What should big companies consider before running a corporate startup accelerator?
Here are 9 lessons a big company can learn from a startup accelerator
Text: Katja Meriläinen
Picture: Seppo Samuli / YLE
- SET GOALS
How does your company want to benefit from an acceleration program? Define your reasons to participate in the project and set relevant goals for the program. Make sure that everyone understands them. Communicate clearly (inside your organization, to your stakeholders and other possible interest groups), why your company is participating the program.
Communicate constantly. It’s important to keep everyone in your organization updated about what is happening, even those people who are not participating in the project. However, most important is to communicate with persons who are involved, such as mentors, project managers, startup teams, other stakeholders, etc. If the key people are confused about what is going on, the project can’t be very successful.
- AGREE ON PRACTICAL ISSUES
When working with a startup accelerator that is powered by a partner, always agree on practical issues. For example, who pays running costs, additional costs (such as events), who does marketing and how marketing is done (which channels are used, budget etc.) and who has the major responsibility for external communication.
- INVOLVE THE RIGHT PEOPLE
Make sure that you have enough resources for the accelerator project in your company. Running an accelerator takes time and also at least a bit of knowledge about startups, or a curious mindset. Involving the right people with suitable skills, time resources and motivation is not the easiest task, but probably the most important one. Give roles to the selected people and responsibilities, and make sure that they are aware what everyone is expected to do during the program.
- GET EXCELLENT STARTUPS
What kind of startups is your company looking for? Do you want to get just teams with brilliant ideas, early-stage companies with their first prototypes or growth-seeking established innovative companies? Who could potentially solve your company’s problems? After agreeing what kind of startups you are willing to reach, tailor your program and marketing material for them and choose suitable marketing channels. Bonus: it’s often better to choose a good team than a good product.
- SHARE YOUR CULTURE AND ENJOY LEARNING
For sure big companies and startups have different working cultures. Because there is not a single right way to do things, keep your eyes open and learn from each other’s cultures, evaluate different ways of working and pick the best practices for your company. In fact, learning entrepreneurial startup-mindset can be one of the most valuable things for a big company that a startup accelerator can provide. For startups the most valuable thing can be the relationship with a mentor from a big company, who is able to share their experience.
- DO THINGS TOGETHER
What really brings small and big companies together is doing things together. Have concrete collaboration projects, try different prototypes and test as many things as possible. Be lean and involve customers. After an accelerator a big company can integrate successful innovations in their existing business operations.
- SET MILESTONES FOR STARTUPS
Already in the beginning of the program decide what should be achieved, by whom and by which date. If the milestone is not directly measurable, agree on how it should be measured. For example, a startup should have at least 1000 downloads for their new app within one month of their launch. Agree also on what happens if the milestone will not be achieved. However, be flexible if needed. Sometimes a pivot is better alternative than achieving goals that doesn’t matter.
After the program, sit down and summarise. What was good, what was learned and what should be done differently next time. Too often projects end without proper feedback discussions. For the maximum learning, proper feedback is one of the most important parts of the process.
These learnings are based on the Media Startup Accelerator Program that Nestholma coordinated in collaboration with the Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE and telecommunication company Elisa in 2014. I worked as a project coordinator for the accelerator.
For Nestholma the purpose of the accelerator program was to invest in high potential early-stage startups, accelerate their businesses, provide mentoring and networks as well as build bridges between startups and big companies. For Yle, this was the first time they collaborated with a startup accelerator taking a step towards new ways of innovating. During the program Nestholma invested in 8 early-stage startups.
After the program I interviewed in total six key actors that influenced the accelerator (including three persons from YLE, two from Nestholma and one from startups) and asked for their opinions about the accelerator and its benefits.