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5 things to consider before joining a corporate accelerator programme

Editor’s note: This article has been contributed by guest poster, Jacqueline Davidson.

Corporate accelerator programmes have become increasingly popular in recent years, offering startups the opportunity to receive funding, mentorship and access to corporate networks. But before you jump feet first into a corporate accelerator initiative, it’s important to consider whether it’s the right fit for your business goals.

Corporate accelerator programmes have surged in popularity, particularly among large corporations and startups. According to a report by Startup Genome, a research and policy advisory organisation, almost half of all accelerator programmes worldwide are now sponsored or run by corporations.

It’s a trend driven by the increasing interest of large companies in innovation and entrepreneurship; as well as their desire to tap into the startup ecosystem to accelerate their growth while driving strategic objectives. On the other side, startups have the opportunity to gain access to funding, mentorship and other resources that can help them scale their businesses.

Research from global consulting and technology company, Accenture, found that 82% of startups that participated in corporate accelerator programmes said they gained access to new customers or markets, while 76% said they gained access to new investors. Additionally, 58% said they received funding or investment offers as a result of their direct participation.

Before committing to a corporate accelerator programme, it’s crucial to assess whether it aligns with your company’s goals and objectives. In addition to considering whether you trust the people running the program that you subsequently are investing your time in, it’s important to also evaluate what you’re committing to. Here are five questions I recommend startups always ask themselves before they join any accelerator program.

1. Do I need this programme?

Before joining a corporate accelerator programme, it’s important to ask yourself whether you really ‘need’ it. What are your business goals and how can a corporate accelerator programme help you achieve them? Take the time to understand the corporate key performance indicators (KPIs) from the accelerator and how they align with your growth strategy as a startup. If you’re accelerator hopping without seeing any real benefit, perhaps you’re not dedicating enough time to it or you’re not finding the right programme for your business. Remember, a corporate accelerator programme is a development tool that should help you take off and accelerate your business. If you don’t know what you want out of the acceleration period, the programme may not be the best fit for you.

2. How are they working for me?

Think about how a corporate accelerator programme will help you meet your goals, not just during the programme, but also after it ends. Depending on the industry, the path to revenue may be longer than the programme itself. Ask yourself, what support will you receive during the programme? Will you have access to engineering or subject matter expert support? How will the programme help you grow your revenue, investor base, or business acumen? Ask these questions upfront to make sure you get the most out of the initiative. Speak with past participants, review the accelerator’s track record, and evaluate the partner’s strategic fit with your business. Research if the mentors on a programme have relevant industry experience and can provide guidance on their specific challenges. Do your homework — they’re interviewing you to be a part of their cohort, so you should be interviewing them as well. 

3. What other corporates are involved?

Corporate accelerator programmes often involve partnerships with other companies, which can provide startups with valuable introductions and networking opportunities. Find out which other corporates are involved and ask for soft or warm introductions, which are often lightyears better than cold introductions. Even if a company is not a named partner in the accelerator program, it could still have access to an affiliated mentor base within its network that could provide significant value to your business. Building personal connections with people (depending on the culture) can take a lot of time, especially if you’re looking to gain the most benefit from the corporate accelerator programme. If you’re considering joining the programme solely for the connections, it’s important to understand the time commitment required to nurture those relationships.

4. Will this limit me from working with other corporates in the future?

Consider the impact of joining a corporate accelerator programme on your future business relationships. If you work with one corporate, will it be difficult to gain traction with a competitor in the same industry? If you’re in a duopoly or niche business where competitors are strong, this could be a significant factor to consider – even more so if you choose to take investment. While it’s not an end-all-be-all, it’s important to be mindful of this impending limitation. Potential downsides or risks of joining a corporate accelerator programme include potential conflicts of interest, or the pressure to conform to the accelerator’s expectations.

5. How much time will this take from my day-to-day?

Finally, consider the time commitment required for the programme and the trade-offs involved. On average, corporate accelerators take six to nine months to complete. Will it take away from your sales opportunities or working closely with your team? Be prepared to fully understand the trade-offs and the time commitment required, and make sure that it aligns with your business goals, professional, and personal goals. Don’t think that you can have it all, as you’ll likely end up burning yourself out or frankly half-assing everything.

Joining a corporate accelerator programme can be a valuable tool for startups. By asking the right questions and fully understanding the programme’s goals and limitations, you can make the most of the opportunity to accelerate your business growth.

Jacqueline Davidson
Jacqueline Davidson
Jacqueline Davidson is the Programme Director at Aerospace Xelerated and Principal, Global Accelerators & Innovation Programs, at Boeing. She is a dynamic and driven professional with 10 years of experience in corporate finance, global project management, and strategy development.

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