What General Assembly Taught Me about the Future of Accelerators, Business Education & Corporate Innovation

by Richard Hughes-Jones

I have recently had the opportunity to work as a trainer for General Assembly. The company started life as a New York startup in 2011, originally offering co-working space but quickly evolving into an urban educational facility and event space offering classes on technology, business and design. Backed by over $14.5 million of venture capital funding, General Assembly has expanded its offering worldwide.

For my part, I travelled to Berlin to deliver financial modelling and business model training to the second round of startups that are part of the Hub:raum accelerator programme. The second round of the Deutsche Telekom backed programme kicked off a couple of weeks ago. There are 7 startups taking part in the programme, the full list of which can be found in this article from Venture Village.

What is really impressive is the commitment that these guys are showing. There is no obligation on participants to make use of all the resources made available but knowledge is gathered eagerly from the facilitated training courses and access to high level mentoring that they can choose to receive. The atmosphere within the workspace is fantastic: a perfect balance of startup buzz combined with downright hard work.

We don’t need no education

The Hub:raum accelerator participants all have very good amounts of business experience. But spending time at Hub:raum and talking to some of those taking part raised again the issue of business education and what the best way is to get it. Observing everyone at work and knowing what resources the programme is making available to them, you can’t help but feel that they are getting a far more rounded and directly relevant business experience than they might sat in a University lecture theatre as an under or postgraduate student. This is an issue that is of real relevance in the UK where University fees have risen dramatically in the last few years and the average student debt is tipped to exceed £50,000.

Am I saying that respected Universities and business schools need to get out of the way? No, of course not. I’m sure that these institutions will continue to serve those with more traditional business leanings, especially if they want to take the corporate career path. And the leading institutions will continue to be a proving ground for the brightest and best. But choices are now extended through such accelerator programmes and the range of contemporary courses like General Assembly offer. Choice can only be a good thing, even if it does make the decision process a little more complicated. But what better way of learning about business and the skills required to be successful than building your own. Success or failure, hands on experience is always the best way to learn. Watching the future of business education evolve is going to be interesting.

The corporate innovation agenda

As someone who recently left the corporate world, I have watched with interest as corporates struggle to come to terms with the new economy. New business models and the digital world in particular are baffling the old guard of business leaders who have traded in a world that has not changed significantly for decades. By their nature, those responsible for the big strategic decisions within large corporates are well into their 40s or 50s and many of them (not all) are really struggling to keep abreast with the pace of change.

Hats off then to Deutsche Telekom, Hub:raum and the teams on the ground that are driving this programme forward in Berlin but also Krakow and Tel Aviv. It is excellent that the big decision makers recognise the importance of backing initiatives such as this and making the investment necessary to make it happen, especially given the cash heavy balance sheets that many of them currently hold. Chatting to the Deutsche Telekom team, they recognise that the benefits to the company itself (as opposed to the startups that take part) may be some years down line and are, at this stage, impossible to quantify. Innovation is not a new concept for a company like Deutsche Telekom, and they are not the only company delivering such initiatives, but as innovation strategy goes this represents a bold move and I think that deserves a ‘prost’! That’s cheers in German!

image credit: twitter.com

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    What Does Innovation Mean for Smaller Business? Richard Hughes-Jones is an experienced management consultant, having spent most of his career with Deloitte UK and working in a senior management role for Her Majesty’s Treasury. He now works with high growth businesses, bringing strategic business thinking to support sustainable growth. Richard blogs about a range of business issues at FireLDN and is on Twitter @FireLDN