KONGSBERG has joined forces with Equinor and McKinsey to launch a trailblazing “accelerator program” in Oslo. The project is organized by Techstars, the world’s leading start-up accelerator organization, which currently runs some 38 programs across five continents. But none are like this one.
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Launching in September, this will be Techstars’ first ever energy accelerator, as Guro Knapstad, Kongsberg Digital’s Techstars corporate liaison, explains:
“Techstars is a powerful global network of 10,000 entrepreneurs, mentor companies (like ours), and business investors that has been running since 2006. In that time, it’s worked with more than 1250 start-up companies, of which more than 90 percent are still active, supporting them as they’ve raised over USD 4.4 billion in funding.
“It is a unique development platform for ambitious startups, connecting them with established industry players (mentors) and exposing them to a wealth of expertise and experience they simply can’t access elsewhere. This is the first of Techstars’ vertical programs to focus on the energy industry, so it’s incredibly exciting to be involved.”
Knapstad likens the accelerators to business greenhouses, whereby green shoots of innovation are gathered, planted, nurtured and fertilized with knowledge, networks and real-life commercial experience. The result, if everything falls into place, is supercharged growth.
“It’s an incredible opportunity for the 10 companies that are accepted,” she states, “but the benefits for us, and our partners, are also genuinely compelling.”
Recipe for success
Before we move on to those benefits, let’s discover the structure of the initiative. All Techstars accelerators are three-month, mentor-driven programs. The energy accelerator follows a successful script.
Ten start-up companies are selected from a field of competing global applicants. The founders or leaders of these businesses then spend three months at the epicenter of the accelerator, in this case, Equinor's striking office facilities in Fornebu, Oslo. In the first month, the founders are introduced to more than 100 potential mentors from the three expert partner organizations, Equinor, KONGSBERG, and McKinsey. What follows is a process Knapstad compares to speed dating, as the start-ups discuss their ideas, needs, market challenges, and opportunities with each expert, before selecting between three and five lead mentors best suited to their ambitions.
Month two focuses on building traction and partnerships, as the companies utilize the lead mentors’ wisdom and networks to build the foundations for growth. The final month revolves around storytelling, with mentors helping the start-ups prepare powerful pitches for the market. These are then used on the last day of the program, known as Demo Day, as the firms pitch to potential investors.
The result of this intensive boot camp is a collection of companies primed for growth, having, Techstars says, acquired two years of experience in just three months activity. The greenhouse analogy seems highly appropriate.
KONGSBERG will provide around 30 mentors to the pool, with a 50–50 split between senior executives, capable of delivering high-level business input, and discipline experts, on hand to provide technical, development, and innovation insights. Kurt Swakhoven, Kongsberg Digital VP Digital Platform, has already signed up. He notes: “As a mentor, I expect nothing in return. I hope that by sharing from my own experiences in working with the development of digital platforms at scale, I can guide teams to success and establish new relationships. And I’m guaranteed to learn a thing or two.” This is where the benefits for the partner organizations begin to emerge. Techstars has a short, sharp and hard-hitting slogan: “Give First.” It reveals the noble intentions behind the accelerators, acting as a call to arms to do so for those that can help the next generation of businesses. But it also hints at something else. It's not just “give” but “give first,” implying something follows. And that something is of real value to the mentor firms. Knapstad explains: “The Techstars ecosystem of entrepreneurs, innovators, and global partners is vast and valuable. It provides access to early phase innovation, diverse competence, new thinking patterns, and specific knowledge, as well as acquisition opportunities that contribute to KONGSBERG’s mission for the industries we work with. As such, we see the Techstars network as a contributor to the overall industry ecosystem KONGSBERG is fostering through the open Kognifai digital platform strategy. “By working with these startup companies and their entrepreneurs, we see the future of energy through their eyes, keeping up to speed with emerging technology trends and positioning ourselves at the leading edge of innovation. The opportunity to engage, mentor, and learn alongside our close industry partners Equinor and McKinsey is a key part of this. So yes, we are committed to ‘give first’ with no specific expectations of return, but we are also prepared to learn and be shaped ourselves.”
Jens Festervoll, Equinor’s corporate liaison for Techstars, discusses another advantage that both his organization and KONGSBERG are keen to exploit.
“As a company, we are evolving,” he states. “Last year we established a new Corporate Innovation unit to help drive that development, and our involvement with Techstars falls within that strategy. We want to work with young, promising and ambitious businesses so we can assist them on their innovation journey and they can assist us. It’s an inspiring project.”
On the subject of collaborating with KONGSBERG for Techstars, Festervoll enthuses: “I see KONGSBERG as a highly innovative business that, through developments such as Kognifai, is adapting its business model to deliver value to its customers in new ways, within a changing industry landscape.
“The team is organized and proactive, offering immense technical and market expertise to start-ups. They are a valued partner in this unique program."
The first Techstars Energy Accelerator began on September 10, 2018, and will culminate in a demo day on December 6.
“We have some fantastic mentors already signed up for the first class of Techstars Energy,” concludes Knapstad. “This is going to be a learning experience for all the individuals involved as well as the companies – a chance to give, but also a chance to receive, developing new insights and building valuable relationships.
“With Techstars we have the opportunity to accelerate everyone’s growth. It’s time to get supercharged.”