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How a custom startup accelerator helps corporates with innovation

January 12, 2024

Brigitta Gyoerfi

Brigitta brings a wealth of experience and a remarkable track record within the financial services and healthcare sectors. At Tenity, she's a Partner Innovation Lead, leading corporate innovation programs for key partners.

How a custom startup accelerator helps corporates with innovation

If you fail to innovate as a corporate, you risk falling behind your competitors and losing market share. Yet many corporates simply don’t have the resources in-house to make innovation a reality:

  • They may lack the specific expertise to design or build more innovative products.
  • They may lack a culture of innovation, meaning that they don’t have the processes in place that encourage innovation to happen.
  • They may be under pressure for fast results, when true innovation often takes years to work.

One potential solution for corporates in these situations is to set up and run a custom startup accelerator. In other words, a programme that is designed to attract a specific type of startups, help them grow and then collaborate, partner or acquire them. 

Why startups? Startups are built to innovate. They’re a small group of people who are focused on solving one very specific problem, usually with technology. They’re agile, they work quickly and understand how to best use technology. By collaborating with them, corporates can fast-track product development, get new perspectives and remain on the forefront of their industry. That’s how open innovation works

Personally, I’ve worked in innovation almost all my life, most recently for Credit Suisse and now Tenity. I’ve seen the whole spectrum of innovation for corporates and startups. And now, as Partner Innovation Lead at Tenity, we’ve helped corporates like UBS, Julius Baer, Klaytn and many more work with accelerators to support innovation.

In this article, I explain how custom startup accelerators can help your corporate tackle your innovation challenges, and what we’ve seen work best at Tenity. I cover:

  1. What do we mean by "custom" startup accelerator?
  2. What are the key benefits of partnering with an external innovation partner that runs custom startup accelerator programmes
  3. How we run startup accelerators for corporates
  4. Why work with Tenity?
  5. How Julius Baer uses an accelerator program to help drive innovation

Note: are you a corporate interested in learning more about our accelerators? Reach out to us to learn more about how we can help you.

What do we mean by “custom” startup accelerator? 

A startup accelerator is a programme, run by corporates, investors, or startup specialists, that provides education, mentorship, and limited funding to startups. 

When run in collaboration with corporates, accelerators are a collaborative environment that’s mutually beneficial for both corporates and the startups themselves. By hosting or being part of the accelerator, corporates get exposure to startups’ ideas and the solutions they’re creating. And, at the same time, startups have the opportunity to pitch their products and access funds to the corporate. This is different to a regular startup accelerator where there may be multiple corporates, VCs and angel investors involved in the program and competing for investment.

To learn more about how typical corporate accelerator works, check out: Top corporate incubators (and what the process looks like)

A custom startup accelerator more specifically lets corporates access a programme that’s built around their particular needs. For instance, if you’re a financial corporate that wants to innovate in the AI or climate tech space, a custom accelerator offers you an arena to collaborate with startups that are already working on those problems. 

In our experience, corporates benefit from working with accelerators when they face two main challenges in terms of their innovation: 

  • Firstly, corporates come to us if they’ve recently lost market share to a competitor that launched a new innovative product, solution, or service. To keep up, this corporate looks for a partner with industry-specific expertise that can identify opportunities for growth and test innovative solutions.

  • Secondly, a corporate may already have been innovating themselves, but they’ve been centred on pragmatic innovation, focusing on solving immediate business problems. Now, they want to make the shift to longer-term innovation to develop novel and industry-leading solutions. 

In both cases, these corporates would benefit from exposure to new ideas from people innovating within the industry. They could build a custom accelerator in-house, but they would need the network, resources, and reputation to make that a success. That’s when it makes sense to partner with an innovation specialist that can help the corporate set up a custom accelerator program. 

What are the key benefits of partnering with an external innovation partner that runs custom startup accelerator programmes?

As I said, while you could organise an accelerator yourself, there are some important benefits of working with a startup specialist:

  • You save time and resources. Only extremely large corporates have the resources they need in-house to organise accelerator programmes, so other companies often have to hire someone specifically to organise it. Organising an accelerator requires going to events and searching for startups, finding mentors and managing the day-to-day organisation. Instead, with a custom accelerator specialist, you can access a network of participants and focus on the tasks they’re best at.

  • You can access a massive specialist talent pool. Today, innovation is highly tech-driven, and corporates don’t often have the specific expertise in-house that innovation requires. An accelerator, though, can expose you to talent that you may not even know exists, whether that’s AI experts, blockchain specialists, or crypto leaders. In these contexts, though, you don’t just benefit from startups. During an accelerator, you can also access industry peers, including technical partners. It saves you building that network themselves.

  • You have all the support you need to succeed. Ultimately, accelerator specialists benefit when corporates and startups benefit too. As such, they’re working to maximise your success and to ensure you’re at the forefront of technology. That means helping you to create proofs of concept, secure investment, and collaborate with the right people.

While they might all offer a similar service, there are significant differences between different startup accelerator programmes. For instance, they’ll typically have particular industry specialisms, particular approaches to their programmes, while offering particular additional services and benefits. That means, as a corporate, you need to find the right match for you. 

At Tenity, we’re specialists in the finance industry. Below, I show you how we support financial corporates with their specific innovation needs. 

How we run startup accelerators for corporates

At Tenity, we’ve been running startup accelerator programmes since 2015, when we were founded. We now run our own independent startup accelerators twice a year and we also run custom corporate incubators for our partners, including UBS, Julius Baer and SIX.

Here’s our approach to running startup accelerators in the finance industry, plus the specific benefits our service offers. 

We organise startup accelerator programs in 4 phases, each customised to the needs of the corporate we’re working with. 

  1. Discover opportunities. The first phase involves defining your strategy and ambitions and exploring relevant technological trends in the current market. We’ll identify, evaluate, and map out opportunities for innovation in the market and define the KPIs against which we’ll measure success.

  2. Uncover opportunities. Secondly, we scan the market for startups that align with these opportunities. This is a highly targeted scouting process that matches promising startups with the corporate’s specific needs. Tenity’s expert startup scouts identify these partners from our database of over 2,000 startups or from on-the-ground research.

  3. Exploration. Once we’ve found the right match for a corporate’s innovation needs, a structured process of exploration follows, when the corporate and startups collaborate to generate an array of solution ideas. This involves cocreation workshops in which startups and corporates can build prototypes to test with their target audience. In a matter of weeks, corporates achieve what would otherwise take months or even years.

  4. Validation. Finally, corporates and startups work to continuously test and improve their value propositions, assess product-market fit and the feasibility of the product, and prepare a product roadmap. 

Throughout the whole process, our strategy team is a phone call away to help facilitate this collaboration and to support corporates in achieving their innovation goals. It’s a highly structured and supportive environment, right from strategy through to product demo.

Why work with Tenity?

Alongside the continued support, if you partner with Tenity you’ll benefit in three key ways.

1. You have a tailored accelerator programme that can deliver on your needs

Every corporate’s innovation needs are different. At Tenity, we recognise that and help you build an accelerator that’s specific to your needs, instead of sticking to a one size fits all programme.

In many ways, the first stage of the accelerator programme is the most important. We spend time to understand your specific innovation needs and strategy. Then, we help you develop a thesis to define a programme that’s entirely based on your challenges, goals, and ambitions. Throughout the whole programme, you have access to startups that have been scouted with those specific needs in mind. 

It sometimes takes corporates a matter of years to build and implement an in-house programme that enables you to execute your innovation strategy. With Tenity, you can be demoing new products in a matter of weeks.

For example, we put together a custom accelerator program for the Isle of Man that focused on insurtech startups. The Isle of Man wanted a program that would put them in contact with cutting-edge insurtech startups with enterprise-ready solutions. This program allowed the IoM to further develop their ecosystem for insurtech companies and grow an international proposition.

2. You partner with a team that knows finance inside out

When Tenity was first founded, we were part of SIX, the Swiss Stock Exchange. Which means that fintech and financial services is very much in our DNA. Our network, our knowledge base, and our team’s background is all in finance. While other innovation partners work with financial institutions, but they’re often not finance specialists which means they just don’t have the same depth of industry experience. 

We’re also experts in the startup space. We’ve run 50+ accelerators since 2018, with a total of 270 startups having graduated from our programs. Along with custom accelerators for corporates, we also run our own incubation programs twice per year, meaning we’re constantly scouting for new talent. 

I mentioned above that we have built our own database of over 2,000 fintech startups. Alongside that, corporates benefit from our ecosystem of industry-specific partners and professionals, including 200+ mentors in fintech who can share their industry knowledge.

This expertise allows us to better understand our partner’s needs. Using our vast network of industry professionals, we can connect you to the startups that make sense for your innovation goals. Plus, we know the market and regulatory environment back to front, enabling you to build products that are ambitious, feasible, and compliant. 

3. You work with a team that has skin in the game

Part of what sets our accelerators apart is our venture fund. At Tenity, we don’t just organise accelerator programmes—we’re also an investor. That means we know the risks that come with innovation and with bringing new products to market. 

This allows us to attract the most promising startups at a very early stage. Then, we can support them from incubation to acceleration to series funding. For instance, we helped the digital assets platform, Keyrock, go from our accelerator programme to $72 million in series B funding.

Corporates that partner with us can benefit by investing through Tenity’s fund. And they don’t just receive a financial return, but a strategic return. What we mean by this is that corporates can get exposure to the latest trends and technologies, plus benefit from opportunities to partner or collaborate with, directly invest in, or acquire these startups in future. 

For corporates in the finance or insurance industry, the fund can complement other later-stage investment vehicles like corporate venture capital or M&A. The fund gives you enough lead time to evaluate opportunities on the strategic value of a startup without feeling the pressure to make any big investment decisions.

How Julius Baer uses an accelerator program to help drive innovation 

One example of a company that’s working with Tenity’s custom accelerator programmes to drive innovation is Julius Baer, a trusted wealth management bank, with 60 locations in over 25 countries. 

We’ve been working with Julius Baer for many years to help them innovate new products for their clients. From August to November 2023, we’ve been specifically supporting their Web 3.0 programme. As part of this programme, we’ve built a startup accelerator to enable collaboration between the bank and the next generation of Web 3.0 startups in the wealth management space. 

The focus of this programme is on 4 key themes: 

  • Distribution and Product, focusing on digital distribution and product creation in areas including automated digital advice, personal finance, alternative platforms, and financial education and literacy technologies.

  • Client Experience, involving collaboration on solutions for digital interaction, omni-channel and remote support, client relationship management, and collaboration tools, to enrich the client experience.

  • Metaverse, building solutions supporting the wealth management space with infrastructure, creators and experience providers.

  • Beyond Wealth. Finally, this theme involves startups building solutions for wealthy individuals going “beyond wealth”, including health, philanthropy, food, leisure and more. 

As part of this programme, we’ve brought together startups from across Asia and Europe that are best placed to deliver on Julius Baer’s specific strategy and goals. That’s only possible with a custom accelerator with specific expertise in the finance sector. 

Use a custom startup accelerator to support your innovation strategy 

Custom startup accelerators enable you to gain exposure to the startups, talent, and guidance you need to solve the specific innovation challenges you face. They’re built for you, supporting you from strategy right through to product demo. 

At Tenity, we offer much more. Alongside specialist expertise and our network in the finance industry, we give corporates the opportunity to invest in startups from the get-go. This way, you’ll attract the most promising startups who are best placed to help you innovate and grow. 

To learn more about our startup accelerators, reach out to us.