journey, and problems they experience that your company isn’t yet focused on solving.

 

Strategic optionality

Companies like Cisco have pioneered unconventional – but effective – relationships with startups that provide them with the strategic optionality to invest, acquire, or otherwise partner with the startups they work with. Your accelerator may be aiming to do the same.

By developing early relationships with startups, you can improve your deal flow and connectivity into the startup ecosystem. Beyond the benefits your accelerator provides as a stand-alone program, you may also be hoping to boost investment, M&A, and broader innovation programs.

 

Something else?

Every company is unique – and so every corporate accelerator will be different. There are countless reasons that your company may be looking to benefit from an accelerator program.

Setting specific, reasonable goals is a critical first step to building a successful accelerator. Only once you’ve clearly defined the goals of your program can you expect to truly move the needle on your company’s innovation agenda.

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