Four mistakes to avoid in your corporate accelerator
After months and months of hard work, the first cohort of your shiny, new accelerator program is ready to begin. And you feel home. Soon enough, founders, co-founders, tech geeks, machine learning specialists, and growth hackers are going to populate a space you have dedicated to them, and they are going to disrupt your industry, while you observe them from your comfortable corner office. Finally, your firm is able to create and deliver digital transformation and industry disruption – and at the same time – you have reduced the risk that these ideas get stuck in one of your firms’ internal project reviews.
Unfortunately, managing the day to day of the corporate accelerator program might have its challenges. These are four typical areas where you need to pay attention, as they might make or break your dream.
1.Competing for the same air to breath
Mors tua, vita mea (Middle-age battle cry)
One of the biggest differences between the most established accelerator programs and the emerging corporate equivalents is the access to a broad investor pool. (Of course with the caveat that there are many established accelerators running corporate programs, for which the reach to external investors is an important derivative.) This creates a very highly competitive environment, which, unless properly monitored and managed, can quickly become toxic.
In a nutshell, start-ups are attending to learn, develop a minimum viable product (if they don’t have one), get some initial traction and, most importantly, to get funding. But in those cases in which the investors’ pool is limited, and with limited resources to invest, the accelerated companies compete for those investors’ attention and money.
It is important to highlight that a certain level of competition among accelerated start-ups is good and welcome. It allows them to keep their focus on their objectives, and it also stresses the importance of uniqueness, which is ultimately about standing out in front of the same crowd. However, there is a risk that rivalry becomes excessive, and toxic, with participants playing dirty tricks on one another.
Just recently I observed a turf war between two start-ups part of the same program, which was escalating quickly. One group of founders conducting conference calls in an open space on a loudspeaker, with the intention of getting on other participants’ nerves. One of the annoyed groups retaliated by displacing coffee mugs and other objects. Escalating to the point of challenging and interrupting one another during important presentations. Stories from startup-land, sounding just like the ones from kindergarten.
What to do? Create more tailor-made, personal opportunities to meet partners. Pitches are important, but most investors will need to be comfortable with talent in their prospective investments.
2. Overselling: the art of creating wrong expectations
Blessed is He Who Expects Nothing, for He Shall Never Be Disappointed (A. Pope)
Recruitment and selection, investment in start-ups, insurance, and secondhand purchases have all one common characteristic: they are asymmetric information markets. One party in the transaction knows definitely more than the other. In a nutshell, one party is able to manipulate the expectations of the other.
In the Middle-earth of accelerators, which is dominated by 30 seconds elevator’s pitches, 3 minutes presentations, and 6 minutes speed-dating meetings between angels and founders, setting the right expectations becomes critical. Because, while over-selling might be increasing the initial conversion rate after the first meeting, for sure reduces the probability of closing any sort of deal.
Setting the right expectations is, first and foremost, a matter of jargon: too many companies, pressured for time, present themselves as “the Uber of”, and “the AirBnB of” or the “The Facebook of”. And while doing so, founders’ grab initial investors’ attention, but they are often not to able to live to the same expectation during the following conversations with prospective investors.
3. Not taking the time to think
Give your children the gift of boredom (M. Montessori)
The Minimum value a start-up extracts from an acceleration program is refining their own strategy and pitch, through the many iterations, meetings, and events of the program itself. However, it is hard to re-think, improve, or even assimilate feedback, if there is no time available for it.
4. Packing the schedule with last-minute events/ meetings
Many accelerator programs designers and managers measure the program value through occupancy rates: the more the participants are busy, the better the program. And there is a tendency to pack the schedule with last-minute events/ meetings and requests. Of course the by-product of this practice is participants being late, double booking, spending a lot of time sorting their schedule, and, finally completely being unaware of why they are in a meeting. Also, avoid at any cost blind dates: people who meet each other should know who they are meeting with and why, before the end.