30.11.2017 | Blog

Accelerators are more about people than innovations

Accelerators are innovation programmes that offer an opportunity for internal start-up teams (i.e. temporary organisations) of companies to find the questions worth asking, as well as some answers to new business ideas. However, potential innovations are not the greatest value of accelerators, but the people whose thinking changes thanks to experiences received in the course of the programme. When Solita and Palmu merged in spring 2017 we decided to test the power of accelerator programmes internally. We can say – it was truly worth it.

What is an accelerator?

One way of viewing organisations is to divide them into two different categories according to their objectives. First of all, there are searching organisations that try to find a problem worth solving or a vision worth realising. They try to come up with a solution and a well-functioning business model. Then there are optimising organisations that have found a good business model and try to optimize the value they’re producing. The operating models and management practices of these organisations are very different from one another.

Accelerators are innovation programmes that offer an opportunity for internal start-up teams (i.e. temporary organisations) of companies to find the questions worth asking, as well as some answers to new business ideas.

Why are accelerators needed? 

There are a lot of ideas in companies, but in reality nobody usually has time to promote them. This is because typically people working in an organisation don’t have clear permission, room or time to promote new ideas. On the other hand, systematic experimenting requires a lot of self-discipline both from teams and individuals. Therefore accelerator programmes are needed. An organisation that only incrementally develops its existing business ends up dying in disruption.

However, innovations usually aren’t the only goal of accelerator programmes, and are not even the most important goal.

At the end of the day, accelerator programmes are about people who team up and learn practices and ways of thinking that help them develop their idea further in very uncertain circumstances. They are vulnerable with their assumptions and experimentations. A very typical target for accelerators is renewing the culture so that participants get experiences of doing things differently.

Hence, potential innovations aren’t the greatest value of accelerators, but the people whose thinking changes thanks to experiences received in the course of the programme. Accelerators create innovators who learn to turn ideas into valuable services.

What was done in the Solita’s and Palmu’s 2017 accelerator? What was the outcome?

15 teams with the total of 67 people participated in the accelerator of Solita and Palmu. They promoted an idea they felt passionate about for eight weeks. The objective of the accelerator was to contribute to Solita and Palmu working together after their merger, to develop individual skills and to create new service, product and process innovations for the company. The accelerator programme reached its climax when ten teams prepared investment pitches for an investment jury. On the basis of the pitches, the jury decided to let five teams continue with their ideas. Two teams, Ice Brainer and Talent, were chosen to participate in an intensive training session in Singapore. The teams refined their ideas further in Singapore.

Ice Brainer, whose idea is to optimise ice breaking with the help of artificial intelligence, worked on customer knowledge, and they, for instance, interviewed a local sea captain. In addition, they analysed data that is used in the optimisation process and evaluated its usability. Finally, the team prepared its sales pitch and investment proposal for the next round. I have to say that the future of Ice Brainer looks very bright.

Talent, the other team that travelled to Singapore, is building an internal – and possibly external in the future – online meeting point for experts and people participating in customer projects. Their objective is to help experts find better projects that are the most meaningful for them, and at the same time, help project teams find experts better. At the moment, Talent is requesting continued financing for an internal service of Solita and Palmu.

As I stated earlier, these ideas and promoting them were not the only, or even the most significant targets set for our accelerator. Solita and Palmu merged in spring 2017, and one of the most important objectives of the accelerator (Kiihdyttämö) 2017 project was to bring people together and give them an opportunity to team up to create a change or service they all find meaningful. We truly believe that the goal was met. The following extracts from interviews with the participants are proof of this:

“I’ve had insights on how to work with new ideas in a multidisciplinary and cross-functional team.”

 

“I really enjoyed meeting new people from the other company, and getting the chance to understand their point of view. They look at things very differently.”

 

“Accelerator program is a great opportunity to work with people you wouldn’t normally work with.”

 

“Apply to this programme if you want to learn a lot about different subjects and about people, and to make your dreams come true.”

How have the multi-skilled teams of the accelerator programme developed?

From the perspective of expertise and innovation culture, the multi-skilled teams of the accelerator thought that they had learned new skills and operating ways. As our interviews show, the operating model of the accelerator had left a significant memory trace. The teams are now considering how they can use the new ways of thinking and operating in everyday life and ordinary projects as widely and intensively as possible.

One important observation has to do with trust.

All participants were out of their comfort zones. They didn’t know each other beforehand, they came from different companies, and they had not worked together face-to-face previously. However, all participants felt that they trusted each other throughout the programme. In Singapore, collaboration reached almost family-like characteristics, when people shared experiences, thoughts and emotions at work and in free time. In addition, the trip to Singapore was already a reward as an experience, even if not everybody reaches the financial results of a scalable business model.

Accelerators have turned out to be significant opportunities for individuals and teams to realize their dreams and do things they feel passionate about, as well as develop their skills. The ideas created in the accelerator may be successful, but we feel that the stories that continue to be part of our corporate culture are even more meaningful and influential. The value of these stories is beyond measure, and their effects are so varied and enriching that even the most excellent services pale in comparison.

Check out the video from our trip. Two of our accelerator coaches, Marko and Mikko, are capsulizing the accelerator trip’s outcomes in it. Also, if you’re interested to work with us, feel free to approach Marko with email etc. We’d be more than happy to help you!