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5 things startups should know before entering a corporate accelerator

Accelerator and incubator programmes sponsored by corporations continue to pop up in the UK. Startups should vet the corporations as thoroughly as the corporations vet them.

Even the British intelligence and security organisation GCHQ now has a startup accelerator – but what’s right for your start-up?

Last month, GCHQ announced the seven start-ups accepted into its newly launched Cyber Accelerator initiative.The initiative – a triad between GCHQ, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), and Telefonica’s Wayra accelerator – is part of a government “strategy to drive cyber security ideas and innovation, domestically,” writes TechCrunch.

However, if it feels a little bit like GCHQ is just another in a long line of corporations and organisations jumping onto the accelerator/incubator bandwagon, you’re not wrong. Companies across the spectrum are making concerted efforts to bring start-ups to their door, from beauty brand L’Oreal to health insurance provider AXA PPP, from City law firms to Facebook and Uber.  

Rather than a ‘keeping up with Joneses’ scenario, this increase in corporates reaching out to start-ups indicates a realisation that the best forms of innovation often come from without, instead of from within. “The number of interactions has grown in the last five years as increasing numbers see new companies as an opportunity rather than a threat, with both learning from the other,” Chris Haley, head of start-ups and new technology research at Nesta, told TechCity News.

However, with start-ups in the UK almost spoilt for choice with the number of incubators, accelerators and CVC programmes coming from corporations, it can be hard to know which – if any – to go for. While the clout associated with working with – for example – GCHQ no doubt makes for good pub anecdotes, how do you choose which corporations to engage with?

The answer is in vetting them as thoroughly as they vet you. Think of it as a job interview, that goes both ways. Here’s our checklist of five things-you-should-know before working with a corporation or large organisation, whether via incubator, accelerator, or CVC programme:


1. Compare ethos and ethics

Are your core values aligned? Could you support their statements on corporate responsibility? Do they tend to treat, pay and remunerate their employees and other start-ups in a way that you can get on board with?

2. Know their objectives

Corporations enter into start-up engagement for a myriad of reasons, and each will impact how they work with you. Are they hoping to inject some fresh air into their corporate culture? Is engaging with start-ups part of larger re-branding initiative? Or are they looking solve specific business problems and/or future-proof the business?

3. Interaction, and with whom

Who will be your main point of contact and what is their position in the organisation? What kind of interaction can you expect from them? Day to day? Once a week? Skype every few days or so? What data will they want from you – progress, spend, analytics, customer numbers, etc – and how often?

4. Why you?

Ask them why they want to work with you, so you can have better insight into their goals and their expectations.  Is it purely your platform, API or technology? Are they hoping to harness some of your work culture? Is their main goal to tap into your customers?

5. How long will it last?

Have a clear understanding of their goals, KPIs,  and intentions. Do they have in mind a clear exit aim? Is there a time-frame for how long they’ll work with you, and what support will they offer you afterwards?

Of course, corporate partnership isn’t for every start-up. The benefit of the diverse entrepreneurial ecosystem in the UK is the breadth of funding routes to explore. From angels to crowdfunding to pitch competitions, start-ups can (and should) explore the array of options.


Are you a UK startup looking exploring ways to grow internationally? You might be interested in our international crowdfunding services.


Tagged: invesdor uk, Tips & Tricks

Gayle O’Brien

Written by Gayle O’Brien

Gayle O’Brien started her writing career during Web 1.0 and still appears to be standing. After multiple stints in-house and agency side, her writing now focuses on start-ups, technology, and innovation. A dual citizen of the US and UK, Gayle divides her time between Massachusetts and south-east England.