Marc Hauser is a founder, investor, and innovation enabler with over 15 years of experience in banking and fintech. He is currently the Head of Europe at Tenity, where he helps startups scale their businesses and connect them with leading financial institutions.
You might be a startup interested in being part of an accelerator programme, or work for a corporate that’s looking to use corporate accelerator programmes to help with innovation.
If you’re a startup looking for corporate accelerator programs to apply to, I recommend you check out our startup page where you can learn more about our pre-seed incubator and partner programs.
If you work for a corporate and are looking to get into the corporate accelerate space, you may be dealing with the following challenges when it comes to setting up a corporate accelerator program:
In this article, I’ll be covering:
Note: At Tenity, we specialise in helping corporates innovate by collaborating with startups. Reach out to learn more about how we could help you.
As I’ll get into later in the article, corporate accelerators can be either internal or external and there are different types of programs. Here’s a list of the leading five best-known corporate accelerators.
Since I work at Tenity, I thought it would make sense to start with ourselves.
Tenity is a global innovation ecosystem and early stage investor specialising in the fintech sector. We run multiple corporate accelerator programs side by side and have successfully done so for companies like Franklin Templeton, SIX Group, Klaytn and Julius Baer.
While we are independent since April 2022, we were founded in 2015 as part of the Swiss Stock exchange, so corporate innovation is in our DNA. Here’s how we help corporates with corporate accelerator programs:
Most corporate accelerator programs are vertical agnostic or specialise in one vertical “and also do fintech”. At Tenity, we’ve only ever done fintech and financial services, and since we were born from a stock exchange we know the industry inside out.
Since this is what we specialise in, it means that:
One of the key learnings we’ve had over the years is that you cannot productise innovation. In other words, every corporate must pursue open innovation in a way that is unique to them. That’s why the best corporate accelerator programs are tailored specifically to your needs as a corporate.
At Tenity, we take care of the entire corporate accelerator process from start to finish: we’ll scout and search for strategically relevant startups, we’ll set up points of contact and engagement between you and the startup, and we’ll help you measure and track success. Since we come from corporate innovation ourselves, we know what the challenges are and how to overcome them.
We understand that real innovation is more than setting up programs, there’s a lot more to it. We cover the whole open innovation journey, from learning about a specific vertical, to investing in early-stage dealflow and to partnering with the right startups.
When you work with Tenity, you get:
Learn more about our three pillar approach: Learn, Collaborate, Invest
Techstars offers a slate of innovation services including an accelerator program, mentorship-driven seed and pre-seed stage investment program, and a ‘Startup Weekend’ program.
Through the seed accelerator program, created with a founder-first philosophy, early-stage startups have the opportunity to grow and scale their nascent venture. For example, they can upskill themselves with access to a mentor and entrepreneur network.
Techstars has some notable graduates from their program such as SendGrid, Sphero, and ClassPass.
Y Combinator is one of the original entrants into the global accelerator market and is based in Silicon Valley in the US.
Startup founders are asked to offer a portion of their equity in exchange for the program's services and initial seed funding. After graduation, Y Combinator provides ongoing support through its alumni network, which includes a number of success stories like Reddit and Airbnb.
Startupbootcamp enables tech startups to accelerate their growth across a number of verticals including fintech, sustainability, foodtech, and mobility. The accelerator program lasts for three months and offers successful applicants valuable mentorship from industry experts and mentors. Participants also receive free access to office space and software tools like Amazon and Hubspot.
Plug and Play is an open innovation platform which offers accelerator programs as part of a wider offering. The Plug and Play accelerator is stage-agnostic and focus-agnostic program that is customised based on the needs of their corporate partners. After a selection process, the startups enter a 12-week acceleration program. During the program, the startup teams develop their skills in educational sessions and connect with various network stakeholders including mentors and investors.
Masschallenge runs a number of accelerator programs including a Fintech and Healthtech program. Masschallenge does not require founders to give up equity in their companies and does not provide direct funding or investment. Instead, they operate on a competition-based model where startups compete for cash awards. These programs are hosted in several regions, such as the US, Switzerland, and Israel.
If you’re doing research on corporate innovation programs, you’ll likely come across different phrases to describe different types of programs. The exact definition of each will depend on who you talk to, but here’s how I would define each one:
An innovation program includes any effort undertaken by a company (usually a corporate) to innovate, either internally or externally.
If it’s internal, corporates usually establish dedicated teams to experiment with new technologies (e.g. web3) and see how innovation can play into the wider corporate strategy and explore new ideas (e.g. internal web3 use cases). When it’s external, it usually includes partnering with universities, specialist startup accelerators or investing in a fund or startups.
Essentially, corporate innovation programs include anything a corporate does to foster innovation, whether it’s internal or external.
Whereas innovation programs include anything to do with innovation, incubators are a lot more focused on early stage ideation. In other words, setting up a safe environment where startups and corporates can come up with new ideas. I like to think of incubators as a way to build the muscle to prepare for what is likely coming.
Incubators are about exploring a problem and helping the corporate culture get used to the idea of innovation.
For example, we’ve been working with Julius Baer to better understand web3 via a corporate incubator program. This program allows Julius Baer to get access to successful startups that have already developed use cases in relevant fields such as automated digital advice, retirement planning and alternative platforms. It also offers startups exposure to the Julius Baer network and allows them to build relationships with people they could never have access to otherwise.
Corporate accelerator programs focus on collaborating with more mature startups that have already developed viable products and usually have product-market fit, and which then help the corporate solve a specific problem. An accelerator is also time-bound, lasting between 3-6 months, sometimes as little as 3 weeks.
With an accelerator, the result is often proof of concepts, results of an experimentation and sometimes a partnership, investment or even acquisition of the startup.
For example, last year we set up a corporate accelerator program for the Isle of Man Government. The Insurtech Acceleration Program brought together leading insurance companies and late-stage startups with proven experience in the specific topics: wealth management, policy management, and customer onboarding.
The open call for startups attracted 70 applications, of which we jointly handpicked 7 to participate in the accelerator. Through the 12 week program, the selected were challenged to develop Insurech solutions, leveraging the Isle of Man’s experience as a hub of insurance expertise and the support of mentors including the program’s partners: Zurich, Utmost, RI360, Momentum International, EIP and Hansard.
Ultimately, it depends on the level of maturity of your organisation. The corporates I come across that are interested in accelerators typically fall into two main groups:
Here are some signs that your company might be ready to set up a corporate accelerator program:
The key issue I see with corporate innovation programs is that it’s very hard to measure the return on investment and to accurately measure the success of your innovation programs, especially in the short-term. Often corporates stop internal programs because they aren’t delivering enough return on investment (ROI).
Also, many innovation programs invest substantial time and effort into a specific idea, only to end up with little impact. This phenomenon, known as ‘innovation theatre’, can stem from various structural issues such as an absence of clear KPIs or outdated internal processes. Our experience might be useful in such a situation.
One of the best times to set up a corporate innovation program is when a new leadership team comes in. That’s when a new momentum is brought to a company and new perspectives can be a catalyst for innovation.
In the past few years, we’ve had NFTs, AI, web3 and a whole host of other new technologies. To stay relevant, corporates need to stay on top of new technologies to ensure they stay ahead of the curve. When you start seeing increased competition or a technology that’s hot, that’s when it’s a good time to launch a corporate accelerator program.
For example, since 2015, the digital banking app Revolut has reshaped the bank market by appealing to younger generations. The app has over 20 million registered users, and the neobanking market as a whole has penetration of 7.3%. Revolut is a great example of how a fintech company has encouraged the financial services industry to innovate, and changed some consumer habits (nearly 2 in 5 people in the UK have a digital-only bank account alongside a traditional bank account).
Ultimately, innovation is not a luxury, it is an absolute necessity. By embracing innovation and being well-informed about new trends and technologies, corporates can adapt to and thrive in a changing market.
At Tenity, we see innovation through a three-pillared approach: Learn, Collaborate, and Invest.
A first step is to learn about the upcoming trends, fast-growing startups and become a part of the ecosystem. Starting an accelerator program focusing on collaboration should not be an isolated first step. If you intend to work with startups, make sure to first learn and understand the world of startups.
We help corporates understand and learn about the world of startups with:
See our upcoming and past events here: Tenity Events
Once your company and team understands better the world of startups and innovation, the next step is to start collaborating and working with these startups. At Tenity, we do this with our corporate innovation programs that lead to:
An example of a successful collaboration between a corporate and a startup is UBS and Yokoy. Yokoy allows large companies to fully automate the complicated processes of spend management. Through the partnership, UBS offers its corporate clients seamless access to Yokoy’s automated spend management tool, which includes automatic data reconciliation, simplifying credit card management and digitising and analysing receipts.
The third step of innovation is for the corporate to truly become part of the startup world via investment or acquisition. At Tenity, we enable this with:
For more information on how you can invest with Tenity, check out our Investor page.
For example, PXL Vision, a graduate from the 2019 Tenity Incubation Program, raised a CHF 4.6m Seed Round in 2020, led by SIX Fintech Ventures. SIX Fintech Ventures was able to vet the early-stage startup thoroughly during the program, and decided to invest after its successful graduation. PXL Vision has since emerged as one of the leading automated identity verification providers in the Swiss market.
You may like: How will AI transform the banking industry?
We’ve been through corporate innovation ourselves, and to date we’ve facilitated over 50 successful collaborations between corporates and startups.
Over the years, we’ve developed a reliable process to help corporates set up a corporate accelerator program. Here’s what the process looks like:
We’ll conduct an introductory workshop: we kick off the program with a workshop to help understand your goals. We’ll outline current and emerging trends in your sector, and help you define the right KPIs.
Identify an innovation champion: Right from the beginning we aim to turn certain key decision makers in your company into ‘program ambassadors’ – or as we like to call them, innovation champions. We’ve found it's important that internal stakeholders embrace the program and welcome the presence of a startup team.
Matchmaking with Tenity: Once the program structure and KPIs are in place, we’ll start looking for potential startup partners that fit your ideal startup persona. With our proprietary startup database counting over 2,000 startups, our deep network in relevant startup ecosystems across Europe and Asia, and expert startup scouts, we know where to find and how to select the best partners. Not only from a technological solution point of view, but taking into account soft factors that can strongly impact collaboration success.
Dealmaking sessions: When you join our ecosystem, we’ll always be one phone call away. During the speed dating process, we arrange sessions where you can evaluate if the startups are a good fit. Our goal is to establish trust and understanding, which will enable both parties to get the most of the program going forward.
On the ground research: At Tenity, we have people on the ground in: Switzerland, Singapore, Nordics & Baltics and Spain. Our local presence in those innovation hubs gives us proximity to these startups and allows us to directly engage with their founders and team members.
Coaching and guidance: Once we have found a match, we’ll get into the main component of the process: learning and collaboration. Use Case Exploration workshops are a key engagement point, allowing both startups and corporates to conduct in-depth exploration of the specific challenge and develop a plan for the necessary steps.
Mentorship sessions: These sessions allow the startups to upskill themselves by talking with mentors about an array of topics including business development and scaling. We have over 200 mentors from the fintech and tech space within our ecosystem.
Exploring Proof of Concepts: In these sessions, corporates and startups get together and deep dive into any requirements or constraints from the corporate (e.g. regulatory or technological requirements) and evaluate how a pilot or PoC would look like.
Celebrate the work: To bring the program to a close, we typically organise an event for the startups to present their progress and final results to a wider audience. A demo day is the perfect opportunity to bring visibility to the program and showcase what you have achieved to all internal stakeholders within the corporate.
bLink, an open banking platform by SIX, connects banks and fintechs in Switzerland, offering account access, payment submission, and wealth management services.
Deedster, a Swedish climate fintech, focuses on creating climate awareness using data-driven technology across employee engagement, SME service, and retail for banks.
bLink collaborated with Tenity to scout and curate startups for a potential collaboration. Deedster joined Tenity's Open Innovation Program, allowing bLink to explore Deedster's offerings and track record.
After an initial pitch event, the collaboration process began with a use case exploration. Through further deep-dive sessions Deedster identified what would be required to bring the CO2 footprint calculator to Switzerland and developed an early version of the program.
Deedster was seeking market expansion after successfully working with nearly 80 banks and corporates across Europe. The bLink collaboration offered them entry into an attractive market and a corporate sponsor who understood their value proposition.
The partnership led to a successful proof of concept using anonymized data, offering a standardised and easy-to-integrate API-based solution for private customers. Banks in Switzerland can now provide added value to their clients, while Deedster benefits from accelerated market entry and bLink's network for potential clients.
Read the case study in more detail: Driving Sustainability through Open Banking
Corporate accelerator programs are an excellent tool for corporates to get a better understanding of the startup and technology ecosystem and therefore better innovation results.
A well-executed program can generate proof of concepts and potentially lead to successful new product rollouts, investments or even acquisition. However, it’s important as a corporate that you assess your level of maturity internally and make the right decision for your company.
If you’d like to learn more about how Tenity can help you, get in touch with us.