“Survivor" + "Shark Tank" – Why Accelerators Are Not Reality TV

Someone asked the other day, whether an early-stage accelerator resembled Survivor plus Shark Tank combined, and why any company founder with sound mind would want to sign up for such a program.

To be sure, behind the question sit two extremely popular US television shows: CBS owns Survivor (think, celebrities on an island, fighting for dominance), and ABC’s Shark Tank (company founders battle for actual funding).

It got me thinking: yes, as a company in an accelerator program, you are indeed being thrown into a group of peers often entirely unknown to you, in a place not of your own choosing. And, yes, you compete for time and ideas, even money, submitting yourself to the opinion of a grueling set of judges.

Okay, strip out reality TV’s at-times manipulative and conniving geared-for-entertainment elements (plus commercials), and you got yourself something great:

Joining an accelerator program means you become part of a powerful community of like-minded peers looking to jointly build something entirely new and productive, and, along the way, help affect positive change.{Andreas Wuerfel, Director Innovation Community METRO Accelerator}

What got me thinking about this in the first place? Here’s the extemporaneous notes I took while attending an internal team off-site the other week. One of our workshop sessions was run by super-smart Ingo-Stefan Schilling, bringing deep tech-meets-reality team work experience from inside Fraunhofer Institute, GE, and Amazon, to name a few. I was struck by the clarity of what Ingo-Stefan believes encapsulates a successfully productive ‘community of innovation’ (my words), and what its participants can achieve if they follow these basic rules:

  1. Find a common language (mutually understandable definitions)
  2. Share information that is sufficiently meaningful (expert discussion)
  3. Mind the difference between (actual) knowledge and (mere) opinion
  4. Listen to each other between the lines (emotional intelligence)
  5. Take action and the responsibility for it (everyone is an agent towards change)
  6. No one is wholly to blame for failure (but a single person always takes responsibility)
  7. If things do go well, and team scale rapidly, let go, get religion, don’t over control!
  8. If things go bad, don’t blame your community, take leadership and be willing to take the consequence of your decision

… above all, bring certainty of conviction!

Turns out, Ingo-Stefan’s ‘communities of innovation’ framework applies to how some of today’s best accelerators are run and makes abundantly clear, a successful program community is far from reality TV.

In fact, in many ways, our own day-to-day office work environment – the way we productively work with someone else or entire teams – are affected by how we all apply Ingo-Stefan’s ‘communities of innovation’ framework.

If you care to share, comment, or otherwise engage around this post, join the conversation on Twitter (@andreaswuerfel) or drop me a line on LinkedIn.


About this series: Plenty around us relies on ‘digital’. METRO’s own wholesale and retail industries are adopting to new technology trends. As more of our customers and their customers rely on digital solutions, the way business is conducted is changing rapidly. Our ‘Communities of Innovation’ series seeks to help explain this transitory path. Not to decipher the underlying technologies, but rather to introduce you to tomorrow’s shapeshifters today, and to provide insights into their ‘communities of innovation’ that help make positive change happen.


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