Startup incubators or accelerators, if they are well designed and executed, are the perfect way to bring companies’ future options forward into the present.
If your company does not have a technology incubation or startup accelerator program in place, I have bad news for you – they are not modern enough. Even the biggest sales management firm in the US has such a program. It has invested in some twenty technology firms for retail. If you take a look at the majority of large companies in our environment, I’m sure you would find an equivalent program. What is more difficult to find, however, are the results. Not only for the firms that make the investment, but also for companies that take part in the process.
What are they supposed to be for? A big company is by definition bureaucratic. It is the key to being efficient and exploiting a specific market. This is not bad in itself, unless the customer suddenly has better options for buying the same thing, or even something better. Technology speeds up the appearance of such options. These innovations are not available to everyone, only for a few pioneering clients. But the unknown factor in all this is how long before it begins to go mainstream, when it is sufficiently good and attractive.
Hence the aim of these programs is to gain access to the best ideas on the market. They are kept separate from the day to day of the company in innovation departments or investment companies.
So what do companies get out of it? In the majority of cases, we are talking about companies that are not major firms and are looking for funding because they can’t get it any other way and they are out of options, so they decide to try aid programs led by experts in bureaucracy rather than experts in creating new things, who are not useful for startups. In the best of cases it brings good publicity.
What should the programs be like? In order to attract good experts you have to offer something special. What relevant technology has the company got? What access options can we give our clients? What talent can the firm attract to carry out real mentoring? For big companies it should serve as a way to integrate options for the future in the day-to-day fabric of the business. It should be about having the opportunity to conduct experiments with knowledge and external implementation. In order to do that you need different profiles and innovation models with an excellent level of process and control.
Ricardo Pérez. Professor. IE Business School