Bengaluru – should corporate accelerators be (re-)considered?

Mar 11, 2019

Bengaluru – should corporate accelerators be (re-)considered?

Mar 11, 2019

Within the last 2-3 years, multinationals have established a string of corporate accelerators in Bengaluru. Now they’re looking to internationalize. Innovation Lab Asia visited Shell E4 and Maersk OceanPro, to learn what they have to offer.

Back in 2005 Indian author Chetan Bhagat rose to fame with a novel called “One Night @ the Call Center”. The book gave a sobering insight into the reality of the Indian call center worker; how they lumbered to work every night to face hundreds of calls from irate westerners, and how their youthful dreams and academic aspirations slowly withered away.

The Call Center epitomized the Indian IT-revolution in the early 00’s.

Moving up the value chain

Now things are changing. Today Bengaluru is moving up the value chain, providing cutting edge innovation to the global tech revolution. And this has caught the attention of the big multinationals.

Within the last two years, a growing number of corporate accelerators have popped up all over Bengaluru, seeking to leverage on the rapid and cost-efficient R&D provided by startups. Of course, corporate accelerators are no novelty – a similar trend took place in Europe and the US some years back – with mixed results.

A match made in Heaven?

At first glance, the corporate accelerator is a match made in heaven, combining the agile ingenuity of the startups with the vast resources of a corporate. But the partnership has a flipside, described in detail in this article on Techcrunch.com.

The main concern seems to boil down to this: “The goal of a startup is to build a scalable solution to a general problem facing an industry, not a fitted solution to one company’s challenges”. Startups fear entering a Faustian pact with the corporates, compromising their independence and committing themselves to just one partner.

Nonetheless, it may be worth exploring how these new corporate accelerators can help Nordic startups establish themselves in markets faraway from their own domestic shores.

Shell E4

Shell E4 was established in 2017 and presently has completed two rounds with 5 and 10 Indian startups. Now with the launch of the International Track they are also looking for foreign B2B startups within energy-related sectors, including electric mobility, renewable energy, biofuels, technology in energy such as blockchain & IoT, smart grids & microgrids, waste to value technologies. The International Track is flexible with a running in-take.

The program seeks to remove as many obstacles as possible for the startups: Shell provides practical support to establishing a legal entity and importing hardware to India, and assistance in setting up meetings with external stakeholders and investors.

A key aspect of the support is access to world class lab infrastructure at the Shell Technology Centre Bangalore. Shell also helps identify Proof of Concept pilots within the corporation, along with potential funding for its implementation.

According to Shell, one of its strongest value propositions is direct access to advanced laboratory facilities. Thus, one of the earlier startups printed two drones with onsite 3D-printing equipment. On the delicate question of IPR, the program aims to be startup friendly. Any IP independently created by the startup belongs to the startup.

OceanPro

Maersk OceanPro was launched in 2018, and in a few days – on 14 March – the first 7 Indian startups will be graduating. Each of the startups were given a specific problem to be solved during a 4-month period.

So, an AI company developed an algorithm to determine damage-level and repair quality of containers based on photos. An ML startup developed text analytics to identify unpaid invoices. A VR company created a 3D visual platform to allow Maersk employees to experience being on board their ships. If the solutions are found viable next week on Demoday, they may be converted into a vendor contract with Maersk.

Throughout the process, OceanPro has provided access to Maersk data and mentors, covered the costs of PoC-implementation and provided additional funding depending on the case somplexity. The companies were selected from their solutions (based either on an existing PoC or a well-defined product) rather than their financials.

The startups did not need to be physically located in Bengaluru but could work at a distance. Importantly, this may also be the case for Danish or Nordic startups entering with OceanPro.

Perhaps a soft landing

The corporate startups – these and others – may therefore provide a viable entry point for Nordic startups to India. No matter how “born global” a company may be, it will always be easier taking the train to Berlin than the plane to Bengaluru.

But corporate accelerators narrow the gap, by providing – at least on paper – a full suite of soft-landing spots: Specific use-cases, laboratory access, logistical support, (some) expenses covered. And perhaps most importantly in a Danish context; a greater openness towards early stage startups than perhaps is the case for local VC’s and accelerators.