At a recent Workshop I ran with people involved in Accelerators, it was clear that Accelerators are becoming more institutionalised. They are no longer one-offs, they are part of continuing programmes; they are working with more established entrepreneur ‘teams’; Accelerators are no longer being managed by just one or two individuals but by teams; and they are involving a wider cohort of followers. Moreover they are developing fast.
Choosing candidates is becoming a more sophisticated process (see also ‘Accelerators getting more choosy and more targeted’ http://wp.me/p3beJt-5e). Many Accelerators now filter their candidates through some form of short bootcamp or hackathon (eg of a couple of days, see also ‘Mini ‘Accelerators’ go global’ http://wp.me/p3beJt-2d). Are teams looking to achieve big changes – do they have big ambitions. Are the members of teams well matched among themselves and in relation to the task and its context; has the team evidence of working well together. Are they willing to evolve, and are they amenable to the Accelerator’s regime; and are they complementary to other teams in their cohort. Or even, as in theatre, can team members find an aspect of themselves that may just be useful (agitator, mediator?)
Most facilitators see themselves as highly flexible – at one moment challenging participants, at another suggesting ways to do something, at another moving chairs; but most valuably introducing participants to people who can help them with to-day’s
problem. One programme facilitator told us of the four questions that the leaders ask of participants each week:
1. What have you done this week?
2. What are you trying to do?
3. What do you need help with?
4. What have you learned?
However, it was also clear that they always feel stretched. (A straw poll at this Workshop revealed that the ratio of programme leaders to (individual) participants was about 1:15 i.e about one for every five teams.)
Leaders of Accelerators are finding that their various roles as producers/directors/leaders/facilitators give them too little time with individuals and their teams. Consequently they are enlisting the help of mentors, potential partners, investors and customers in the support roles that they might have carried out themselves, and in the process helping their teams to deliver propositions that confront real needs and so have better prospects.
Ways forward include annexing the help of people or organisations related to the programme in question: seeking sponsors and mentors from the industry or sector to which the programme is related (including potential customers and potential investors); getting mentors to help with the selection of candidates, find useable contacts, and to manage the mentor programme; and getting them to provide speakers, coaches and personal mentors.
Two of the most frequently mentioned roles for the leaders of Accelerators are: that of encouraging teams to desist from continuing to develop their brainchild – their new product, and to find, and get it in front of potential customers – to shift from what they are comfortable in doing onto discovering what actual needs their new product or service might meet. And secondly, encouraging teams to shift their concept in response to evidence of customer needs (ie to pivot).
Accelerator programmes are clearly evolving fast: as one Workshop participant said: we try to re-invent ourselves every week.