Why Corporations Desperate For Post-Crisis Innovation Are Backing Accelerators

October 22nd, 2020


By Will Robinson, Vice President for Asia-Pacific at Techstars

As the pandemic continues to reshape forecasts for the new decade, corporations find themselves in a watershed moment. Supply chains are disrupted, workers are dispersed, operating models are threatened – obstacles upon obstacles arise. And yet, for besieged businesses everywhere, it is actually in these most constrained of times that doubling down on innovation becomes essential. A new market will surely arise from this pandemic, as with other crises past, and it will be those corporations ready to meet the shifting needs of consumers who rewrite the Fortune 500.

Corporate innovation has proven time and again to be the point of difference in not only surviving crises but thriving in their aftermath. While taking stock and awaiting stability would seem like corporate common sense, the biggest players are once more doing the opposite. As the world’s trailblazing behemoths – Google, Apple, and Facebook – pivot with an eye to come out on top, what is equally significant is a chief tactic for gaining an advantage. Preparing for the post-pandemic world, these tech giants are turning to the accelerator model to engage with startups and stave off disruption. 

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With businesses of all sizes endeavoring to ready themselves for a rapidly changing landscape, it’s worth looking closely at what’s driving this trending enthusiasm for the accelerator model, the advantages it confers, and why time is of the essence. 

Corporate Longevity or Corporate Extinction

The urgency of the situation is not lost on corporate leaders. More than three-quarters agree that the pandemic will create significant new opportunities for growth in the coming years. However, recognizing this opportunity is different from understanding how to seize it. The vast majority of these very same leaders remain unwilling to prioritize innovation and are reverting to cutting costs, conserving cash, and minimizing risk.

Most corporate leaders are content to play it safe and await stability before restarting their innovation efforts. This intuitively makes sense, especially as many leaders must justify innovation initiatives while simultaneously laying off employees. The problem, though, is that such prudence is paradoxically irresponsible. Innovation today means best preparing for the new market realities of tomorrow. 

Read about how Norwegian energy giant Equinor is innovating with startup Fieldmade to reduce C02 emissions and save money.

In this unprecedented moment, there are in fact precedents indicating that innovation will not only be the antidote to lay-offs in the long run, but to saving your business. During the Dot-com bubble, Google and eBay innovated as much of their competition folded. Later, Airbnb and Uber earned the dollars of financially stretched customers on the heels of 2008’s Great Recession. The pandemic marks another state of flux which will be defined by those who embrace change to emerge in market-leading shape. While it is by no means easy, it is clear that corporations must preference innovation and relentlessly pursue the massive opportunities for growth they see coming.

A Return To the Accelerator Model

What is significant is that the world’s biggest companies are putting their faith in accelerators to deliver the sweeping change they seek. Facebook, Google, and Apple are each spinning out their own accelerators – programs which help to establish new businesses and enable corporate partners to see their industry through the lens of would-be disruptors – with the dual intention of furthering their post-pandemic innovation and sustainability goals.

It’s a smart move. Startups are experts in answering new markets and new needs, and accelerators provide the convenience to work with multiple startups simultaneously. Moreover, startups are free from the regulatory and bureaucratic hurdles that plague their corporate counterparts. Startups do one thing and one thing only: execute. In this way, accelerators offer corporations instant access to the next-gen solutions that are so badly needed for the 2020s.

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It is also worth noting that this revival of accelerators as a way to supercharge innovation marks a sudden shift in attitudes. Not long ago some critics were declaring the accelerator model “dead” and a superfluous indulgence that took years to produce results. Now, three of the biggest tech companies in the world – each of whom has weathered the threat of disruption before – are harnessing accelerators as their trusted source of innovation. 

Walk the Innovation Talk

Importantly, accelerators are a tried-and-tested method of sparking innovation between business big and small. Research shows that accelerators successfully unite the best qualities of startups and corporations to fast-track product development, bring awareness to new trends, and shift entire business models – exactly the qualities needed to survive in the new normal.

While corporations and startups partnering to innovate together is not a new strategy, it is a consistently winning one. Nearly all of the first cohort from the world's first maritime accelerator, for example, achieved a proof of concept with Eastern Pacific Shipping in Singapore. Further, some of these companies went on to become permanent fixtures on the corporation’s fleet. New York startup Nautilus Labs is one of them, integrating machine learning to chart the most efficient voyages possible. CyberOwl is another, helping the corporation to proactively manage cyber risk on its fleet of container and tanker vessels.

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Today, corporations in the fight of their lives increasingly see accelerator success like this as their best defense going forward. Moreover, their interest is buoyed by the emergence of entirely virtual accelerators which open the global talent pool beyond borders.

The road ahead asks big questions of big businesses. Corporations that were struggling with the disruptive force of technology before the pandemic will now be required to enact wholesale change during the pandemic. While the scale of evolution is disconcerting, the danger of inaction is worse. This is an existential crisis for corporations all over the globe and playing it safe is not what past crashes instruct nor what market leaders suggest.

The accelerator model returns some clarity to these uncertain times by arming corporations with a reliable formula proven to rapidly reorient operations. Corporations and startups both have their backs up against the wall right now, but their combined ingenuity offers an escape to the other side of this pandemic. The road ahead is challenging – but it is one which is only possible with innovation.

Interested in joining the global platform for innovation? Learn more about Techstars membership and accelerator partnership opportunities.

#Corporate Innovaton

About the Author

Will Robinson

Will has spent the past 15 years in sales, marketing, business development, and management roles within the Edtech, Consumer Electronics, Telecommunications, Automotive, and Additive Manufacturing Industries. Currently serving as VP of Sales & Partnerships at Techstars, Will's goal is to drive revenue and growth within the Asia Pacific region. Most recently Will oversaw global revenue and business development for littleBits (acquired by Sphero).