Running an Accelerator Design Sprint: Startup In Residence Edition

The Accelerator Design Sprint result

Early this year I kicked-off a project to design, and implement a Startup in Residence program for the provincial government of North Holland, under project leadership of the excellent Robbert van Geldrop of Firmhouse.

Startup  in Residence (SiR) programs are government-initiated programs to  harbour startups at the heart of government operations. SiR invites  startups to contribute to predefined policy themes, which benefit from  new impulses of creative problem solving, which can be brought by  startups. The intent of SiR programs is to catalyse cross-over learning  between government, and startups, as well as joint creation of new  business opportunities.

The  program objective for the provincial government of North Holland was  clear, but we first had to find out how to design the program, and to  craft its value proposition in such a way that it would appeal to all  relevant stakeholders; government, and startups alike.

The Accelerator Design Sprint
To equip ourselves to design a SiR program, we set up an Accelerator Design Sprint (taken from the Source Institute Accelerator Design Guide)  to immerse into the context government-startup collaborations. The  Sprint ran for 3 days, in which we also had our client from the province  on board the full time, which helped tremendously in decision making  along the way.

For the first day we arranged several interviews. We spoke with people within various  government organisations who work on startups and innovation in  different capacities. Specifically, we interviewed several of the  internal sponsors of the SiR program for North Holland, to get a sense  of their expectations, and potential contributions to startups. We also  spoke to startup founders who work, or have worked closely with  government. Lastly, we linked up with potential partners, who have an  interest in working with startups, and are closely associated with the  thematic policy priorities of the program.

On day 2 we had a morning program of several more interviews. The afternoon was  used to start pulling out some of our observations from the interviews.  These were then translated into insights for the current program. (we  followed the format described in Vijay Kumar’s excellent 101 Design Methods for this).

Some of the observations we collected

One  important insight that emerged from this exercise was for instance that  clear government challenge formulation helps startups to better define  their added value in their relationship to government. Another insight  was that efforts to create a common language between government, and  startups, like visual business tools, and meetups, give tremendous  returns for the program, because these foster collaboration.

On 3rd and last day,  after letting our collected data breathe for an evening, we started  with designing the actual program. The basis for this design was the  accelerator design cards kit (which comes with the Accelerator Design  Guide, see the header picture for this layout).

Because  we found that startup-government collaborations heavily depend on  connections, and expertise that is scattered across government networks,  we made sure to include a lot of peer-to-peer support formats like Brain Trusts, Lean Coffee’s, Unconference, and Fixer Sessions;  formats that facilitate connections, and targeted knowledge exchange.  We also included specific workshops, meant to generate a joint language  between government sponsors and startups, around topics like business model, partnership, and experiment design.

The Sprint finishes, The Marathon begins.
Once  we were done with the design, we were immediately ready to start  writing out copy (a signal of succes!) for the SiR program website, and  for the invites to the first program meetup, meant to socialise our  proposition, and mobilise applicants. Also we wrote out a clear request  for involvement from each of the sponsors, so that they had a clear  indication of what commitment was asked from them. (if you’re interested  to receive some of these materials to use them in your own program,  then drop us comment below, and lets get in touch!)

Currently,  we’re well underway in the program, which started in early June (we did  it in under 3 months!), and will last for 6 months. We’ve had a great  turnout in applications, with a lot of propositions that fit well to the  program’s call. To fill our 5 available startups seats, we had 30  quality applicants to select from. Together with a group of external  stakeholders (mainly partners we approached for the program), and the  sponsors we came to our current selection of teams.

The  pre-scheduled workshops have given the teams a kick start, because  they’ve anticipated some of the common hurdles. Also, we noticed along  the way that there was demand for specific content, like the Growth  Mindset workshop, which is now scheduled to be deliver by Source’s  growth maker Nemanja Cerovac. And the latest feat is that we’ve sold out our first SiR program Source Summit unconference for July 11th, which will introduce the wider SiR community to each other.

If  the program interests you, and you would like to join in with future  community events, then send an email to bart[at]source[dot]institute,  and we’ll put you on the community email list.