How to run a corporate innovation accelerator

Have you been thinking about running a corporate accelerator to boost innovation capabilities at your company? This might help you make your decision.

Table of Contents

What is a corporate accelerator?

An innovation accelerator is a program to develop, test and grow new business ideas in a few months outside of your organisation’s processes and deliverables.

The journey of teams in a corporate accelerator typically includes: scoping the challenge area; scoping; exploring the problem with end users; developing a solution through ideation and prototyping; defining the business model to support the solution; and designing a concise pitch to get buy-in from senior stakeholders. Throughout these stages, teams continuously validate the desirability, feasibility, and viability of their project.

What is a corporate accelerator

Why would you run an accelerator?

Exponential technological changes, new business models and a realization that human-centred design is key to business success is transforming entire industries. You only have to look at different scale-ups that are disrupting established industries such as automotive (Maymo), commercial real estate (The We Company) and retail (Amazon Go). Leveraging changes in technology is only useful as long as it’s solving a validated user problem and you have designed a business model to support it. That used to be challenging enough, but in a market that is changing at an ever increasing pace, speed is becoming the dominant metric. You only need to look at the electric scooter market to understand how scaling fast is becoming essential.

The chances that a corporate accelerator will be the answer to all of these challenges are slim, but they help you experiment with new ways of working. Look at it as the first step on a longer journey, but a fruitful one. An accelerator will help you to:

  • accelerate or kill key strategic projects
  • build the internal capabilities to run innovation projects
  • develop (and retain) entrepreneurial talent

Key questions to ask before beginning a corporate accelerator

What sort of projects do you want to accelerate?

When discussing whether an innovation accelerator makes sense for your company, we like to start with this question: Why are you doing it? What kind of projects do you want to accelerate? A useful tool here is the horizons of innovation model. Do you want to focus on:

  • Existing products/services and an existing market? (Horizon 1)
  • Adjacent products/services and/or adjacent market? (Horizon 2)
  • Radically new products/services and/or radically new market? (Horizon 3)

The type of horizon you want to target will have a direct impact on the amount of time your teams will have to spend on a project. A team focusing on horizon 2 will be working in an environment where 80% is unknown will need more time for problem exploration than a team focusing on horizon 1 where we assume 80% of the problem space is understood.

What will the governance look like?

It is important to determine how decisions will be made and, most importantly, how to ensure that there is sufficient follow up after the accelerator is over.

  • The first decision you want to make is to determine your operating model: how will an accelerator be positioned in the company — will it be disconnected from the organization, separated, internal or integrated.
  • The governance structure of these different operating models varies according to how independent or dependent the lead is, and who owns the budget.

In our webinar, we look at the integrated accelerator ecosystem on a stakeholder map, breaking down the different roles and duties of the innovation leadership team and the sponsorship team, which together make up the acceleration leadership. These leaders run the accelerator with the accelerator teams (made up of 3 to 10 people) and innovation coaches.

What will the governance look like?

How will you ensure follow-up?

The single most important question and, believe it or not, probably the most overlooked one. We have seen it too many times: teams work really hard, they discover interesting problems, get good early validation of their solution and business model, and deliver an energizing pitch to senior stakeholders, and then …

The momentum is lost, there is no budget, teams fall apart, scaling proves too challenging, etc. A successful pitch doesn’t automatically lead to a product or service on the market. Going to market and scaling is very hard and chances are that it will fail, but being aware of the major pitfalls, which wedesing provide answers to in the webinar, and preparing for them is essential if you want to give your teams a fighting chance.

How to design your accelerator

After a rigorous scoping you have decided that you want to organise your own corporate accelerator. Congratulations! but now what?

Let’s take a look at some of the most commonly asked questions that come up when designing corporate accelerators.

Preparation – what to do before kickoff?

It is important to prepare the field three months in advance to make sure everything is in place before launching the accelerator. This 12-week process includes identifying a sponsor and getting the go-ahead, designing the program, selecting a team leader and a team, agenda planning, and arranging customer interviews.

A key element of the preperation is organizing a sponsor training. Since you’re only involving senior stakeholders during decision making moments it’s crucial that they understand the basics of the innovation process, know which questions to ask to teams and more importantly which questions they shouldn’t aks and what criterias they should take into account when making decisions.

Format – What should the accelerator look like?

No two accelerators are alike – trust us we have designed dozens of them – and there is no perfect format. It’s like a good pair of shoes: it depends on your goals (remember those horizons) and on your personality (company culture is important here).

Let’s have a look at two possible 12 weeks formats for a Horizon 1 and a Horizon 2/3 accelerator.

Horizon 2 and 3 innovation

But one thing is true across accelerators Teams tend to feel lost in the process so it’s important to give them structure and the tools they need to solve the challenge at hand. We strongly suggest that you create a playbook that you can give to your teams so they can figure out what they should be doing at any given point.

Teams – How do I select the right teams?

You want multi-disciplinary teams carrying out multiple roles. That can be a futurist, a strategizer, anthropologist or marketeer. They need characteristics of someone who is fast-learning, sees the bigger picture, and is hands on. The best way to hire intrapreneurs is to make them find you. Create awareness, and share expectations and reasons to participate.

How do I select the right teams?

Traditional internal recruiting processes are not geared towards working at startup speed, so that can really be a challenge when it comes to creating a team. Also, if incentive structures are not in line with such a fast changing environment, you have to ensure that people stay motivated. It’s really key to involve HR early on and work with them together and see them as a partner. Set up recruiting support for the teams so that you can actually help them find the right profiles to scale.

Watch our explainer videos

Corporate accelerators

Have you been thinking about running a corporate accelerator to boost innovation capabilities at your company? Watch this video to learn how you can do it.

Validation of a new business concept

Is an accelerator the right way to go? Understand what you can expect as an output of accelerating a business idea through testing.

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