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Posted by Mark Tuckwood 4 April 2017 Innovation Consultancy

Organisations large and small are always looking for new ways to increase their capacity to innovate and to subsequently entrench this into organisational culture, and one such way to do so is to use an innovation accelerator. But what is it, where do you start, and how can you make it work for your organisation?


Before deciding if an innovation accelerator could bring benefits to your organisation, it’s important to understand what exactly is meant by the term. An article by US communications consultant Christina DesMarais for argued that often the terms ‘innovation incubator’ and ‘innovation accelerator’ are used interchangeably, despite their very different functions.

An accelerator is, broadly speaking, a situation in which a larger company is utilised by a small business or entrepreneur in the initial phases of developing their idea. The entrepreneur or SME usually gives small chunks of equity to the accelerator, in exchange for capital and mentorship in helping the idea to reach maturity. Accelerators often work like a ‘graduate scheme for businesses’, in which after a defined period the smaller organisation or entrepreneur graduates from the accelerator programme and continues its innovation exploration alone.

The flip side of this initiative is that many larger organisations are also looking to use accelerator techniques to boost their own innovation capacity. This can be done by offering mentorship and guidance as stated above, but with the aim of learning from the entrepreneurial techniques and often outside-the-box thinking that comes with being in the early stages of idea development. The larger organisation can subsequently look to internalise some of these ideas in its own processes, and through workshops and careful strategy planning build a stronger innovation culture


While there are a number of accelerators worldwide which take applications from start-ups and would be innovators, they are often highly competitive and as a result difficult to enter. So have you ever thought about building your own accelerator? Although if you’re an SME looking for the capital investment that comes with joining an official programme this may be lacking, there are a number of ways organisations large and small can build their own framework to encourage innovation and idea development. 

Boston-based Innosight recently wrote an article in which it was argued that the pace of change taking place in the entrepreneurial ecosystem can ‘yield insights [which] have real value for big companies seeking to build their own innovation capabilities.’ Many larger organisations such as Samsung seek out ways to bring entrepreneurs under their wing by offering accelerator-like opportunities for collaboration, which Innosight sees as vital for businesses in the ‘4th era of innovation - an era in which global giants can adopt and adapt many of the tools developed in the entrepreneurial world to strengthen their own ability to drive growth.’ Innosight suggests building entrepreneurial social networks, creating best practices for internalising entrepreneurial methodology and remembering to incorporate mentorship into acceleration are all crucial to ensure that the collaboration is mutually beneficial to all involved.


Vincent Pirenne, an Antwerp-based innovation consultant, wrote a helpful LinkedIn article in which he provided a checklist for those thinking of starting their own accelerator. Pirenne outlines a useful framework for designing an acceleration programme, from ‘ideation phase #1’, in which the organisation must focus on generation, mindset and creativity, right through to what he terms the ‘no or no go’ phase in which business models, resources and pitch prep are all discussed to assess the ultimate viability of the innovation.

Pirenne suggests that while you can use this framework as an outline, ‘you have to keep in mind that every accelerator needs to be adjusted according to your own organization.’ He emphasises that repetition is key, and so the cyclical nature of this process must be remembered in order to yield the best results. When think builds innovation programmes, we use a specialised five-point programme that first allows us to scope existing capabilities before designing, implementing and evaluating your innovation programme.

Whether you’re looking to design an accelerator programme which boosts your intrapreneurship credentials and innovation capacity, begin an accelerator programme that encourages collaboration with start-ups or entrepreneurs or an SME yourself looking for advice on how to get started with accelerating innovation, there are a lot of lessons that are equally relevant to each party. By having clear aims as to what you want to achieve through acceleration, road mapping each stage of the process and learning from the strengths, and weaknesses, of those involved, it is possible to better encourage innovation and successfully embed it into organisational culture.

As global innovation specialists we aim to help and encourage people and organizations to become more nimble, boosting their ability to generate ideas. We bring pace and focus to your innovation initiatives using our unique innovation techniques, which are constantly being developed by our professional licensees. If you’re interested in becoming a licensee for the think team, contact us here.

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