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The 5 Key Components to Make your Innovation Accelerator roar!

The 5 Key Components to Make your Innovation Accelerator roar!

There are two key strategies which are driving a new way of doing business, M&A and internal innovation, with change and growth at the forefront. Any organisation which has opted for the latter of these two strategies then finds themselves on a quest to discover, include and support the entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs, which will help to create this ‘new way of working’. As an accelerator can host and foster either internal or external ideas, this option is fast becoming the route businesses are taking. Accelerator spaces are now a key part of the innovation path corporates and larger organisations are choosing delivering to organisations their ultimate aim of operating and acting more entrepreneurially.

Any strategic and cultural change which involves the introduction of a new way of working requires time, resources and a clear and focused direction, along with commitment from the whole of the organisation. Launching an accelerator is no exception. As well as the more obvious components such as space (on or off line) and a network of experts and mentors to support, to really generate innovative ideas a new way of thinking and acting often needs to take place.

Over the past 6 years Entrepreneurial Spark has set up and operated 13 accelerator hubs across the UK, working with thousands of entrepreneurs, so we have seen and experienced first-hand what does and doesn’t work when creating a successful accelerator. Read on for our top tips!

Start with ‘Why’

In the words of Simon Sinek, ‘Start with Why’.

What is your ultimate aim and what is the driving force behind establishing an accelerator?  Is it purely for new ideas and the ‘next big thing?’  Or is it to foster and bring about a culture of entrepreneurialism within your organisation? Knowing your ultimate aim and ensuring all those involved understand and buy into this, means it can then be used to steer you through your accelerator journey. Your “why” should be at the heart of every decision you make. While opening up our 13 hubs we were clear on our “why” and also on the “how”.  It was all about taking action and Entrepreneuring! We had the entrepreneurial mindset at the centre of everything we did an it was this that drove us to open a differentiated accelerator network.

Create a community…

Whether you intend to run the accelerator in a physical space or virtually, what will be key to the success of the accelerator and the people within it, is the community you foster.  Having a place or forum for your entrepreneurs or intrapreneurs to meet, discuss, support and challenge each other is vital. This safe space must be outside of the established confines of their usual work environment.  Creating this community brings with it collaboration and networks, which in turn inspires new ideas and new ways of working – this is what will drive both innovation and entrepreneurialism.  Alongside the support, enablement and challenge that Entrepreneurial Sparks entrepreneurs received while in the Hubs, was access to and the opportunity to be part of an inspiring community.  Consistently this is cited as one of the most useful and crucial aspects of the hubs and the entrepreneur’s success.

…but not just any community.

You know what they say, ‘hire the right people then get the hell out of their way’.  This could not be more true than when creating your accelerator.  Whether selecting intrapreneurs or entrepreneurs, it’s not enough just to create a community of people, you ultimately need to create a community of people with the right mindset, attitude and approach.  Why?  If you are going to invest time, money and resource into establishing an accelerator within your organisation then surely you want it to work!  You don’t want to just replicate what you already have, right?  While there may be many aspects of your organisation that work very well, the essence of creating an accelerator is to ‘do things differently’, to think and act differently.  It’s in this difference of approach and attitude that you will uncover innovation, entrepreneurialism and change.  Create a community that is opportunity hungry, one which is open to challenge, individuals who are self aware enough to not get in the way of innovation and a community who, despite feeling uncomfortable, pushes themselves and the organisation forward.  When you create a community full of growth mindset entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs great things are going to happen!

Wrap around support

Accelerator programs are opening up every day and most provide resources and education on start-up, funding, mentorship and access to potential investors.  So, the overall provision of ‘wrap-around’ support is seen as a basic offering.  This is no different for if you are an organisation looking to establish an ‘in-house’ accelerator or if you are looking to create a standalone hub for entrepreneurs.  The support, expertise, knowledge and mentorship, when applied correctly instils a culture of entrepreneurialism.  Concepts such as build, measure, learn (Eric Ries) and fail fast, fail cheap help to define how your community works. Access to mentors, expertise and knowledge encourages individuals to upskill, step outside their comfort zones and tap into others to understand what they need to do next.  The way the accelerator community works and operates compared to that of the overall organisation is often very different…and that is exactly how it should be! An entrepreneurial culture needs to inspire a faster and more agile way or working and an accelerator is a great mechanism to do this.

Are YOU prepared to think and act differently?

While the above factors are key when setting up an accelerator, what is crucial is how you and those in any organisation approach the process itself.  Creating an accelerator within an established business is becoming more common but what sets apart those which fly versus those which don’t, is down to how those leading the project approach it.

How committed is the senior management and board level? Have you got the vision and focus to carry you through the first few years?  This has to be seen as a long term strategy, it is often only after year 2 before real successes can be seen.

Are you willing to accept the risk that comes with setting up an accelerator? Its going to feel uncomfortable at times!  Not just in building the accelerator but also in how those within the accelerator operate and therefore how you will need to operate. Are you prepared to work in a fast paced and agile way?

And what about collaboration? This is all well and good until it means sharing your insights and market knowledge to young, energetic and ambitious founders. Trust is key and again a bigger and wider vision for the future and an acceptance that this will at first feel uncomfortable.

A brilliant accelerator will operate very differently to that of the organisation it is created within – that’s the point! As the community grows the culture from the accelerator seeps in to the wider organisation and a cultural change occurs. As leaders and owners of this, it’s your place to facilitate the right environment and allow the accelerator the freedom to operate.  So, don’t try and force ways of working into the accelerator. Provide the autonomy for the accelerator to breath and grow.  This will breed innovation, creativity and entrepreneurialism and most of all it will give the opportunity for the organisation to drive forward and survive in an ever changing, volatile, competitive market.