The current boom of corporate accelerators definitively represents one of the most obvious cases of the realization of the more collaborative business environment that we started to forecast almost a decade ago. It’s only been five or six years since notable corporations as Microsoft or Telefonica started to be the first companies to create such accelerators in the early 2010s, and now it can’t be denied: building a corporate accelerator is in vogue these days.
Last year 2015 has witnessed an increasing number of corporate accelerators being launched in all regions around the world. The report “Corporate Accelerators & Booming Startup Sectors”, published few months ago, records 116 corporate accelerators worldwide. Europe leads this count with 54 accelerators (mostly based in the UK and Germany), but experts expect a future increase in launching accelerators in EMEA and Asia pacific locations as well.
We recently found a source that we think essential to anyone interested in keeping up with this quickly growing phenomena. The Database of Corporate Accelerators was launched to fill the contradictory gap between the increasing importance of corporate accelerators for the innovation ecosystems and the lack of updated data about them.
This database records 71 active Corporate Accelerators programs (almost 80 if also included stopped ones), offering for each one relevant information and details as, for instance, funding offered, equity considered, company implementing it, location, term of the program, focus areas, the kind of support offered, etc. Furthermore, the list of acceleration programs can be ordered based on the amount of financing offered or the percentage of equity considered.
A good sign or the indication of an incoming bubble?
So finally it’s confirmed. Corporations are becoming more interested in startups and seem willing to provide capital and time to new ventures. This certainly has to be considered a positive sign as an element to a more collaborative business environment we usually evangelize about. But having a look to the database and reading the most recent articles about this boom make us wonder if the phenomena could be considered a step forward for a new form of post-corporate work or just the sign of a new future bubble.
Of course, there are potential risks associated to this kind of programs, perils not just for startups as businesses in their critical early stages but for the generation of innovation itself. But those dangers are more easily avoidable when accelerators in a particular industry are very few, which it does not seem to be the case for the foreseeable future.
The potential negative price of acceleration
Unlike traditional accelerators, these programs are implemented to somehow meet the needs of corporate objectives. Therefore, they have the potential to deeply influence what innovations offered by startups succeed or not. If guidance is one of the benefits for startups to obtain from sponsoring corporations, wouldn’t this advise coming essentially from a single source limit the ability of the new company to get the broadest feedback possible? Being mentored by experts may suppose a valuable shortcut to critical knowledge and Know How but, may it be at the cost of the process of discovery that is so often the critical factor for startups success?
The role of startups in innovation is precisely to be a little “dissident”. Can they be when attached to a traditional corporation? If iteration and pivoting is an essential and differential startups capacity, is it going to remain like that in a context in which a particular corporate agenda may be playing a role on what new paths to take or not?
Then, there is also the question about customers and competitors, which can become trickier the more of these corporate accelerators flourish in a particular market. Becoming an early customer may be one of the most valuable contribution by sponsoring corporation but, what if for whatever the reason it does not happen? If a corporate accelerator doesn’t buy the products of its startups, other customers are going to perceive this negatively. And becoming a first important customer can also become a problem if considered the risk of competitors not willing to engage with startups that come out of rival programs.
The answer is in the How
So, are the corporate accelerator programs in danger of becoming more an accelerator for the corporations themselves than for the participating startups?
It’s probably too soon to know but, in any case once more the answer relies more on the How than on the What. Corporate accelerators programs may present a limited number of formats, but the critical factor, the one that can show a different way for each different corporation is the mindset and disposition when implementing them and, specially, the level of goodwill to draw from, an essential element for all collaborative initiative that pretends to live up to its adjective.