Accelerator Programmes: Can They Be Run Remotely?

NDRC’s latest accelerator programme is being delivered remotely, for the first time. Niall Larkin, Programmes Leader, explains why this is not a problem.

The NDRC accelerator programme is designed to support and drive ambitious early stage startups through to seed investment and beyond.

In working with more than 300 startups, we have learnt the critical importance of focus. Of doing the right things, at the right time. Of the discipline to say no. And, on the critical importance of exploring the opportunity space to clearly identify the target customers and target investors that can lead startups to scale.

We run accelerator programmes and various other related activities all-year round. A standard 12 months might see two accelerator programmes held in Dublin, one in Waterford and one in Galway. Various pre-acceleration activities operate in tandem, while meeting with other entrepreneurs and investors is a daily occurrence.

The NDRC accelerator programme typically draws together a cohort of startups into a single location for four months, but, like the vast majority of operations in Ireland, we shuttered our offices in mid-March and moved everything online.

We recently ran accelerator programmes in the Middle East. Much of this was done remotely, from our Dublin offices so this made the transition much easier with everyone already familiar with the key tools and ways of working.

In some respects, the Covid-19 crisis has been something of a windfall opportunity for the current cohort. The programme is divided into two distinct campaigns of discovery: customer discovery in the first half and investor discovery in the second.

Great entrepreneurs know how to spot and make the most of emerging opportunities

Each campaign is all about getting out of the building and in front of potential customers or investors. Obviously Covid-19 put a stop to face-to-face meetings. But it opened up great new possibilities. Suddenly, nobody had any reservations about setting up meetings over Zoom. Everyone was in the mindset to stop, pause and reflect. And gaps started to open up in everyone’s calendar. This kind of access is a game-changer for startups and critical to shaping and accelerating them on the path to success. Great entrepreneurs know how to spot and make the most of emerging opportunities and we’ve seen plenty of examples of these qualities from the founders in the current cohort.

The primary design goals of the programme are to be as lightweight and as high impact as possible. We want entrepreneurs to spend the vast majority of their time at the job of building a scalable business and just enough of their time at the necessary task of making sure they are doing the right things at the right time and in the right way.

The programme design is constantly evolving. Every cohort is different and the market is constantly changing. The programme is designed around core pillars and areas of focus but it is also designed to be flexible enough to anticipate and respond to emerging needs and trends. With this in mind, adapting to remote activities was relatively smooth. Some of the new elements we had planned for the current cohort had to be put on ice as me made to shift to 100% remote but it also afforded us the opportunity to introduce many new elements that have worked out really well.

The first 100% remote NDRC accelerator programme is operating exceptionally well

We were lucky enough to have the startups physically in the building for the first week of the programme before the lockdown. We call the first week ‘Bootcamp’ and it is designed to bring the cohort together with the NDRC team to build rapport and form a common language across the cohort. Then, we had mentors, experts, speakers and coaches scheduled in remotely to drive and support the teams through structured campaigns of customer and investor discovery. In future, if our Bootcamp is remote, perhaps that will throw up challenges that I have not yet encountered.

That said, I’m happy to report that the first 100% remote NDRC accelerator programme is operating exceptionally well. It’s great to see the impact of the programme on the teams week on week as we drive and support them so that they can achieve their goals of building globally scalable businesses.

So, so far so good. We're just a few weeks away from our Investor Showcase, which is a high production value finale event of the programme for the cohort and we’ve plans afoot for subsequent investments over the summer and into the second half of the year. Should the current physical working restrictions be relaxed, we would be happy to bring this back in-house. However, should social distancing remain a bit longer, NDRC is well-placed to continue its consistently successful investment and acceleration activities.