Having recently spend four days touring incubators, accelerators and co-working spaces in Berlin, I was impressed with the startup scene. I was even more impressed with the terrific welcome I received from programme managers, entrepreneurs and mentors.
However, I didn’t get the sense that Berlin was the startup capital of Europe. I’m not really sure what having this ‘accolade’ really means anyway. What did strike me, was the types of accelerator model that are emerging and the need for a more joined up approach in the UK and Europe to help early stage entrepreneurs achieve their goals. That, and that Tech is coming of age – but this may herald a new approach.
Corporate Accelerator Models
As corporates start to think more lean and get to grips with what is taking place in the explosion of business accelerators, a new model is taking hold. It was always the case that corporates had an R&D department that usually spent a small fortune on developing very little. The R&D department was, after all, still sited in the building, still rooted in the culture and staffed by paid employees who were not totally in the ‘headspace’ of MVP and affordable loss. So, why not create their own ‘skunkworks’ in the building – staffed by early stage entrepreneurs who had an interest in their sector or market? Give them a little cash, as they can get by on it(!). Give them a little steer on the kinds things that float their boat. Then, leave them to create, re-imagine and build new propositions that the corporate could develop. The upside? Fast, rapid prototyping and execution of ideas done cheaply and with creativity. The downside? Who actually owns the business, idea, IP?
Joined Up Approach
Is the day of the super-accelerator coming? In Berlin, I saw many great stand-alone accelerators and co-working spaces, which are similar to those I’ve seen in New York, Boston and London. But, I wondered if they are operating alone and on tight budgets, what could be inhibited?! Is it right that the early stage entrepreneur has to pound the cobbles to find the right CTO, funder, mentor, network? Or, could there be a smarter way to connect them up that is frictionless and increases stickiness within multiple eco-systems?
My own little accelerator – Entrepreneurial Spark – is in the throes of scale right now in the UK and India. However, having visited so many great accelerators, met so many great people and observed what entrepreneurs need across the board in different countries, I wonder if joining a few up may open up better opportunities for the start ups and indeed the investors who are crucial?
Tech is coming of age
There is no doubt that Tech is huge globally. Investors have done well and while it is a hot space, it is becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate as the space becomes saturated – I’ve seen the same idea being developed in five accelerators across the globe. Huge moves towards niche and increasingly complexity will at some point come to a head. Perhaps this will herald the age of New Tech? Berlin has about 33 accelerators and they are all tech and digital in some way, shape or form. I wonder what the new Tech accelerator will look like? I bet someone is re-imagining it right now!
So, Berlin is a cool place to be a startup entrepreneur. It has a very descent ecosystem. But, like other big cities, for me that’s where it ends. It’s kind of expected these days and Hamburg and Frankfurt will soon blossom into great startup spaces. But, should cities compete with each other or twin and collaborate? I guess it’s the entrepreneurs who will be the catalyst for this…
Thanks to everyone in Berlin who made us feel very welcome!