With the funding, advice and contacts they possess, business growth accelerators could be the key to unlocking your start-up’s nascent potential. But most entrepreneurs have little or no idea what a business accelerator is – let alone how such a scheme can be utilised.
Here’s our quick guide to provide all the information you need...
What is a business growth accelerator, and where did the concept originate?
Essentially, the business growth accelerator model originated in America, where a number of seed accelerator programmes have sprouted over the last six years. Accelerators such as YCombinator and TechStars have ploughed money into promising start-ups, as well as offering advice and contacts, in return for an equity stake.
Many US accelerator programmes have also created ‘bootcamp’-style training programmes, where promising entrepreneurs are put through a gruelling programme of education and testing, to prepare them for the realities of business life and equip them with skills such as pitching and marketing.
The accelerator model first came to prominence in the UK in 2007, when Saul Klein and Reshma Sohoni set up Seedcamp in London. The Seedcamp model, which combines intensive coaching with seed funding and access to additional investors, has since given rise to similar business accelerators in other parts of the UK.
The early UK models owe much to their American predecessors. Indeed Jon Bradford, visionary behind the Springboard programme in Cambridge, says “I’ve studied the likes of Techstars, and essentially replicated that model in Britain.”
How many accelerators are there in the UK?
When it comes to the high-profile accelerator programmes which last weeks rather than days, and offer money to participating start-ups, there are three principal players: Seedcamp, Springboard and Oxygen, which has recently been established in Birmingham.
However, a network of intensive shorter-term courses is currently taking root all across the country. London-based company Pembridge has made such events a speciality, having organised short courses such as Fast Company 2 in Liverpool and the Growth Accelerator, which takes place in the West Midlands.
Furthermore, a number of higher education institutions, such as Thames Valley University, have begun offering their own accelerator-style programmes of coaching and mentoring for local start-ups and prospective entrepreneurs.
Success of the existing accelerators could lead to further expansion. For example Jon Bradford has hinted that, if Springboard proves successful, he may expand his programme into other UK cities, including Birmingham, in future years.
Who is behind them?
It varies. Some are incubator specialists whose careers are rooted in seed accelerators; Jon Bradford, who worked on Newcastle’s Difference Engine accelerator before moving to Springboard, is a prime example.
Others are wealthy individuals who have been drawn from the world of established business by a desire to spread their knowledge, and encourage British innovation. Perhaps the most prominent such figure is Mark Hales, a wealthy serial entrepreneur who has supplied the vision, and the money, for the Oxygen accelerator. He describes his motivation thus:
“I think there’s a great need for business accelerators. When I took over a small business back in 1999, the best advice I could get was from the Business Link guy, who’d never run a business in his life and wasn’t able to offer that much help. Any environment where you can bring a group of talented, experienced entrepreneurs together is a good thing.”