The Right (and Wrong) Ways to Engage with Accelerators

December 18, 2018

Accelerator programs can help give your company access to the latest innovations in your field. But it’s important to have the right expectations — and the right infrastructure. Pano Anthos, managing partner of New York-based retail accelerator XRC Labs, shared his advice for constructive relationships between corporates and accelerators in our most recent live call. Topics included:

  • What causes innovation to fail inside of large organizations
  • The benefits of working with accelerators
  • Why some Chief Innovation Officers have generated resentment among colleagues
  • Why XRC has ended its relationship with some corporate partners.

“We believe strongly that the budgets and the [responsibility for innovation] cannot be siloed inside an innovation organization,” Anthos said. “They need to be shared, and bought into, by the business units themselves. If you’re building an innovation team, and you’re not engaged with the business directly … then, there’s going to be a long-term issue and resentment. I can list on two or three hands, easily, the number of innovations that have been shut down after a lot of interest, and noise, and investment dollars. “

Read some of the highlights, or download a PDF of the slide deck.

While accelerators shouldn’t be regarded as an immediate “fix” that will make a company more innovative, Anthos says that accelerators can expose teams to lots of new ideas and technologies, before they’re ready for prime time. “You see a lot more of the rough and not necessarily ready [ideas]. [Accelerators] show you a lot of the early-stage technology that may not be applicable yet, so that’s exposure,” Anthos said. “That’s not necessarily the panacea that says, ‘If I plug this in, I’m going to generate a hundred million dollars.’ So understanding that, if it’s looked at as access, accelerators are a great way to get started.”

During the conversation, Anthos differentiated between partnering with an existing accelerator and starting an accelerator program of your own. Each comes with its own set of challenges, he said. For internal accelerators: “The challenge with any of those accelerators is usually the ROI associated with that accelerator itself. They are expensive to run, they cost millions of dollars a year to run … when you look of that comparison to cost you just have to make sure you can get the ROI on it.”

Becoming a sponsor or corporate partner of an existing accelerator is less costly. However, according to Anthos, that kind of partnership works best when companies nurture the relationship.”

[Y]ou [should] leverage [accelerators] as an extension of yourselves. You’re communicating regularly with respect to your needs, and your desires, and your sourcing requirements.” Anthos said.

According to Anthos, companies need to continuously look for ways to innovate faster, regardless of industry. And while accelerators can help teams achieve speed, he said that the company must first have an innovative culture internally.

“The status quo isn’t gonna work. And so we think that accelerators do provide that window with minimal risk and … give you the largest vantage point,” Anthos said. “But if you’re going to leverage this [accelerator], and take up our time, and write us a check, we only want you to write that check if you’re really going to allow us or others — or [take it upon yourselves] … to actually start build out that internal innovation and process.

For more best practices on partnering with accelerators, check out the full set of slides that Anthos showed during the webinar.