Intuit and Telefónica are some of the latest brands to support entrepreneurship initiatives in the UK. But is there too much focus on this tiny, impoverished audience? Maxine-Laurie Marshall reports
Entrepreneurs and SMEs are like gold dust at the moment, everyone seems to want a piece of them. Software provider, Intuit has recently announced its ‘100Up’ initiative – a new community of 100 entrepreneurs. Telefónica, meanwhile, has just launched Wayra in the UK – a search for technology entrepreneurs to take part in its accelerator programme, and Deloitte recently announced the SMEs chosen to take part in its Social Innovation Pioneers programme.
As well as these recent initiatives, there are a number of other businesses set up specifically to mentor and develop entrepreneurs. So should you also be tapping into this apparently lucrative market? Or is there too much emphasis being placed on marketing to businesses that are barely up and running?
Surprisingly, those currently operating in this market are advocates of even more businesses joining them. Carsten Kolbek, co-founder and MD of business start-up acceleration programme, Startupboot-camp, says, “At some point, we will probably get to a saturation point in terms of how many programmes can exist at one given time, but so far we are only scratching the surface. Eighty per cent of all start-ups don’t even know accelerators exist.”
Bob Thust, head of corporate responsibility at Deloitte agrees. He says, “There are a lot of programmes offering support but they are to be welcomed; there’s not too many, in fact, there could be more.” Although he does say it’s up to the applicants to choose the programme that’s right for them.
So with a line of companies ready to support the noble cause of helping entrepreneurs and start-ups – and more room for others who are feeling generous – what’s in it for those offering to help and are their motives purely altruistic?
Innovation acceleration Kolbek believes big businesses are increasingly recognising they have something to learn from start-ups and have taken their lead from specialist businesses such as Startupbootcamp. He says, “The interest is probably coming from a realisation that big corporates find it very difficult to innovate whereas they are very good at scaling. And such corporates have, in addition, seen what independent accelerators such as Startupbootcamp, TechStars and Y-combinator are doing, and what successes have come out of that.”
Deloitte is open about the benefits it is hoping to receive from its Pioneers programme. Its wider aim is to show society that businesses have the power to make a difference and re-build the trust that has been lost. However, Thust explains, “The programme [also] offers an opportunity to develop people internally and increase their understanding of the business as a whole. To offer the right advice and mentoring, staff members have to go to other areas of the business, therefore breaking down any silos.”
As well as benefiting staff, Thust says, “It’s an opportunity for Deloitte to test new ideas and propositions and also learn from different challenges. It’s also a great way to engage clients as some of the Pioneers will have non-executive advisory boards that will be made up of some of our clients.” He also names the obvious financial incentive, “They could go on to become clients.”
Deloitte is not alone in considering the long-term financial benefits of backing entrepreneurs. Other schemes see organisations taking a share of start-ups’ equity, for example Startupbootcamp takes eight per cent, and Telefónica takes 10 per cent.
An elusive group to reach
Helping entrepreneurs has multiple benefits, but reaching them in the first instance could be an issue. Greg Thomas, innovation manager of entrepreneurial support scheme MyIncubator, admits this is an issue he finds challenging. “Marketing is a difficult one. My original idea of what type of entrepreneur would be using MyIncubator was completely wrong. Our users come from everywhere so that makes them difficult to target.” Thomas adds that targeting coffee shops, however, can be effective as the target audience are often found there with their laptops.
Simon Devonshire, director of Wayra Europe, names word-of-mouth as the main marketing channel for its scheme, pointing out the entrepreneur community is well connected. Supporting this idea, Thust used specialist agencies and bodies to reach potential participants for Deloitte’s programme, and Kolbek gets a third of applicants from warm introductions. Evidence suggests reaching entrepreneurs needs to be done in a strategic manner, often via an existing link to the entrepreneurial community. Social media and thought leadership are therefore particularly effective ways of communicating with this audience.
Looking beyond the aforementioned financial and staff development benefits, start-ups have a lot more to offer. They have the potential to be real-time case studies for use in securing other clients, and a PR opportunity for your brand. Entrepreneurs also have more freedom to be innovative, something that is seen as attractive to many slow-moving corporates. And in exchange, start-ups receive benefits of their own. Kolbek concludes, “The corporate programmes help diversify more segments and more niches that otherwise did not get attention in generalist accelerator programmes.” Sector specific expertise is invaluable, as by its nature not everyone can offer it, so embrace your niche as it could be the key to a lucrative partnership.
Engaging the entrpreneurs
Tips for why and how you should market to this small but lucrative audience.