Do we still need startup accelerators?

Do we still need startup accelerators?

Were they for a point in time that has now passed?

I have been designing and running accelerator programs since 2010 and believe they have been a significant contribution to the innovation system we have today.

Ten years ago, few people aspired to start a company, and there was little funding and capability-building support. Most universities have their accelerators, and tens of accelerators operate outside of universities.

But do we still need them? Who are they for? What problem do they solve?

Here are some arguments for not needing them anymore.

#1: The skill uplift has happened

Accelerator programs have spread a reasonably consistent playbook for starting a company. Ten years ago, most people struggled with how to create and build momentum. Today, people roll out their lean canvas, speak to customers and build an MVP. Game on.

If help is needed, the internet is bursting with free resources, and support networks are easy to join in online communities or co-working centres.

#2: ‘Innovation Theatre’ has poisoned the well

Demo days are shiny. Considerable work is applied to polishing the pitch so that demo days feel increasingly like theatrical performances.

It makes the event great but very hard to see inside the packaging to assess the companies. For investors, it is hard to parse the diamonds from the turds in gold-plated boxes.

Not many investments happen on demo days anymore.

#3: Playbook cliches need a refresh

The same tools and content spread from accelerator to accelerator with a different logo on top. This material was generally created by founders who learned by building companies. The signal is lost as ‘Chinese whispers’ pass on the original message.

So, do we need accelerators?

Yes, we do. But they need to level up. Accelerators 1.0 did the job of quickly building our collective entrepreneurial muscle and building networks.

We’re not done. This is the ‘infinite game’. We COULD end it, but I say we change the rules to extend it and go further.

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Phil Morle

Phil Morle

Deep tech VC — Main Sequence Ventures. Ecosystem builder. Maker. Director. Startup Scientist.