When the new Comcast NBCUniversal LIFT Labs Accelerator, powered by Techstars class is announced, Katie Teuber preps for an onslaught of calls from employees who want to connect with the founders.
"We don’t have a monopoly on good ideas,” said Teuber, director of startup engagement at Comcast NBCUniversal. “The level of technology and the innovative ideas founders are bringing are exciting and the solutions are actionable.”
Milou Slaman, lead for the Equinor and Techstars Energy Accelerator, agreed.
"We have so many people who are eager to be part of the Techstars ecosystem,” said Slaman.
Rachael Rohn, senior vice president, strategic partner engagement and general manager, Americas West for Techstars, recently brought Slaman, Teuber and Chris Iles, senior director of innovation and growth for The Minnesota Twins, together for a fireside chat. All three companies have accelerator partnerships with Techstars. And while the three companies couldn’t be more different in scope, all three have similar, universally positive outcomes—exposure to what Iles calls “new ways of thinking,” plus improved employee engagement and value for the business.
"Founders often bring solutions that integrate different and disparate business areas,” said Slaman. “They are creating so much value for the business.” Case in point. Three different founders within the 3D printing community, all of whom participated in an Equinor accelerator, are now working together to solve a unique printing problem.
Before the Twins 2022 program even concluded, Iles tapped a company called Virtual Tables to host a virtual autograph session with star player Carlos Correa. It included a fan interaction and autographed video clip.
"We did it as a pop up event to expand the sold out event,” said Iles. “It was a great success and there were huge implications for the fan experience.”
And all 11 founders in the most recent Comcast cohort inked a pilot or proof of concept following the conclusion of the program.
The promise of the partnerships - that they can drive innovative solutions, improve customer retention, save money or generate new revenue streams - doesn’t end when the accelerator closes, however. Teuber regularly reaches out to founders to check in on their company’s status and product development knowing technology improves and timing is everything.
Iles likens it to, what else? Recruiting a baseball player.
"It’s no different than drafting a ball player, we know we may not see them on the field for six to 10 years,” said Iles.
Another upside to the partnerships is increased internal employee engagement. Some 500 Comcast, NBC and SKY employees have mentored founders over the past five years with Techstars. More than a third of Twins employees are connected to the Techstars program including staff from legal, operations, ticketing, marketing, finance, in-game experience and the entire executive team are all mentors for the program.
"Nothing like the true demonstration of the value than having your entire executive team be involved as mentors,” said Iles.
There are not enough mentor slots available to meet the demand at Equinor so Slaman assigns a support group, of sorts, to work with each startup. That way a team member from key departments can help guide product development.
From an external brand perspective, the accelerator also demonstrates a commitment to innovation and helps attract and retain the right people.
Back in 2017 when Equinor first partnered with Techstars, leaders worked with chief researchers and others before signing the deal. They looked at the needs, pain points and long term strategy for revenue streams and realized the relationship with Techstars would provide the needed disruptive technology to truly impact current and future operations. And while the topics have changed, the end game has not.
"The accelerator program is ideal,” said Slaman.
For Rohn, she looks forward to more partners taking advantage of the relationship as it leads to exciting and actionable solutions for businesses.
"These founders can provide valuable tools to help corporate partners stay ahead of the curve and drive engagement and growth,” said Rohn.
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