Accelerator programmes are a relatively new way of supporting startups with lots of growth potential, which involves intensive support, funding and mentoring. As these programmes grow and spread globally, they present an exciting opportunity to learn about supporting entrepreneurs and startup businesses.
Accelerators and incubators both offer support (e.g. funding, training, mentorship, workspace) to startups, helping them through the early and fragile stages of growth. The key difference between these two models is that while accelerators offer their support through an intensive cohort-based programme ranging from between a few months and a year in duration, incubators offer their support on a much more flexible-basis, taking on new businesses when space becomes available for an open-ended duration (sometimes several years).
A typical accelerator programme offers teams of entrepreneurs finance (usually in exchange for equity), work space, rigorous mentoring and business support over an intense time period, generally around 13 weeks.
The aim is to help teams start up their businesses fast, quickly become investment ready and rapidly grow. We're supporting and studying startup accelerator programmes in a number of ways.
Why are we doing this?
The number of accelerator programmes operating around the world has grown exponentially in recent years. Yet despite all the enthusiasm about these programmes, there is still very little formal understanding and evidence about what actually works in startup acceleration, and whether the accelerator model is an effective and useful means of producing more ventures that are better capable of sustainable growth.
What are we doing?
We're working with several accelerators to build a network of accelerator programmes in Europe, known as the Accelerator Assembly. This project is part of the European Commission's Startup Europe initiative, and it will create new research, share information, improve the transparency of programmes and increase the knowledge and understanding on how best to support startups.
We have also invested in five programmes, Springboard (now TechStars), Seedcamp, Bethnal Green Ventures, Innovation RCA and HealthXL in order to study their impact in greater depth. We now also host an accelerator programme, run by Bethnal Green Ventures in partnership with the Cabinet Office's Social Incubator Fund, Nominet Trust and Google.
This programme will accelerate over 80 social impact ventures over the next four years. By 2015 our goal is to have helped support over 450 entrepreneurs to kick start over 150 startups through accelerator programmes. We want to see if the accelerator model can advance and adapt to benefit more start-ups across different sectors and regions and at different stages of the startups lifecycle - but only if based on rigorous evidence on what works.
Nesta's accelerators research is part of our wider research programme on high growth firms, and it is underpinned by previous work on high growth firms, venture capital and business incubation. It follows on from 'The Startup Factories', a report produced by Nesta in 2011 which charted the rise of accelerator programmes to support new technology ventures.