An accelerator partnership


A partnership between a catapult and an accelerator launches a new programme

A partnership between an organisation whose role is advancing the development of an emerging technology and an experienced funder and developer of SMEs has launched a short accelerator programme for a small number of young businesses.

The Digital Catapult and Seedcamp have partnered to launch Augmentor, an equity free programme to support early stage tech businesses developing applications of immersive technologies. The ten-week programme will seek to help advance next generation virtual, augmented and mixed reality early stage tech companies by providing technical and business mentorship.

Digital Catapult’s centre in London will be available to successful Augmentor applicants as a space to work. Dr Jeremy Silver, CEO Digital Catapult said: “Immersive technologies are fast becoming a central part of the digital economy and there is a real demand for access to expertise and equipment in this space. Our new lab will help to provide businesses with access to state-of-the-art immersive technologies under one roof, providing a vital opportunity for them to refine their ideas and test products across the range of equipment on the market today.”

Dave Haynes, from Seedcamp’s investment team, commented: “Having invested in several immersive companies including Splash and TheWaveVR, we’re excited to be launching this initiative to develop a new wave of entrepreneurs solving problems with emerging technologies.

“We’re still on the frontier of what immersive tech can do and what founders need. And European founders will need an investment of both time, expertise and money to succeed. That’s how Seedcamp has been helping startups for years now. Augmentor is the first programme in London looking to bridge that gap for companies working with VR and AR.”

John Whatmore, April 2017


See also:


Big bets on big ideas – by philanthropists

‘Problem first, tool second’ is a maxim that is common among philanthropists, but far from common in the startup world.


Recent research suggests that specialised support programmes could facilitate the development of hi-growth SMEs

Recent research showed that the more successful teams in Accelerators tended to be existing ventures, with well qualified teams, focused on the adoption of their products/services, and on building their organisation.




SETsquared tops Trumps


SETsquared tops Trumps 

The top Incubator illustrates the range of support that can be offered to young businesses.

Karen Brooks of SETsquared, a partnership of five universities centred on Bristol, recently rated ‘Global Number 1 University Business Incubator’, spoke at a recent ‘Knowledge London’ meeting of leaders of university incubators about the six programmes – at a variety of levels in the innovation pipeline and in various sectors – that SETsquared runs; and added that it was all about a mutual relationship with industry – understanding what business wants; and she commented that SETsquared had no academics on its staff.

The most striking contrast, I suggested at that meeting, between Accelerators most of which are branded ‘pop-ups’ (as c.12 week programmes) and Incubators many of which are in universities, is that the former:

  • are more involved with their businesses
  • provide more input and support,
  • have many more contacts with the business world.

But SETsquared is a leader in all of these respects.

At the Pervasive Media Studio at Wastershed, Bristol – a twelve month home to a dozen young businesses, over lunch together on a Friday everyone has to talk about their progress, about which notes are immediately circulated so that teams can meet up to learn from one another’s experience. Jim Milby, until recently a Director of Barclays Bank, who mentors at Startupbootcamp, insists on a weekly review with his team wherever he is a mentor. Paul Miller, one of the authors of Nesta’s The Startup Factories, and founder of Bethnal Green Ventures – a winner of a major grant from the Cabinet Office’s Social Enterprise Startups programme – holds a review once a week with every team in the Accelerator. At ‘Office Hours’, he asks the same questions of each team “What did you achieve last week, what will you do next week, what is stopping you; and what have you learned”.

Accelerators provide more input and support, especially in the form of mentors, notably with specific advice eg on design, potential customers, fundability etc – often in a ratio of four or five to every team. Techstars, Startupbootcamp and Wayra Lab all have around 150 mentors for each programme, (as does SETsquared,) among whom two or three are regularly attached to each team; and Seedcamp has even more.

As does SETsquared, they have many more external contacts with local practitioners, experts and entrepreneurs in businesses in the sectors in which their young businesses are involved, upon whom they can call for specific help. Moreover their leaders are often entrepreneurs themselves.

Incubators are still essentially providers of office space more than they are facilitators of business development, but it takes little (often only a canteen) to encourage their occupants, who are all on the same growth path, to draw from others’ experience and find the essential help that they often did not know they needed!

John Whatmore, November 2016

Business Growth Fund adds network of advisers


The Business Growth Fund adds a network of advisers
Entrepreneurial young businesses need access to strategic support and advice: the BGF’s scheme enables them to find advisers with experience, and willing and able to give time to offering the advice they need. Achieving successful matches remains a difficult task, as does providing the comprehensive regime of support that is often needed.

The Business Growth Fund has gone down a new track (where the banks never went) in providing business support in the form of advisers for its customers; and other funders are even more active in the support of their investments. By enhancing the chances of their customers’ success, not only are they meeting their objective to support business growth, but they are also protecting their own investments.

‘In the corporate world, non-executives might be associated with a dry, formal governance role, but for entrepreneurial businesses, the job is wider – adding experience, networking and credibility. The BGF considers the role of non-executive so vital for its investee companies that it has built up a network of 3,000 experienced executives nationwide who are willing to spend a few hours a month working with a growing business.’ (The Times 26.1.2015.)

‘One of the concerns we hear time and time again from entrepreneurs’ quotes the article, ‘relates to the lack of access to strategic support and advice – ideally from someone who carries the battle scars of business and has come out the other side. The biggest barrier, they say, is gaining access to these people.’

One such adviser quoted in the article said that each company demands about two meetings a month and approximately six phone calls. ‘A decent non-executive will set a business back about £40,000 a year, although the adviser shouldn’t need the money. If they need the job they are the wrong person.’ But much depends on the company. (1)

One beneficiary commented: ‘It was a case of a headstrong entrepreneur finding the world a difficult and risky place who realised he needed some help – a voice of experience, who had been there and done that, someone who could pour oil of troubled waters.’ Another had brought in someone who ‘is a good sounding board for my business…and has been superb at building relationships with our investors.’ Achieving a high rate of growth calls for support in many different areas. (2)

There is no hint of how the Fund is managing these liaisons. Some managers of mentoring simply see their role as that of introducing mentors and mentees to one another, but the recent conference of the Association of Business Mentors illustrated how variegated are the needs and how unpredictable is the role: matching mentors to people and to their needs is a sophisticated task. (3)

Accelerators (like Techstars, Seedcamp and Startupbootcamp) and VCs (like Octopus Ventures) have highlighted the importance of mentors for early-stage businesses, and in providing access to them from the outset. They keep their eyes on the development of the business all the time – for new obstacles and new needs for help and support; and are ready to search for contacts whom they can introduce, sometimes from within the cohort or portfolio, and sometimes from elsewhere in their industry – or other industries.

The Business Growth Fund’s initiative is a first step in establishing a comprehensive regime of help and support for the businesses they fund.

John Whatmore
February 2015

See also at ‘Applied Creativity’

(1) I interview the ‘best mentor’ in Startupbootcamp’s FinTech Accelerator
In and out frequently, he steadily evolved his role by offering the wealth and breadth of experience of a life-time’s work in a top bank – clarifying progress and problems, acting as a sounding board, offering experienced insights, and marshalling help. Dec 2014

(2) I am a fly on the wall at an Accelerator’s Mentor Day
The day provided the programme’s entrepreneurs a free-form opportunity to meet mentors and for them to learn something about each other. It suggested to me five different mentor roles. Sept 2014

(3) Mentoring: great benefits, but considerable problems
The benefits and the problems are well recognised. Several different routes are evolving, and four distinct approaches to the managing of mentors have different benefits and different problems.


Mentoring: great benefits, but considerable problems


Mentoring: great benefits, but considerable problems
The benefits and the problems are well recognised. Several different routes are evolving, and four distinct approaches to the managing of mentors have different benefits and different problems.

Among the benefits that mentors are recognised as offering are their contributions from personal experience, their specific knowledge and expertise, and the contacts they can bring about. Among complaints about mentoring are their uncertain availability, the fact that they may offer conflicting advice, and their potential for incompatibility. Above all, confidence and trust are quintessential factors in the equation. Entrepreneurs are on an express train and they don’t want to be held up by being mis-routed down branch lines.

The managing of mentors has been seen as no more than simply putting them in touch with potential mentees. As yet there have been no serious attempts to manage cohorts of mentors in order to overcome the problems mentioned above, though Startupbootcamp has set great store by the quality of its mentoring; Seedcamp and Techstars great store by their ability to find you just the expert you need; Healthbox has set out to offer advice to startups about making effective use of mentors; Wayra Lab encourages its teams to form non-executive boards; and startup eRipple is seeking to facilitate and enhance the matching process.

What kind of mentoring regime do you espouse? There are at least four different approaches, each with different benefits and different disadvantages:
The reactive: if an incubatee wants some specific help, a mentor with the appropriate expertise can be found. This depends on the incubatee’s inclination to use mentors, on his/her perception of needs for help, as well as on the effectiveness of the linking process. (Bethnal Green Ventures, Bathtub 2)
The proactive: helps incubatees to identify the kind of help they need from moment to moment and can wheel up a mentor appropriate to that need. This approach adds in the expertise of the regular supervisory facilitator – to help identify the often rapidly changing mentoring needs of inexperienced entrepreneurs, but it depends on being able to wheel up not just the right expert, but just the right mentor for this team. (Techstars, Seedcamp)
The mentor programme: a regular programme of mentor visits, each with a different expertise. Useful for those incubatees who happen to need that kind of help at that very moment. (Canary Wharf’s Level39)
The mentor attachment: where a single mentor is attached to each incubatee/team for a duration. More a coach than a mentor, there will be few people who can provide effectively for all of the rapidly changing needs of entrepreneurial teams eg for experience, expertise and contacts. (Birmingham Innovation Campus, BioCity, Wayra Lab – encourages its teams to form non-executive boards; but how are they managed?)

With eRipple I am working with a number of mentees to understand how effective was the mentoring that they experienced and what made it so.

(1) ‘Getting advice in early-stage ventures’ describes the different sources of support and advice that entrepreneurs find valuable – in Accelerators.
(2) ‘I am a fly-on-the-wall at an Accelerator’s Mentor Day’ includes descriptions of different roles that Mentors play.

John Whatmore
December 2014