Most corporate accelerators fail in giving tangible results. Many corporations don’t even have a clear vision of what they’re trying to do with it! Some succeed in bringing only a few innovations to the market. Rarely the ones that can create real change. And most fail at changing the corporation in any meaningful way at all. This is entirely predictable. If that’s you, you’re probably doing it wrong.
Innovation is messy: you don’t know much at the beginning of the process, of what you’re going to get. Unfortunately, many people feel like they can’t prepare because of this. When it comes to corporate transformation, it’s exactly the opposite. Both sides (the startups and the corporation) must do their homework. Before and after the accelerator.
In fact, the accelerator should be no different than normal business. It accelerates the collaboration between the startups and the corporation. After that, they should both stay accelerated.
We always say at Nestholma that our acceleration programmes are a year-long cycle. One section of it is the accelerator itself. Towards the startups, investors, and the media, that’s the most visible part.
Towards the corporation, the accelerator is only the tip of the iceberg.
Much before the accelerator, the corporation needs to take a long hard look at itself. What are they open to innovate with startups?
Some corporations might be open to innovate in their core business, others not. Some might be open to giving access to customers, others not. And some corporations believe in certain technologies, others not.
So, at a strategic level, you need to think about the bigger picture. What type of collaboration are you ready for?
The immediate follow-up question from that is: what needs to be ready? Which departments need to take part? What can make those innovations possible? You don’t know yet what the startups will propose. But you might already know the role of some departments. You might have to discuss and prepare the legal department, IT infrastructure, procurement…
Furthermore, the different business areas that will participate need to engage with startups. And that means connecting to the startup ecosystem. That means talking to a lot of startups, and thinking “is this the type of innovations that we’re looking for?”
During this part, the corporation can already identify key challenges. It’s possible at this point to address the corporation’s readiness to startups. With this analysis, you can fine-tune the accelerator. You can maximize the impact on making your organization better. You can maximize the impact on the corporation’s employees.
The next step comes a bit later. Once you know the startups that will join the accelerator, actually. At this point, you should make sure the key people are available.
You can’t let day-to-day get in the way
The startup will be working mainly with one or few business areas. It can happen that people in those areas are not interested. Or that they don’t have the bandwidth. Or that they don’t care too much for working with the startup. If that happens, the whole accelerator might become one big waste of time. They won’t say yes or no, they’ll just focus on their business as usual.
You need to avoid this risk instead. You can’t let day-to-day get in the way. The employees involved need to allocate time for the collaboration.
The following figure shows those three pillars, where corporations need to prepare themselves:
Then comes the accelerator. Everybody is very excited. And hopefully very ready, if you’ve done your homework. Great! You have an awesome Demo Day, where you show off your startups. Flashing lights of the cameras, cool demos, lots of people and fancy cocktails.
And then comes the second big mistake.
Then everything dies. And this is also entirely predictable if you don’t do your homework.
When the accelerator ends, innovation has just started
You need to make sure you acknowledge the follow-up. During the accelerator, the goal is to create a roadmap of how the collaboration will look like. It can be in the form of a pilot, proof of concept, or a commercial deal. And it often starts after the accelerator ends.
Those projects have a life of their own. It’s no longer part of the accelerator. It’s part of the collaboration. In those projects, you need to make sure you have clear success criteria. You need to have people responsible for them. And you need to have a clear decision-making process.
This is one of the most common reasons for collaboration failure. Nobody has thought of what happens after the pilot. It’s not clear who the decision-maker is. Or even worse: it’s clear, but nobody told them!
Your innovations should always have a clear path towards a commercial deal.
Does this mean that after the accelerator there are only the collaboration projects? Not at all! This is the moment where the corporation can reflect and grow. It’s the key moment for renewal.
At Nestholma, we prepare a report for the executives of the corporation. This makes sure they identify the areas of the business where they can improve (and how). This exercise of self-reflection, assessment, and improvement, prepares the corporation for the future. It makes them agiler.
Because if you don’t reflect on how to become better, you can’t become better.
With the knowledge you get, you can start the change. You can start change management programs to make the corporation agiler. You can start including better innovation metrics in your corporation’s quarterly targets.
One practice that we’ve started offering at Nestholma is change management workshops. The people most active in the accelerator pass on the knowledge to the rest of the employees. And together they use this knowledge to make the corporation agiler.
From this point onwards, the sky’s the limit. Doing all these things right is key for renewal. Many accelerators lose track of this. And the corporation doesn’t get to examine itself. And, as Aristotle allegedly put it, the unexamined life is not worth living.
Want to hear more about our change management processes? Or about how we implement them in our accelerators? Drop me a line and let’s talk!