Key Success Factors and Key Risks Factors of Accelerators

Business models support management in the system-atic analysis of the factors of success and the adap-tation of business activities. As accelerators have diferent goals and objectives, the literature concerning accelerators lacks clear informa-tion about key success factors (KSF), as well as key risk factors (KRF). 

However, they are a further important aspect of the literature. There have been many attempts to bring together accelerators’ success factors, but these are generally derived and adapted from incubators. Additionally, due to the start-up nature of many accelerators, they do not have time and resources for gathering and processing data, which they do not commonly convey or publish.  

Table  2 shows the thirty KSFs identified in the forty-two papers examined, connected to each building block of the business model canvas. Considering the value proposition as the essence of the strategy and the most influential component of a business model, the presence of a clear value propo-sition is a relevant indicator to determine the success of an accelerator. Biloslavo et al highlight three types of value, namely customer value, partner value, and public value. The success of an accelerator is not only determined by the value delivered to its custom-ers, but also by the value delivered to its partners, like alumni, mentors, and investors, and to society, i.e., the other actors of the ecosystem in which it operates. “a firm’s business model is also about total value creation for all partners involved”.Focusing on the extended network of relationships outside the company, this broader overview allows considering the impact in the ecosystem as a key success factor, which takes into account the critical role of an accele-rator in boosting its entrepreneurial community. 

Accel-erators act as focal points for introducing and building connections between founders, investors, and other stakeholders. Symmetrically, the disconnection to the local investment community must be recognized as a key risk factor. 

Mentorship quality is the most cited KSF, together with the extent of the partners’ net-work. Indeed, these are crucial factors for start-ups and entrepreneurs who decide to join an acceleration pro-gram. All practitioners we interviewed con-firmed the importance of the development of partners’ networks, providing similar responses. The network is widely recognized as the biggest asset for accelerators because it adds credibility to the product they deliver through the involvement of men-tors, investors, corporate executives, experts, and alumni. 

Concerning the alumni network, we identified a specific KSF in the literature. The alumni network is an important source for mentors and investors, as successful graduates are more likely to invest back into the community, which supported them in the first place. 

In the resources building block, we stated brand reputation and credibility as crucial resources. Recognize the brand as part of the resources, as it is “required to deliver the value proposition to customers. An accelerator builds its brand through features, positive associations, and remarkable alumni stories. 

Reputation allows it to attract more partners and bet-ter applicants, creating a virtuous cycle: the increased quality creates better outcomes and a richer stakehold-ers and alumni network who enhance the reputation still further. The effects of accelerator’s brand reputation are not limited to raising investors and attracting the best applicants, but it also afects start-ups’ reputation. In any negotiation, the repu-tation of the start-up, which has no track record, is heavily affected by association with the accelerator. Therefore, brand reputation could be a KSF as well as a KRF, if it arises from negative feedbacks and opinions. In this sense, one practitioner said: “we are strongly concerned about the development and monitoring of our brand awareness, indeed nowadays reputation is a strong driver of attraction if positive, but if negative it is totally a business threat.”Considering the processes building block, events, meetups, talks, and hackathons work as communication channels both for accelera-tors and start-ups. Indeed, networking at events and conferences is considered an important success factor for two reasons. 

For accelerators, this represents the possibility to identify and attract promising start-ups with skilled entrepreneurial teams and excellent ideas. On the other side, for start-ups, events like demo days represent the possibility of connecting with potential investors. In the same context, another important success factor is the dialogue between accel-erator directors and participating ventures to “encour-age ventures to learn and adapt” highlights the role of dialogue inside cohorts, saying that “the practice of dialogue in accelerator cohorts creates a culture of dialogue that founders are more likely to take into their start-ups”.

Finally, looking at customers, we identify start-ups and entrepreneurs as the main customers for an accelera-tor. The most cited KFS concerning this building block is start-up financial support. In this sense, assert that, for a start-up, participating in an accelerator, of itself, may signifi-cantly mitigate the principal-agent problem. 

Consid-ering the product, focuses on two main KSFs, namely the quality of the program and the action orientation. The last one is recognized to be a critical entrepreneurial trait, and this is confirmed by the practitioners interviewed in our study. Many of them endorse the use of practical methods, which means doing things to deal with problems and not just talking about ideas. Although most of the identified KSFs are common to all four types of accelerators identified. It is possible to identify some KSFs that are more relevant for some types rather than others. For venture-backed accelera-tors, it is imperative to produce an economic return; therefore, the KSFs that lead to it are brand reputa-tion, business expertise, and program quality. 

For government-backed accelerators, the impact on the ecosystem and the location are fundamental. For corporate-backed accelerators, the link between the accelerator and the financing company is manda-tory. Thus, the accelerator team is an essential KSF and must refer to a mix of people inside and outside the company. Finally, for the university-backed accelerators, the training is the most critical aspect; consequently, the education ordered is one of the most relevant KSF.

Discussion and ConclusionsTo conclude the paper, the authors reflect on the main findings of this study and, therefore, develop and address several implications for practitioners, policy-makers, and scholars in the following sub-sections.Implication 1: Focusing on accelerators’ definitionThe starting point of our article is the effort to pre-sent a clear definition of an accelerator, identifying the main characteristics cited in the literature. As stated by Torun “there is an ambiguity about the definition of accelerators and incubators as well as their diferences. However, if an adequate amount of literature is reviewed, one can easily reach the needed stats about the incubation and acceleration industry.

Given the pragmatic role of accelerators in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, the lack of a clear definition prevents practitioners from understanding the activity of such organizations and the distinctive role of other entities like incubators. Regarding the future stream of research, it seems reasonable that scholars should try to build their studies upon a common basis to cre-ate a homogeneous understanding of accelerators and their potentialities. Additionally, “diderent definition or focus of studies may impede their comparative use when drafting international industrial policies” . 

Making the concept of accelerators more transparent, understandable, and manageable enables a clearer perception also for policymakers who are in charge of developing the right policies and regu-lations in compliance with the phenomenon. 

The most important type of research because it conjugates both methodological rigor and practical relevance. It aims to fill the gap between research and stakeholders of research findings, specifically address-ing their practical needs, thus improving collaboration between scholars and practitioners. The findings of this study help to reach a shared definition of an accel-erator. 

Interestingly, not all the papers analyzed define the concept of an accelerator, making comparison dif-ficult for academics and practitioners.Implication 2: Types of accelerators and most promising industriesThis study finds diferent types of accelerators, con-sidering the support they receive. This reflects the diferent types of missions and the objectives they intend to pursue, which explain why they exist. 

For instance, focusing on public-backed accelerators, they play a unique role as a policy tool, contributing to local innovation and entrepreneurship. Additionally, our study provides findings also about the most promising industries for acceleration, which cater implications, especially for policymakers. From a Euro-pean perspective, policies like Smart Specialization Strategies (S3), aiming to deliver smart, sustainable, and inclusive growth, can take advantage of this kind of study for their implementation. Indeed, regional pol-icymakers need to ensure that their policies facilitate innovation difusion and local development from the very start, which means, e.g., targeting start-ups in specific industry sectors. Therefore, they should be aware of which industries to focus on and which not. In this context, research can support policymakers in the decision pro-cesses concerning the sectors to develop, the funds to be allocated, and the programs to be implemented.

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