[This is a guest post by Kath Preston, who manages Oxygen Accelerator. Oxygen Accelerator works with early-stage tech startups to develop their businesses with seed investment, work space, and a three month support programme.]
You’re coming to the end of your University career, and your thoughts start to turn towards what on earth you’re going to do next.
If you’re reading this blog, then chances are you’re the kind of person who has business ideas coming out of your ears or you’re drawn to the life of an entrepreneur. You might have dabbled in startups, led societies, sought out advice from your University – or maybe just read a whole load of blogs & talked about it at the pub. Either way, you’re keen to do stuff, maybe even create The Next Big Thing.
Next step? Students, lovers of learning that they are, might see a Masters at a prestigious Business School as the logical thing to do. While there’s no doubting that an MBA or similar from a top-quality institution will stand you in good stead and look good on a piece of paper, there is increasing feeling that these qualifications have lost their value. People are, understandably, starting to question whether the huge price tag is worth it (as if their Undergraduate courses didn’t cost enough).
Business Schools have not escaped the trend towards online courses in Higher Education, with things like the PersonalMBA.com and the many sites like Coursera and Udacity offering an alternative to the classroom model.
Another non-classroom route would be a startup accelerator programme. Estimates show that there’s about 50 of these programmes in Europe alone, all with the aim of progressing technology startups from idea to an investment-ready business. Heard of Dropbox? They came out of probably the most famous accelerator, Y Combinator in the US. If you have a startup idea, these programmes get you access to some seed funding and usually a three month bootcamp jam-packed with mentoring & all the support you can shake a stick at. Programmes even often use the language of a education institution; you go through the process with a ‘class’ made up of other startups, and ‘graduate’ after a pitch day to potential future investors.
Although accelerators are a new model of developing startups (relatively speaking – since approximately 2005), they are gathering a huge amount of interest from startups & the wider community; so much so, that they’ve been described as the new Business School, the new way to get a grounding in business.
Let’s take a look at 3 of the main reasons you’d get an MBA, and see how an accelerator shapes up:
This is first as it’s a really important element of Business School – the people you meet will, in theory, be future business leaders and contacts you’ll draw on for the rest of your career.
The same is true for accelerators. You go through an intense process with other ambitious startups, learning from them as you go. On top of that, the mentors/investors/advisors involved in the programme are likely to have a wealth of knowledge to soak up, as well as their networks to tap into as well!
2. Improved skillset & knowledge of business as a whole.
MBAs and similar qualifications offer the change to study businesses as a whole, and so the theory goes, you’ll become an all-rounder who can dip into all the different aspects of a business. You’ll work better in a team, communicate well & come away as someone who is ready to go into business.
Accelerators give you this holistic knowledge of business – by supporting you to run your own startup. A consultancy project giving you a ‘real life’ taste of entrepreneurship cant compare with having a idea, and taking it through to a real business.
Those three letters behind your name says something – it says ‘I know my way round a business’.
Equally, as an alumnus of an accelerator, you effectively have a stamp saying ‘I know my way around a business, because I’ve done it’. As an individual, you might find getting introductions to investors or mentors difficult – if you’re part of a programme, this becomes easier as the accelerators typically work to make these connections for you, and have the credibility to make warm introductions for you. You’ve already gone through a selection process, so investors know you’ve been ‘vetted’.
Of course, if you’ve seen my brief bio then you’ll know I’m biased, but I’ve seen first-hand the value of an accelerator.
Of course, they’re not the only way!
There’s an interesting article which argues that ‘if MBAs are obsolete, we’re all in big trouble’. One of it’s arguments is against the ‘lean startup approach’ that most accelerators adopt – which, it rightly argues, is not necessarily the right one for every business/every person.
Here’s another balanced argument about accelerators, which talks about the pros and cons of these programmes: http://www.postdesk.com/start-up-accelerator-programmes-uk-review
Whatever your opinion, accelerators are definitely an alternative for the entrepreneurial-minded person looking for a leg-up on their startup journey. And the good news is, the more there are, the better they’ll get and more amazing startups we’ll see started in the UK.
Oxygen Accelerator is now open for applications, deadline is the 9th August.
For more information on the programme, see www.oxygenaccelerator.com or follow @oxygenaccel on Twitter.
For more information on accelerators in general, http://www.startupfactories.eu/ is a good place to start.