It started as a single off-hand comment, but in the end I seemed to spend most of the Silicon Allee monthly meet up earlier this week talking about accelerators and, to a lesser extent, incubators. There has been a major influx into Berlin of these programs, designed give startups a helping hand, a boost up, as they strive to establish themselves in the cutthroat world of consumer technology.
But are there now too many in what is still a relatively small and immature scene? The latest big-name company to announce plans for an accelerator in the German capital is, rather bizarrely, Coca-Cola, but the drinks giant will find itself in good company.
German corporate giants such as Deutsche Telekom, Axel Springer, ProSiebenSat.1, Bayer and Rewe have all climbed aboard the acceler-train, and they will compete with the, for want of a better word, independent programs such as Startupbootcamp and the Berlin Startup Academy.
And Coke won’t even be the first foreign company – Microsoft announced recently it will set up its own accelerator in the refined confines of Unter den Linden (about which I was slightly dubious).
I don’t want to discuss yet again the pros and cons of corporate versus independent, or even to accelerate or not to accelerate. The truth is, there’s no one answer. If you ask budding entrepreneurs, many will all say they want to be successful on their own; but equally, plenty realise the innate difficulty in getting over that first big hump in the lifespan of a new company.
Positive Impact or a Quick Exit?
And depending on your product (or at least product area), how your team looks, what your goals are and what weaknesses you have, you should be taking your time over which program is the best for you.
But as Berlin’s accelerator scene grows, there are two important questions that need to be asked. Are all of the companies behind them serious enough about their commitment to have a positive impact in the long run, or are they simply following the fashionable masses and will bail at the first sign of trouble?
And perhaps more interestingly – are there already too many? Will the number of accelerators dilute the pool of potential acceleratees to the point where no program functions well?
It’s maybe a bit of a stretch, I’ll give you that, but it’s hardly a secret that being an entrepreneur and having a startup, especially in somewhere like Berlin, is just damn Cool-with-a-capital-C. That in turn leads – and indeed, has led – to a major influx of would-be entrepreneurs; a process which has advantages and disadvantages.
On the plus side, the more intelligent, driven, connected people who come into the scene, the stronger the ecosystem is – and don’t forget Berlin still has a lot of growing to do. If folks want to come from across Germany, Europe and indeed the world to have a go at building the next Google of Facebook, then great.
Shits and Giggles
But on the down side, there are fears it could lead to a point where people who are not suited to the startup lifestyle or who lack entrepreneurial verve, or perhaps whose hearts aren’t in it and are only doing it for shits and giggles, are taking away money and resources from those who really do have a genuine chance to succeed.
Which brings us back to accelerators. If the number of places available on accelerator programs in Berlin continues to grow, then there could be the danger that the overall standard of team accepted will necessarily have to decrease as those in charge of the programs fill them up with the best they can find. And that can’t be a good thing for anyone – teams graduating without the right ingredients for success.
There are, of course, several counter-arguments. Who can really put their hand up with any certainty and say they know exactly what the right ingredients for startup success are? And rather than see the standard fall, could the explosion in accelerators simply see more ‘good’ teams attracted to Berlin over, say, the expensive, traffic-gnarled, rain-sodden greyness of London?
It all depends, really, on how graduate startups fare in the next few years. When there is a big enough sample size, we will really be able to see if acceleration really does make you run faster by looking at who got funded, who got their product out successfully, who exited, etc.
In the meantime, though, forgive me if I stick to my Club Mate over Coke.