Speedier and speedier innovations: Springboard’s latest embodiment of the Accelerator illustrates six trends
* Accelerators are an expanding market, with an established viability.
* There is widening interest in them from corporates.
* Accelerators are increasingly topic- and technology-specific.
* The forms they take are becoming more closely defined.
* The roles of mentors are beginning to become clearer.
* Organisers of Accelerators are becoming more established.
As I write, Springboard Mobile’s ten teams (all working to develop businesses involving mobiles) are six weeks into their 13-week Accelerator programme at the Google Campus in Tech City, Shoreditch, London. This is Springboard’s third Accelerator – Jon Bradford’s first was in Cambridge; his second finished recently – in London.
Springboard’s Accelerator is a 13-week programme for around ten teams – selected by competition, each with ideas for creating a new business, to come and work alongside one another, in an intensive atmosphere, to develop their ideas into a viable concept; managed by a programme leader and supported by a large number of mentors. Each member of the team is funded to the extent of £5k and the team is provided with working space and a regime designed both to help in the development of the business and to support more general learning about business. At the end of the 13 weeks, each team has the opportunity at Demo Day to pitch its business to an invited audience of venture capital investors. In return, each team gives up 6% of its equity. (For more, and for some fun footage, see http://www.f6s.com/springboardmobile2012)
This particular Springboard regime includes four new developments:
1. The contributions of mentors are becoming more structured. The first six weeks, the weeks in which teams work with mentors, are interleaved with ‘Sprint’ weeks – weeks for the teams to develop their ideas in response to their encounters with mentors. In the first week, they have had 20 minute sessions with each of ten mentors per day; followed by a ‘Sprint’ week; and then in the third week, they meet for forty minutes at a time only those mentors whom they opt to meet again or who have sought to meet their team again because the mentors felt that they had something to offer them (about thirty of the hundred.) This is followed by a second ‘Sprint’ week. And then week five is dedicated to further meetings with mentors. (Mentoring is seen as about feed-back, advice and contacts. Most of the mentors are people who have ‘done it before’ and the rest are there for their technical or professional expertise; the qualities most valued in mentors are: empathy, and honesty – as knowing it and telling it for what it is.)
2. By week 8, teams are expected to have a substantive business model, so that they can spend the ensuing weeks in trying to build a customer following. Because of the small pool of early-stage capital that is available in the UK compared with the amount available to small businesses in the US, Jon Bradford is looking to place the emphasis on starting a business by the end of the programme – more than on having arrived at an investable proposition.
3. Springboard is now concentrating less on very early stage businesses. Among this cadre are some teams that already have funding for their continuing development but have sought to join the programme not for the money but for the benefits it brings to their business; and in return for 3% of their equity rather than Springboard’s usual 6%.
4. Springboard Mobile has been funded by ten Angels. (Springboard 1
was funded entirely by Nesta; and Springboard 2 was funded by five
Angels together with some funding from Nesta.)
Springboard’s caravan continues to roll: it has just announced a new programme to be started next year for businesses developing hardware, this one with funding from corporates Unilever, ARM – chip developers, and Raspberry Pi – manufacturer of a basic computer on which to learn coding. Two of these are new to this kind of enterprise and do not as yet have management structures for handling open innovation collaborations (among issues will be rights to products developed in the Accelerator: whereas Telefonica sees its Accelerators as an important source of new products and requires a first option on products developed in them, IBM does not make such a stipulation). For this programme, Nesta will be making a small contribution because of the programme’s potential benefits to Nesta’s interest in the Internet of Things (how the monitoring of monitors can be used in personal health and wellbeing, energy use and the green agenda.)
And Springboard is in discussion about an Accelerator in social enterprises.
(For up-to-date information about Accelerators across Europe, see http://www.startupfactories.eu/)
Springboard is aiming towards running programmes end to end (one each in IT, Mobiles and hardware) over the course of each twelve month period, and each one tapping a different bank of funders, rather than running programmes incidentally – one by one; and this would enable it to become a more established organisation.