Accelerator programmes designed to help develop and nurture technology-led businesses are becoming more and more common and have been supported by high levels of popularity throughout the UK's SME and enterprise sector.
Although there is no uniform model that all programmes adhere to, the objective of fostering grass roots talent and, crucially, providing long-term survival tools and tactics is potentially very beneficial to the UK economy. Accelerator programmes have been and are set up by local entrepreneurs who are keen to support regional business growth and to reap rewards from their investment. Budding start-ups and fledgling businesses are provided with mentorship and, in some cases, hands-on strategic and/ or financial support.
Two established accelerator programmes, called Seedcamp and Springboard, have grown considerably in the time they've been operating. Started in Europe and based in London, Seedcamp now commands a global network of members and mentors. Springboard is based at both the Google campus in London and IdeaSpace in Cambridge and offers a 13-week mentorship programme. It is now part of TechStars, which was started in the US in 2006. Oxygen Accelerator is a more recent programme based in Birmingham, offering a mentor-led "boot camp", which leads to the opportunity to pitch to investors.
However, the success of an individual programme can only be properly judged by examining the long-term business success it has helped generate. According to Seed-DB, a database that tracks the growth of accelerator programmes, there have been 171 accelerator programmes created worldwide.
One major focus of accelerator programmes is to introduce entrepreneurs to those who have been there, done that. For example, Oxygen Accelerator has among its mentors Sheffield-based Lee Strafford, founder of Plus Net, which was sold to BT for £67m. Clearly, the hope is that the expertise developed by Lee will be passed on to the next generation of successful entrepreneurs, to increase the chances of success.
Many successful participants in accelerator programmes are service-based software companies and it is fantastic to see such businesses gaining access to these essential networks of support. These programmes are designed to support entrepreneurs with their business and, most importantly, their growth plans. However we feel there may not be sufficient focus on developing the underlying enabling technology of the future and how to properly derive full benefit from such technology research.
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