The goal of pre-acceleration is to foster an entrepreneurial mindset, introduce start-up tools and methodologies, validate problem/solution fit, build ecosystem engagement and accelerate early-stage ventures to the next phase of development. Around the world, consistent pre-acceleration supports have been few and far between, as promoters have been discouraged by a lack of early results.
Leading The Way
NDRC has been to the forefront of pre-acceleration as a concept in Ireland. In 2012 we delivered the first pre-acceleration activity. Over the past four years, we have supported more than 200 ideas and 800 people through a range of pre-acceleration initiatives. Teams have gone on to raise in excess of €14 million in grant and investment funding, with 63 per cent moving to next-stage interventions, and a number to successful exits as in the case of Artomatix, MyFutureNow, and iCabbi.
Quite simply, it is a model that works!
That model has evolved through ongoing conversations with national economic development agencies, sponsors and stakeholders, the local investment community, and above all, from feedback from entrepreneurs themselves. On a visit to NDRC in 2017, Bill Aulet, Managing Director of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, talked about venture building in terms of ‘rigorous, technical entrepreneurship’. It became the guiding principle for the development of a robust, pre-acceleration programme experience designed to challenge, stretch, and focus entrepreneurs.
'Having such brilliant and supportive mentoring has helped us stay true to our vision'- Participant
A core pillar of pre-acceleration activity centres around building a deep understanding of the problem that potential customers need addressing. The initial phase of the programme focuses on verifying that a problem worth solving exists, using the problem canvas tool and lots of disciplined customer discovery. International and local customers are identified, and teams are encouraged to ‘get out of the building’ to talk to as many of them as possible. Based on these insights, the initial hypothesis is then validated or disproved, and teams can then move confidently forward (or start again!), knowing that the product they are building is something that adds value for customers. The final stage maps out the size of the total addressable market opportunity and where the concept fits into this market. This stage is critical in determining investment attractiveness, if any, for the idea. Following pitch coaching, teams present their journey at the highly competitive programme showcase.
NDRC brings a practical approach and animates the programme through active interaction with the in-house venture investment team and motivational mentors who know their stuff. Peer learning is central to every session. Entrepreneurs can discuss challenges, insights, and lessons learned in a safe and trusted environment. Our established network into the entrepreneurial ecosystem also facilitates access to world-class entrepreneurs for knowledge transfer sessions with alumni founders vital exemplars and role models. A totally unique experience!
'It’s a quick, robust way of testing the commerciality of any concept'- Participant
Measuring Pre-Acceleration Success
So how do we measure success? Programme participants commit and make progress in a fixed time towards one of three outcomes – a go, a no-go, or a pivot. Any of the three is a result as far as we are concerned. It is also an opportunity, in a low-risk environment, to determine whether entrepreneurship and the start-up pathway is for them. At the end of the programme, some have moved into full-time roles in technology companies, taking their knowledge, new skills, and networks with them. In other cases, we have strengthened the entrepreneurial capability of individuals and prepared them for their next problem to solve.
In the words of one of our participants, ‘what we got out of the programme was a transformational shift in the business. The one we arrived with was a different business to that which we left with. We’ve seen massive changes to how we have approached the development and customer validation, and in general, the programme has given us a different direction, that in the long term, we believe is going to maximize our potential.’
'It challenged every assumption that we had and forces us to put the client at the centre of what we did and why we did it'- Participant
To date, the methodology has been applied across general programmatic calls for concepts in industry-specific verticals (FinTech, HealthTech, InsurTech). More recently, pre-acceleration has been deployed in the high value commercialisation of third level Irish research.
If we want more and better start-ups, we must support the advancement of entrepreneurial culture, invest in building capability and understanding amongst participants from a wide variety of backgrounds, and continue to develop a vibrant and supportive start-up ecosystem. Pre-acceleration supports are an essential part of the solution.