Both Organic and Inorganic Accelerators have their place – depending on what you’re trying to achieve. Putting more than a passing thought into your objectives is absolutely imperative, otherwise, you’re simply playing fad-bingo. 

An organisation I was working for recognised that technology had opened the floodgates to disruptive entrants to its market. Critical to long term success would be the ability to move as quickly and aggressively. But first, the organisation needed to better understand this new world rather than watch it from after.

A decision was made to create accelerated, immersive learning on two fronts. Firstly, to run an external (inorganic) start-up accelerator. This involved partnering with one of the world’s leading accelerators to bring a cohort of external start-ups into the organisation for three months to test and validate new ideas and technologies with the organisation. Secondly, to build a cohort of new start-ups from within the organisation (organically), and funding the most successful ones. Both approaches were novel to the organisation, and the key question was what did each offer? 

First and foremost, the learning value of both experiences was transformative for the organisation. Running the external accelerator helped the organisation meet and converse with hundreds of start-ups, breaking down key barriers between enormous and fledgling organisations through empathy. The organisation recognised that it didn’t require external hand-holding to ‘meet’ start-ups. Most were happy to engage and collaborate. It realised there was much work to do though in order to make those collaborations smooth and mutually beneficial. Finally, it learned that it didn’t need to create everything internally from scratch. That new ideas and technologies already existed that could be explored more quickly, cheaply and effectively with start-ups than starting from scratch.

From an organic standpoint, the organisation learned the massive difference between managing the incremental new product development (core innovation) and the needs of true ‘zero to one’ innovations (new business models, technologies or non-core solutions). It discovered the scale of entrepreneurship that lived within the organisation, and how to channel it in a structured, productive way. The experience led to the development of a second internal innovation model, now used globally.

Corporate accelerator programs are often used as a PR exercise. Time and time again though, we see poor outcomes as a result of poorly thought-through ambitions. But the extraordinary learning value of them can be transformative if done well, done for the right reasons, and embraced by the organisation.

[‘Experience’ blogs are reflections and learning experiences from Radiocarbon consultants from their time on the client-side]