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How to accelerate your corporate accelerator and make it more attractive to startups

Members of the IPA's Brand Technology Group provide an industry view on the impact technology is having on brands, consumers and agencies.

Corporate accelerators are the weirdest of love triangles. You’ve got the brand chasing the sexy young startups. You’ve got the brand’s agency chasing the cash. And you've got the startup caught somewhere in the middle of this ménage a trois hoping for some decent action.

The extent to which this action is decent for the startup comes down to how scrupulous (or not) the agency and brand are – something we’ve been exploring with the IPA in our recently released Startup Toolkit.

We believe it is absolutely essential when designing corporate accelerators (or any form of one-off engagement that involves brands, agencies and startups), that it’s a win-win-win.

Think that sounds like stating the obvious? Well, you’d think so but there are enough stories out in the market of brands and agencies using accelerators as a way to cheaply outsource problem solving, making startups more than a little gun-shy. This unscrupulousness – coupled with the proliferation of corporate accelerators – means that start-ups are (rightly) being more choosey about who they align themselves to.

However, it’s not all exploitation – take Adobe and Filmstro. The latter's founder Sebastian Jaeger describes the relationship as love at first sight: “From the moment we met at a conference in Amsterdam we hit it off. Adobe could see the value in our product, they were excited we’d built into Premier, creating the first ever way to create adaptive audio directly within the editor. They opened a lot of doors for us, giving us access to software and senior tech people to reduce the roadblocks and bumps in the road.” The iris Nursery is an investor in Filmstro and is incubating it in our London offices.

The Silicon Roundabout community is pretty small, and word travels fast. Brands and agencies need to ensure they’re developing the right positioning, image and reputation for their accelerator.

In the spirit of sharing and caring, here’s three ways to ensure you accelerate your accelerator, making it attractive to startups and – in turn – resulting in a far more successful enterprise…

1. Have a passionate purpose

When recruiting startups, and keeping them engaged throughout the process, make sure you’re giving them a higher purpose to aspire to. Startups are motivated by tackling big, exciting, industry-shaping challenges, not fixing your problems on the cheap.

And the two need not be mutually exclusive, often it is just about framing. While your immediate need might be to acquire more customers to your automotive brand, at a category level you’re looking at the future of mobility. One sounds like business as usual, the other sounds like business innovation.

2. Put skin in the game

There are two reasons why this is important.

Firstly, it’s really important to be clear about the incentive for the startups. This can be as simple as just paying the startup appropriately for their work (not always a given), but could also take the form of an equity investment, shared risk/reward models or the opportunity of a contract at the end of the accelerator. Whatever it is, appropriately investing in the accelerator will incentivise the best to want to work with you. You know how it goes: pay peanuts, get monkeys.

Secondly, putting skin in the game is a clear indication within your organisation that you’re taking the accelerator seriously, and are committed to a positive outcome. Investment increases visibility, meaning more people have eyes on the project, and motivates those responsible for running the accelerator to prove a return – be it financial, or in terms of learnings.

3. Get your hands dirty

Be prepared to get involved and support making the project the best it can be. Startups are often running on lean teams with multiple demands which can at times be stretched and put the delivery at risk. Agencies have diverse and capable skillsets used to creating top quality work. The agency teams also probably know the brand guidelines and IT processes inside out, we find that when we’ve added our own teams to the mix the final outcomes are more successful.

4. Invest in your people and their culture

If you’re inviting startups in to a business to explore new ideas, the brand needs to appropriately invest its time in making it work. This means freeing up time for their teams internally – be it to help with exposing the startup to the right people and teams in the organisation, investing time in solving problems like systems integration or getting sign-off from decision makers.

The startups shouldn’t be left out on a limb, but actively engaged with the organisation, and treated as a partner, not a threat. There’s nothing more demotivating than a company culture that is either wilfully obstructive, apathetic or negligent. Remember: culture eats strategy for breakfast.

If you kick off your collaborations keeping these ideas in mind you’ll be able to create a win-win-win for your startup accelerator that results in better results and easier recruitment for each intake. What other ways have you seen or experienced that help increase the quality of an accelerator? Tell us @thedrum.

David Caygill and Matt Rebeiro are managing director and associate director at The iris Nursery