Earlier this month, Kerry Wright (Purple’s Director of Alliances) and I attended and presented at the Mi-IDEA accelerator, run by Cisco and Manchester Science Park. The night started with an introduction to the accelerator by Tom Kneen, Head of Business Development at Cisco. Tom described the Mi-IDEA accelerator as a ‘Post-Accelerator’ for start-ups that are post MVP and have a product out in the real world.

First, you’re probably thinking, what is an accelerator? Or even, a start-up accelerator? An accelerator is an intensive program that lasts from 10 weeks to 18 months, with the aim of providing start-ups with the best possible beginning. Start-ups are typically provided free office space, mentorship, partnership opportunities, access to investment, and much more. The accelerator model was pioneered by the likes of Y Combinator and TechStars in the US, which has birthed companies that include Airbnb, Stripe, Dropbox, and Reddit.

Start-ups that go through an accelerator are statistically more likely to succeed. They are given an advantage to move faster, grow faster and do more.

Tom explained that accelerators are a must, and that Cisco’s accelerator is a tailored University style program, which sets it apart from other accelerators. A comment which I agree with, as many accelerators focus on moving fast in a short span of 10-14 weeks. Mi-IDEA lasts from 6 to 18 months, dependent on the needs of the start-up.

Cisco’s decision to launch an accelerator in Manchester comes as no surprise. With an already active footprint, working with start-ups through the likes of the City Verve project and the growing number of start-ups in the region.

The Manchester start-up ecosystem is thriving, with over 4700 new companies started between January 2016 and June 2016 in Manchester alone. It’s easier than ever to start a business. Barriers to entry are low, a company can literally grow overnight.

Innovation, entrepreneurship and a grit to get things done is a staple of Manchester’s past. It’s in Manchester’s DNA to be different, a city built on a working class ethic down the generations, which reflects in today’s start-up boom. In the words of Tony Wilson, “This Manchester, we do things different here”, a quote that rings true throughout the city.

The likes of IMDb, Boohoo.com, Missguided, RentalCars, TheLADBible, WeBuyAnyCar, and AutoTrader all originated in Manchester in recent years. Not to mention, Rolls Royce, Betfred, The Co-op, Shop Direct, and JD Sports all started here too. A city famed for its football, the industrial revolution, its music, and the very city Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels discussed The Communist Manifesto.

A digital revolution is happening in Manchester, with a focus on the Internet of Things, Smart Cities, and Digital Healthcare. Purple are at the forefront of this innovation, with a ‘North Star’ to becoming the market leader in creating Intelligent Spaces. As part of our push, we are enabling open innovation through the utilisation of our API’s, to provide start-ups, scale-ups, corporates, and individual developers to innovate faster in the IoT space.

Going back to the Mi-IDEA event, the next speaker was co-founder and CEO of DoorDeck, William Bainborough. With a flawless pitch William explained his business to the room, an idea which sparked a lot of ideas in my mind. In simple terms, DoorDeck provides technology that enables ease of access through secure electronic doors, specifically for office spaces. Gone are the days of having a fob or key card, DoorDeck bring this technology to your phone through their mobile app to enable the user to access doors with ease.

My mind raced, understanding the true potential behind the idea. Offices, hospitality, the list is endless!

William went onto to explain his personal accelerator experience from his time at Start-up bootcamp London, and notably, recently joining the IDEA Accelerator in London, which is also powered by Cisco. Williams explained the story, the hard times of realising no one wanted to purchase his product and the reasons behind the pivot. Originally focused on the residential market, William quickly found customers were not fond of making such an investment into infrastructure with such an early stage company. William learned from this and quickly focused on offices, which is now a growing market for DoorDeck.

Best of all, William told the audience that his nickname is Madonna in the office. Our minds boggled, until he explained that Madonna is known for keeping a strong team around her at all times. So not about the outfits then Will, phew!

Next up was Kerry and I, Kerry took the floor and asked everyone in the room to stand up, then asked everyone a simple question; “If you have less than X devices on you please sit down”. Quickly the room started to sit down, resulting in one lady standing alone with four devices in her possession… a crazy amount! A well connected lady.

Kerry went on the share the Purple story, how we grew and the story of our CEO’s entrepreneurial journey. An amazing growth, a company that has grown to over 120 staff since its founding in 2012, with an ever growing presence globally. Kerry, full of passion and energy throughout the presentation, provided an A class performance.

And finally, I took to the stage to share my experiences of going through a start-up accelerator. To give some context on this, back in 2015 I started the Ignite Accelerator in Newcastle and then in early 2016 joined the TechStars Accelerator based in London. I’ve also interviewed and applied for another six accelerators throughout Europe and the US.

I broke down my experiences into six key benefits:

  1. ‘The Cohort Effect’, companies enrolled as part of the accelerator work closely together. They work in the same office, go to the same events, workshops, and socialise together. They form friendships and as other companies move fast around you in the accelerator, all companies gravitate to moving faster too.
  2. ‘Mentorship’, getting access to people that have been there done that, people that are specialised in certain areas and also advice from potential investors is of huge benefit. The key to mentorship is to have a mixture of coach-ability and resilience. On one hand, you don’t want to be too coach-able as you will crash and burn by following every single piece of advice and on the other hand, you don’t want to be too resilient and not listen to some highly valuable advice. If a start-up is not wary, that can suffer the fate of ‘mentor whiplash’, where one person advises red, another blue, another pink and so on. This leads the start-up to follow a lot of advice and not focusing on what matters. Growth.
  3. ‘Network’, you gain connections from mentors, investors, the program and other members of the cohort. Many accelerators also utilises the value of their alumni to create further networking opportunities for start-ups on the accelerator.
  4. ‘Partnerships’, meeting new people on a regular basis creates opportunities, both within the cohort, but also from mentors and their networks.
  5. ‘Workshops’, tax advice, accounting, hiring, raising money and much more. Accelerators provide workshops so start-ups don’t miss out on what they need to know.
  6. And finally, all of the above leads to doing more faster.

I do believe that taking your start-up through an accelerator can give you an unfair advantage. The network you generate, the advice and much more, the value is unrivalled.

So, where does this put Purple? At Purple, we are in the process of developing our developer and start-up outreach program. As part of my role and activities across the community, I’m tasked with having a ‘Give first’ mentality to provide value and look at how Purple can work closely with developers, corporates, scale-ups, and start-ups.

If you want to chat start-ups, funding, accelerators or are looking for advice, please do not hesitate to contact me at tom@purple.ai.