Accelerator 101

Last year I experienced the power of an acceleration process up close and personal. To be honest I had been talking with some authority to others about incubators and accelerators for more than a year as part of my role in the innovationXchange (iXc). I knew the theory of accelerators (taking an innovation or business and accelerating its progress) and incubators (taking an idea and working it up into a viable business or innovation) and I had visited several ‘spaces’ but I had never participated in one personally. As iXc’s Grand Challenges ‘Master’ (creative job titling is a perk) I was sourcing hundreds of exciting development innovations from around the globe and seeing that the winners of our challenges all had varying needs – some were already on the way to becoming sustainable businesses and others were still in the R&D phase. Our first grand challenge, The Pacific Humanitarian Challenge, taught us that if we really wanted to see our innovators and their innovations reaching as many people as possible we had to do more than just provide seed funding. Lack of access to start-up capital was only a part of the challenge. We needed to support them in the multiple other ways that burgeoning entrepreneurs need – legal advice, business planning, technical expertise, access to people who had done something similar before and access to networks.

This was the starting point for the iXc’s first foray into acceleration – the Aquacelerator – a six month program for the ten winning innovators from our Blue Economy Aquaculture Challenge. Basically any accelerator program is trying to speed up the time and improve efficiency for an innovation or enterprise (business) to become successful. Success looks very different depending upon whether you are Y Combinator in Silicon Valley aiming to find the next ‘unicorn’ (a billion dollar company) or you are a development agency trying to dramatically improve the lives of people living in poverty. For the iXc, we wanted to give our innovators the best chance of turning their innovations into sustainable businesses – a private sector driven approach that we believe will increase the chance of reaching and positively impacting the lives of as many people living in poverty as we can.

The Aquacelerator is being powered by our very capable partners SecondMuse with whom we co-created (designed together) the curriculum and convened a high powered Advisory Council (a group of volunteer experts from investment, business, aquaculture, science, development and government). The program kicked off in Perth, Australia late last year where we brought the winning teams together with their Aquacelerator mentors and Advisory Council members. From the very first day there was magic in the room – innovators inspiring innovators – Advisory Council members inspiring innovators and vice versa – it was very clear that we had the right people in the room. And this is key. Accelerators are all about picking the right people, with the right idea and helping them to succeed much faster than they would on their own. Intensive rotations with each team resulted in hundreds of offers of assistance (contacts, funding, resources, legal advice etc) from everyone in the room including fellow innovators – not just Advisors. This generosity stemmed from the evident alignment of mission between all participants. Everyone in the room shared a dream where aquaculture not only efficiently fed people nutritious food but improved livelihoods AND protected the environment.

The Aquacelerator runs via a virtual environment for the next four months with the teams all working on their goals and leveraging the combined knowledge and enthusiasm of their cohort and the Advisors. I for one can’t wait to see what they achieve!

For further reading, see The Blue Economy Challenge, entrepreneurship for development, or an in depth study on social incubators operating in Asia.

About our author:

Stephanie is a foundation member of the innovationXchange team, a part of Australia’s aid program. She ran Australia’s first two Grand Challenges and is currently on secondment to the Global Innovation Exchange based in Washington D.C. Before joining iXc Stephanie held various roles across the aid program including humanitarian crisis response in Nepal and Philippines and across Africa, mining governance (whilst based in Ghana), and maternal and child health programs. She holds a Masters in International and Community Development from Deakin University and an Honors Degree in Politics from Macquarie University. Stephanie speaks Dutch and has lived in five countries.

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