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THE BLACK HOLE

Building on the accelerator model – introduction

Business accelerators have become fashionable, and for good reason, says Jonathan Thon in the first of a series on this entrepreneurial trend.

By JONATHAN THON | MAR 03 2015

This is a short post, but will set the stage for what I intend to be one of my larger series on how universities can leverage the zeitgeist of this generation to properly actualize the “translational medicine” aspirations of generations past. As Dave alluded to in his previous post, inducements to yield practical healthcare returns from science investiture should not be prioritized over basic research to explore and better understand the world around us. Translational technologies necessarily derive from basic research discoveries, and while ignoring the latter provokes the question “so what?”, ignoring the former begets the question “what now?”

Business accelerators have become fashionable, and for good reason. They offer aspiring entrepreneurs access to expert mentors, marketing and media resources, funding opportunities, and office space. Admission into accelerator programs is usually coupled to business competitions, which provides incentive for the teams selected to participate to maximize the resources provided. Cash awards to finalists typically range between $50K-$100K.

New entrepreneurs establish a company and team with which they compete against other like-minded teams (up to 1,600 others in the case of Boston’s MassChallenge) for an opportunity to access the incubator. Selected teams are given access to services such as:

  • networking activities
  • marketing assistance
  • high-speed internet access
  • help with accounting/financial management
  • access to bank loans
  • loan funds and guarantee programs
  • help with presentation skills
  • links to higher education resources
  • links to strategic partners
  • access to angel investors or venture capital
  • comprehensive business training programs
  • advisory boards and mentors
  • advice on building a management team
  • help with business etiquette
  • technology commercialization assistance
  • advice on regulatory compliance
  • intellectual property management

These services are extremely valuable, particularly for first-time entrepreneurs who typically lack formal training in business, and need to quickly make up a very steep learning curve to bring their idea to market. Some organizations do this better than others, and the most useful accelerators (in my personal experience – having worked directly with the Harvard iLab, MassChallenge, MassConnect, and the Boston Biomedical Innovation Center that is funded by the National Institute of Health) are those that take a personal and vested interest in the companies they host and are able to provide the majority of the above dedicated resources to their finalists. In my following multi-part article series I will describe my personal experiences at different accelerator programs, and highlight their respective strengths and weaknesses. The goal is to help academic research institutions learn what works and what doesn’t as they begin to construct incubator programs of their own.

ABOUT JONATHAN THON
Jonathan Thon
Dr. Thon is an assistant professor in the hematology division at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Harvard Medical School in Boston.
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