Startup accelerators have outgrown their Silicon Valley roots and have been embraced by agencies and big brands as a way to bring fresh thinking and innovation to the table in a corporate environment.
The news that R/GA is welcoming a fresh batch of startups into its agency as part of its second accelerator program is more proof the accelerator format is here to stay.
R/GA’s program, in partnership with Techstars, is for startups in the Internet of Things and connected devices realm. The 10 startups, which include BitFinder, for detecting airborne environmental irritants, and SkySpecs, a software system that helps drones avoid collisions, moved into the agency’s New York office this week and will stay until February next year.
As part of the arrangement, R/GA will offer guidance on business strategy and branding, as well as a host of opportunities to interact with mentors, entrepreneurs and investors. In return, R/GA will be able to collaborate with the startups and get access to their new technologies and thinking, which could inform creative work for clients.
"We’re not doing this for financial reasons," Stephen Plumlee, R/GA chief operating officer, told Campaign. "We’re not an investment company. We’re doing it for strategic reasons"
Launching a startup accelerator takes effort and faith on behalf of an agency. After all, a lot of resources and capital investment go into getting a startup off the ground. An agency has to open its doors and share its space with companies that may never turn a profit, all in the hopes that enough of the startups will be successful to make the venture worthwhile.
Other agencies that have launched startup accelerators in recent years include Y&R and RedRocket. Those agencies that can pull it off both raise their profiles and have the potential to generate fresh and innovative thinking for clients. At least that has been R/GA’s experience thus far.
"A vast majority of the companies (from the previous class) are doing extremely well," Plumlee said. "We have ongoing relationships with those companies. Several of them stuck around on our campus, and we’re happy to continue to work with them. And we did work with a number of companies after the program."
It is important that an agency examines its motives before dipping into the water. An agency that’s just in it for a quick turnaround on its investment is going to have problems once the word gets out that its accelerator program amounts to little more than a gimmicky get-rich-quick scheme.
"If there is some type of exit, whether it’s an acquisition or some other type of exit, that’s great," Plumlee said. "We have stakes in some of these companies, so we would see some of that upside, but that’s not why we’re doing it."