2013 – the year of the corporate accelerator?

Nikolaus Roettger 2013-12-27 2

In 2013 it felt like every week a corporation announced it was launching a startup programme – even Microsoft head Steve Ballmer made the trip to Berlin to open the company’s accelerator. The IT corporation joins supermarket Rewe, discount chain store Target, drink giant Coca-Cola, insurance company Allianz, optician Fielmann, Telefonica, mass media company ProSiebenSat.1, publishing house Axel Springer, pharmaceutical company Bayer, Deutsche Telekom, real estate portal Immobilienscout… Are you feeling overwhelmed yet?

And the list probably isn’t even complete. We haven’t mentioned programmes that aren’t run by big businesses, such as Seedcamp, Startupbootcamp, 500Startups and US-based Y Combinator – arguably the most successful accelerator programme. Even the state of Germany has gotten in on the action by launching the German Silicon Valley Accelerator, while Europe offers Startup Europe’s Accelerator Assembly.

What you can’t fail to notice is how much effort large companies are making to get involved in startups. The interest makes sense – being involved in entrepreneurism is good for a company’s image, they seem innovative and modern when they surround themselves with young, dynamic startups.

Management from big-name companies are now often seen at startup events, including Telekom’s René Obermann and Timoutheus Höttges, who chatted with founders at the “Lange Nacht der Startups” (Long Night of Startups). Meanwhile, Steve Ballmer dissed his own company at a Microsoft event in Berlin – a standard move corporate managers pull when talking to young founders. The corporate bigwigs are careful never to push the boundaries too far, though – they’re also quick to point out how great and powerful their company is and how they can help startups increase their reach and know-how.

While there’s no doubt that this is often true, startups have also learned that they need to be careful. With the huge variety of programmes offered, founders have to decide which is the best fit, plus be aware of the danger that their own idea could end up merging into the research division of a large corporation.

The corporates also have to make sure startup programmes are in their best interest. After all, startups have a high failure rate and business models can quickly fail when faced with stiff competition. That’s why corporates often don’t just offer funding programmes for startups but also invest in company builders – like Otto and Axel Springer in Project A.

And what will 2014 look like? 

Pretty much the same as 2013. For startups, accelerator programmes often do provide a push in the right direction. Plus, with many corporates still keen to improve their image it’s unlikely we’ll see a decrease in startup programmes. After all, most are still in the process of adapting to the digital economy – and what better way to do this than thr young, innovative companies?

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