They are now among the biggest names across the global tech landscape, having changed the way we work and play, but the likes of Dropbox and Airbnb were once little more than one of hundreds of early-stage companies pinning their hopes on gaining valuable mentorship and guidance through an accelerator program.
Two of Airbnb’s cofounders, Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia, were so broke they couldn’t even afford milk, having spent all their money on producing gimmicky promotional cereal boxes that tied into the 2008 US Election, while third cofounder Nate Blecharczyk had left San Francisco for Boston.
Their last hope was putting in a last minute application for an accelerator program; now, Airbnb is worth a reported US$31 billion and is profitable to boot.
While the likes of Airbnb and Dropbox may have gone through accelerators overseas, Australian programs too can now boast a growing number of success stories, perhaps none more so than Slingshot Accelerator.
Since 2014, Slingshot Accelerator has run 10 programs across Australia, accelerating 43 Startups and 21 Scaleups. Almost 90 percent of these Startups are still in operation, with a current market capitalisation of $163 million.
What are the benefits of a corporate accelerator?
The organisation’s model sees the aligning of a program with one or more corporate partners, allowing Startups to work closely with the corporates whose business models and industries they may very well have originally sought out to disrupt.
This, Slingshot Accelerator believes, is mutually beneficial.
Signing a partnership, supplier, or client deal with a corporate is a key goal for many Startups, while acquisition may also play on their minds; corporates, on the other hand, are well aware that they are facing disruption, and are keen to engage and collaborate with Startups that can help them refresh and expand upon the deeper opportunities lying within their business models.
The Slingshot Accelerator model brings the two sides together for the express purposes of future collaboration, and the latest corporate looking to find those Startups is food and beverage giant Lion with its Lion Unleashed program.
What is the Lion Unleashed program?
The accelerator will be looking for Startups and Scaleups that fit within the themes of Enhanced Connections, Living Well, Limitless Experiences, Transform Tomorrow, and simply, Unleashed.
According to Karen Lawson, CEO of Slingshot Accelerator, the possibilities within these five themes are endless, and while some of Slingshot Accelerator’s clients choose to closely mirror their program themes to expand upon their existing strategy, Lion’s choices show where it wants to be.
“Lion really wants to challenge the status quo and what’s possible in the food and beverage industry. When people think of products in this space, they don’t often think about all the technology and innovation that powers the development and production of these products and getting them into the consumer’s hands,” she said.
But it goes further still; Lion doesn’t want to limit the possibilities, Lawson said, and that’s why it also has the “wild card” theme in Unleashed.
“This gives Lion a great opportunity to expand upon their strategy and even go to unlimited bounds to ask, what are the things we’ve never thought of?” she said.
“If you ask for what you know, you’re going to get what you’ve already had, but if you reach out and say, we’re open to any idea that could change and disrupt our world, that’s where it gets really exciting and that’s where the horizons are disrupted and where innovation can come from.”
Why startups need to look beyond ‘Food and Beverage’
If Lion has been brave to open itself up to all manner of new opportunities, Lawson believes Startups too must be similarly confident to look beyond the food and beverage label and put themselves forward.
Food and beverage, after all, can include all manner of Startups: from agtech to blockchain Startups working to solve problems across the logistics and supply chain space, and ecommerce platforms helping consumers more easily discover new favourites.
“I think the Startup community has done a pretty good job of labelling itself, from fintech to healthtech to agritech and so on; it’s put itself in little boxes whereas you would like to think the Startup ecosystem is much more agile and rule-breaking to say, this idea I’m working on could be applicable to many different industries, vertically or horizontally,” Lawson said.
“I think there’s a really interesting line of questioning around whether Startups are almost becoming siloed and constricted by the very nature of, you’re a biotech Startup so you need to be in a biotech program rather than asking, ‘well, what’s biotech?’
“I think we have to reframe all of those things and break down those barriers, especially for Startups that might look at Lion Unleashed and think, ‘it’s food, it’s beer and wine and dairy, I’m really not in that world’, instead of saying, ‘my idea could be something here’.”
Slingshot Accelerator and Lion are keen to see it all, and with this the eleventh program Slingshot Accelerator has run, making the organisation Australia’s biggest accelerator, the opportunities for Startups and Scaleups have never been bigger.
Taking advantage of the Slingshot Accelerator network
Beyond the corporate opportunity, the network Slingshot Accelerator has grown over the last three years is powerful for participants past and present.
“There will be new accelerators developed all the time, but Slingshot Accelerator is about the things you can’t buy. It’s about being in this environment and building your ecosystem of mentors, partners, clients, alumni, influencers, coworking spaces, and so on. You can’t buy that or get that overnight,” Lawson said.
Like the Startups it has worked with, Slingshot Accelerator too has learned and iterated over the years to refine its programs to make them as founder-friendly as possible, from the ease of its application and selection processes to the running of the programs themselves, which now have separate Startup and Scaleup streams.
“Running Startup and Scaleup programs acknowledges that founders are on very different journeys; some are very early stage, while some have already taken funding. We also have our VC fund and can deploy that if it’s needed, but if it’s not, we say, ‘what’s the best relationship we can build?’” Lawson said.
Slingshot Accelerator has also developed its programs to ensure participants are able to take part remotely. In fact, with Lion an Australian and New Zealand brand, Slingshot Accelerator will be actively looking to recruit participants from across New Zealand to take part in Lion Unleashed, the first program for which it’s doing so.
You can learn more about the Lion Unleashed program here.