Time Warner & Blue Cross on why they started accelerators


Participants at the 2013 Media Camp program, organized by Time Warner’s Turner Broadcasting division.

How do big companies collaborate more strategically with startups, and soak up a bit of entrepreneurial energy themselves?

A growing number — more than a dozen, according to our count — are sponsoring or running accelerator programs. These offer free office space for several months to chosen entrepreneurs, along with mentorship and a chance to meet prospective investors or business partners. There’s usually a small cash stipend to cover the living expenses of each startup team, and sometimes that cash buys a small slice of equity in each venture. Among those who have launched corporate accelerators so far: Nike, Microsoft, Volkswagen, and Kaplan Inc., the test prep and online education company. One key objective: finding and collaborating with entrepreneurs who are working on new products and services central to the sponsoring company’s future.

But is there really substantial upside in devoting time and resources to running a corporate accelerator? After all, it’s much simpler to just show up to a TechStars or Y Combinator “demo day,” schmooze with the participants, and forge new relationships that way.

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