Of Corporate MNCs and Startup Accelerators : What if..

“The thing that every big company faces is irrelevance… the only way to stay relevant is to get in front of that and go where everybody else is going.”

So Corporate MNCs are launching accelerators in India – right from Coke to Target.Accelerator Speedometer

While I have been quite vocal about the state of accelerators in India (TL;DR : They need to fix direction, before hitting the acceleration button), I am just amazed with the disconnect these companies have with their own teams.

I was recently speaking to a bunch of IIM students and when somebody asked me what made me start Pluggd.in/NextBigWhat (and not continue my career in Product Management), my honest answer was: “I was way too frustrated with Yahoo. I wanted to implement a lot of radically new ideas/products, but had no takers. Way too much friction against anything which doesn’t fall under the comfort zone of teams/company.”

Think about it. It’s the same story with a whole lot of other (accidental) entrepreneurs, who are actually being forced to startup, thanks to the mediocre culture (a.k.a. bureaucracy) of corporates. If there was a great culture of product innovation, a culture that celebrates failure (read : Ratan Tata’s Best Failed Ideas Contest) and rewards innovation (by rewards, I also mean early promotions/great salary), a lot of accidental entrepreneurs would have preferred to stay on.

Launching a separate accelerator unit is easy. It’s a great way to say ‘I AM COOL’. Infact, some of these companies are launching an outsourced accelerator – i.e. outsource the entire unit to a company and let them manage the show.

There is no skin in the game for these companies (please correct me if I am wrong). They are launching accelerators the way they were launching websites in early 90s, or buying Facebook Likes in mid 2000s.

 To Sound Cool!

This is what Coke has to say:

“Big companies have a lot to learn from startups. We’ve spent the last year or so learning everything we could about lean startups: how they work, how they’re funded, what it takes to be a great founder, how startups work with mentors, what tools they use, etc.

 Most corporate incubator or accelerator programs focus on investing in promising startups. We’re focused on co-designing, collaborating and building with startups, and bringing our ability to scale and our amazing assets together to unlock new ways to create value on a global basis.

But we’re not sitting back planning our way forward – we’re learning by doing. This year, we’re launching nine Coca-Cola Accelerators around the world. We’re hiring two founders to lead each Accelerator and connect with the startup ecosystem. We’ve designed a new process based on the “lean startup process,” a new funding model, new hiring models – new everything – to make this happen. “


Of Course, Coke has a lot to offer – starting with its distribution network, but there is no clarity on what it can offer to startups (there is no sales pitch yet). To me, this sounds like a case of let’s just follow the herd and look at ways to sound cool, which is what Coke brand stands for anyways.

Maybe the below statement from Coke Innovation officer sums it all [via]:

“The thing that every big company faces is irrelevance… the only way to stay relevant is to get in front of that and go where everybody else is going.”

Startups who are applying for these accelerators are of course having a ball in the short run – free food, free meals and a gala demo day. What else do you want?

WHAT IF: Some of these companies who are going after the glorious startup noise actually enable innovation internally?

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