A new model of Accelerator – in public services


Inventive two-stage Accelerator for creating social enterprises and services in the field of public services

Under their three-year contract with the Cabinet Office to run Accelerators for developing social enterprises, Hub Launchpad has developed an unusual two-stage approach. Rather than promoting ideas for new businesses, it aims to help participants to identify issues in public services and to form teams; and then to work together to develop solutions as social enterprises or new service models within the public sector that will be able to take root and grow.

Hub Launchpad has started its Accelerator programme – which is focusing on public services – under its contract with the Cabinet Office for social enterprises, with a pre-accelerator 16-week programme (dubbed ‘Scholarship’). A hundred and twenty people were selected (out of around 250 applicants) – to meet about once a week, to discuss their personal missions around public services, to hear lectures and make visits, to share ideas – about possible objectives, to form teams, and to talk about possible learning journeys.

Out of this process around sixty people (some independent, some intrapreneurs, and not all of them from the pre-accelerator) are to participate in a 14-week Accelerator programme whose aim is to help the 15 or so teams (each of up to four people) to tackle an issue of their choosing in specific organisations (local authorities, housing associations, charities etc.)

Meeting regularly each week, the Accelerator is an intensive programme (‘close to full time’), though some participants may have to square this with their job. The regime is based on techniques such as the Lean Startup and the Business Model Canvass, and anticipates the developing of hypotheses in their journeys to deliver solutions to the issue they aim to tackle. The programme is focused round weekly meetings at which teams present their progress etc to each other and get feed-back.

Collaboration between the teams is a big part of the process. The regular contribution from Hub Launchpad is through two facilitators attached to the programme, plus some co-optees (there are no assigned mentors), who may offer a degree of direction to what are otherwise self-managed team journeys. The facilitators will encourage participants to go out and meet end-users and will help identify and introduce participants to them. A parallel strand in the programme is about enhancing participants’ related knowledge and skills eg about leadership, business ethics, accountability etc.

Participants each receive £9,400, and the teams compete for one of several different size prizes from a Prize Pot of £45k, the largest of which is £25k. The hope is that teams will generate scaleable organisations or services that will be able to attract investments from other social investors.

Hub Launchpad hopes to recycle its investment (which is funded under its contract with the Cabinet Office) from loans to these enterprises and/or revenue sharing. And it is aiming to enable the government’s contribution to continue the development of social enterprise for as long as possible. Its second programme will tackle community businesses and will take place in Birmingham. It third will tackle open, alternative models in financial services and the fourth programme will be around the theme of open manufacturing.

The Centre for Leadership in Creativity

January 2014




‘Accelerators’: another application – the Movies


A classic ‘Accelerator’ hopes to open up a new route to funding for independent film-makers. A US film-maker and entrepreneur launches an Accelerator at the Sundance film Festival, selects 8 out of 440 applicants; gives them three months of seed-funding and development, and then enables them to pitch their embryonic film to investors – all for 8% of their equity.

As an indie filmmaker, it can be exceptionally difficult to raise money for your project — to say nothing of finding the proper channels for distribution and the most effective means of marketing what is, for all intents and purposes, your baby. Dogfish Accelerator aims to change all this by connecting filmmakers and their films with investors in a new way, taking the tech startup model and applying it to indie film. In the first week of December (2013) they held their first Demo Day, where filmmakers got to showcase their films to investors: at the Microsoft Technology Center in New York, filmmakers and investors gathered for the inaugural Dogfish Accelerator Demo Day.

James Belfer, founder and managing director of Dogfish Accelerator, has an MBA from New York University, he has produced or invested in several films (Like Crazy, Compliance, Prince Avalanche) and, while working at Techstars (1), a leading startup accelerator, had the idea that the same model could be applied to indie films. Instead of doing things the old way, working within the festival-driven system and holding little leverage over distributors, he looked to the tech world for inspiration.

Dogfish would provide seed money to filmmakers and provide guidance to help them control their own destiny. The project launched at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, and eventually 440 submissions were pared down to eight finalists. These teams each received $18,000 in seed funding from Dogfish as well as a three month intensive programme – of speakers, masterclasses, occasional experts and regular mentors, with access to web-publishers – to develop a business plan and strategy either for a single film or slate of multiple films; at the conclusion of which they had the opportunity to pitch in front of investors, production companies, sales agents, and distributors. All for 8% of their equity.  (Springboard, a similar programme and in 2011 the first such programme in the UK, cost around £150k to put on.)

According to Belfer, in his introductory speech at demo day: The real issue isn’t that the times are tough, it’s that you can’t be disruptive without knocking down a few walls. Or without trying new investment and business models, testing new marketing and monetization strategies, or utilizing distribution opportunities across multiple platforms. In short, we need to think and act like startups.

The 8 finalist teams represented 13 films, 3 marketing and distribution platforms, 2 Multi Channel Networks, and ancillary streams of revenue including graphic novels, video games, and a fashion line.

Among those presenting was No Film School’s founder Ryan Koo, whose company with co-founder Zack Lieberman presented two projects (Ryan previously wrote about being in Dogfish). One project was MAX & CHARLIE, a family-oriented graphic novel – feature film and video game; the other was 3RD RAIL, an interactive film which uses a new video game engine to make an Agatha Christie-style mystery that encourages multiple viewings – a non-traditional film viewing experience that is utilises cutting-edge technology to tell a multi-tiered narrative. Ryan Koo’s EXIT STRATEGY presented last.

(1) See Springboard, a new UK Accelerator programme http://wp.me/p3beJt-2, modelled on Techstars and on YCombinator. See also Village Capital, a more top-down approach to creating new ventures (http://wp.me/p3beJt-6K).

A number of examples of Accelerators have shown that short, sharp development workshops can be valuable not just for developing new funding sources or new businesses, but also for developing SMEs, as well as for developing new products and new businesses for corporates. (See http://johnwhatmore.com)

 The Centre for Leadership in Creativity                                              December 2013




Are Forecasts (like Alice in Wonderland) just one’s beliefs?


Often just a bit of dreaming, but research shows that there are indeed experts in fore-casting. Maybe our judgements are clouded by what we happen to believe will influence those futures about which we are mere spectators.

It is of course the time for forecasts. The New York Times keeps us amused with some nice simple trends for 2014, such as that Kellogg’s will unveil a new breakfast cereal called Cholester-Os, ‘a tasty blend of sugar, oats and Lipitor, providing 90% of the new recommended daily dose of Statins.’ And that ‘a new book “Killing Conversation” becomes the first title delivered by Amazon’s fleet of drones. The recipient is unharmed, but three Pakistani civilians at a wedding are injured in the delivery.’ The Economist’s ‘World in 2014’ reports, deadpan, that in January the UN starts an international year of crystallography, of family farming and of small-island developing states.

The Economist goes on to forecast a year of political shocks  (national polls will be held in countries with about 40% of the world’s population, and governments are unpopular) and economic shifts (America, Japan and even Europe will all be growing, but emerging markets will look less dynamic; and American business will have some-thing of its old swagger.) The Economist also comments on its previous successes and failures in forecasting in its publication ‘The World in 2013’, as it does on a heavy-weight tournament for forecasters – which reveals support for the idea that there is indeed a small number of ‘super forecasters’. Not only are they identifiable, but they also improve with time; and when they were randomly assigned to ‘elite’ teams, they substantially outperformed the ‘wisdom-of-overall-crowd’, as they did competitor institutions and two prediction markets.

Nesta’s recent work  (‘A modest defence of Futurology’) revives the old truism that it depends on who is doing the asking (and so who they ask). If it is those in power, in the UK they will be asking about Salmond, Farage, energy, health and wealth (and bankers). If it is experts, it may be about the future of the Eight Great Technologies – and more besides. If it is the authors of Doctor Who and their ilk, it will be about the possibilities of IT (uses and even abuses) and of space and time travel. And, more simply, if it is you and I, it will be about how we react to the problems we are foreseeing – a valuable source of Behavioural Economic theory. Nesta’s 14 Predictions for 2014 (http://www.nesta.org.uk/news/14-predictions-2014) are drawn from Nesta’s wide expertise. Some are significant trends, some great prospects, some simply great wishes, and some radical tipping points – a mind-popping read (though difficult to navigate).

With similar short-term spectacles, all the pundits foresee economic growth for the UK (but few if any investment advisers are worth following). We can be sure that the Press will become ever more strident in their use of outrage – hype, imagination and innuendo – in their attempts to keep our attention and retain their flagging sales. It is extremely unlikely that our politicians will do anything that might shake our votes, like attempting to tackle long-term issues (new airport, new rail lines, new sources of energy), or the creaking tensions in representative democracy – especially the lack of experience and expertise in our representatives – what AA Gill described as ‘the great wish fulfilment of egalitarian socialism that wilfully believes [that] ten idiots will add up to one wise man by some democratic magic’; or the widening gap between the rich and the poor. (Greed, hypocracy and sharp practice seem more widespread, or am I just swallowing what the Press is telling me!) And we can be sure that mobile technology will continue to become more ubiquitous, though there are increasing doubts about the future of social media; reflection and conversation are forecast to be in for a revival (says The Economist) – and it is distant contacts that are surprisingly useful suggests Tim Harford, the Undercover Economist; people close to you tell you what you already know. (FT Dec 21/22).

However, as one Army Officer recently suggested, ‘if you plan too much, you get confused. It is better not to plan, that way you surprise yourself, but more importantly, you surprise the enemy!’ There are also two things about the head-long rush to innovate that worry me: being invited to possess ‘unmissable’ things that may have slight value but no great benefit (eg a new model of golf club or an app for finding coffee shops in Soho); and web material that seems so often to be ‘in beta’ ie doesn’t work properly yet, and may in any case very soon be out of date. (Stick to that bottle of aged whisky!) So why, you might well ask, do I write so much about processes of intensive development such as Accelerators? Answer: because I believe that they have a big future!