Accelerator Learning Programmes – for very early-stage venturers are emerging, designed to develop their capabilities to the point where their propositions are of investable quality. The formats of their learning element are very similar; but the mentoring element and their sources of funding differ – according to how commercial they are likely to be.
Many venture capital houses receive several times more new business proposals than they invest in, yet these many potential entrepreneurs may still have a nugget of an idea for a new business but not be able to shape it in such a way as to attract investors. It is for these that a new patterm of accelerator programme in the UK is emerging.
The aim of these programmes is to help early-stage venturers (entrepreneur clubs are said to be now the largest clubs in UK universities) to develop their capabilities, and hence their propositions, to such an extent that they become investable.
A common pattern is that they are 13-week programmes of learning, based on meeting for a half-day, once a week, sometimes with an added tutorial. Programmes have a thorough selection process – accepting of the order of 10% of applicants. The programme covers the basic subjects entailed by new businesses, especially marketing and finance; they include lectures from experts (preferably people who have ‘been there’ already); part of the session will provide an opportunity for the participants to wrestle together with aspects of their proposition that do not yet work; and they will finish (sometimes in a separate tutorial session) by discussing a key issue and how they will go about addressing it between now and the following week, when they will have to discuss how that process went and what is their new solution to that issue. Alongside the formal part of the learning agenda, a third approach to the learning content is to require participants to exchange their learning experiences by internet; and when they meet to discuss them together.
These programmes finish by providing a forum to which funders have been invited, at which they have an opportunity to pitch for ongoing funding. (Those who run these programmes require in exchange an equity participation of around 5%.) The objective of their founders is commonly to build exponentially a group of people who have ‘been there’ and can help the next cadre of participants to follow in their footsteps (and thus provide a continuing business model for the organisers.)
Of these programmes, some are purely commercial (but may have attracted commercial sponsors), and the participants pay; others (particularly those whose objectives include social benefits) have attracted grant-funding. Some include mentoring; others (notably where radically new approaches are being developed to address social issues) do not – as likely to be too directive.