Data Pitch is the first innovation programme funded by the European Commission to explore how data shared by large organisations, from government bodies to multinational corporations, could be used by startups and innovators to tackle specific company and sector challenges.
There are a number of accelerators that connect corporates and startups, facilitate partnerships between them and enable the development of proof of concepts. Data Pitch differs from them because it focuses on enabling datasets to be exchanged between the two parties in order to solve specific problems.
Nearly three years after its launch in 2017, having worked with 13 partners that shared some of their data with 47 startups to solve 28 challenges, we’ve learnt a lot and we want to share our learnings.
This series of articles captures our insights, best practices and learnings. Each is aimed at a specific audience, with tailored recommendations.
We hope companies and individuals working to innovate with data will find these articles useful. If you’d like to discuss our experiences further we’d love to meet you. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Orsola de Marco, Head of Startup and Innovation Programmes at the ODI, reveals our top recommendations for accelerators and incubators helping businesses share data to innovate.
1. Build a team with the right skills mix
Interestingly, creating an accelerator is a bit like building a startup and bringing together a team with the right mix of skills is crucial. You need: data expertise to advise on how to share data securely; business acumen to help early-stage startups with promising ideas; legal expertise to set up agreements that protect startups and large organisations while sharing data; communications to present the programme to the world; and access to a wide range of industry expertise. While it may seem that vast amounts of technical infrastructure is needed to run a data driven innovation accelerator, this isn’t (usually) the case.
2. Create a compelling ‘offer’ for businesses and collaborate with them.
The Data Pitch model is built around challenges – tricky problems which our data providers and wider industry are struggling with. Our offer to data providers is: ‘we can help you solve a pressing challenge, by introducing you to innovative tech startups’. We spend time helping them design a challenge and select the data we know will be compelling and profitable for startups. We also assist on data protection risk mitigation, alongside their lawyers. Just like creating any other product, make sure you are creating something that delivers value to the businesses providing data. Sharing data with third parties can help unlock great value for businesses but lots of them are still quite risk-averse and hesitant to do it on their own. Be clear about how your programme will help businesses deliver against their goals and support them throughout the process.
3. Build the brand.
The objective for any accelerator is to work with brilliant startups with great skills, ambition and ideas. With a wide array of competing accelerators and incubators you need not only a great programme, but also a strong and clear visual brand and a sound marketing strategy to connect with your audiences and stand out. If you don’t have designers and developers in-house, work with external experts to build a visual identity which resonates with both the startup community and established corporates, and which works flexibly across your website and marketing materials. It’s a good investment and will make you look professional.
4. Grow your community
If you are starting a new programme, the idea of building a community from scratch is pretty daunting and overwhelming. Growing an engaged and active followership on social media doesn’t happen overnight, and is heavily reliant on a constant feed of good content, which is tricky if you haven’t even started the programme yet. So leverage existing networks and be creative in building relationships with the right partners that can give you access to your audiences without having to build your own community. Be targeted and prioritise different segments of your community at different points in time, rather than trying to spread yourself too thin.
5. Get out there!
One of the best ways to build meaningful and relevant relationships is by meeting people face to face. Over the last few years we have attended many startup festivals, conferences, hackathons and meet-ups to build our network and grow the Data Pitch community. One of the biggest challenges we faced was prioritising which events to attend as most are focused on tech startups, or innovation or data science. Given that Data Pitch sits at the intersection of all these three, we have been selective and did extensive research into which ones would be the most relevant and how to get the best value from them. Preparation is key: research who’s speaking and who’s attending, then make arrangements to meet up in advance; if you can, get a speaking slot as that will maximise your visibility; announce your attendance on Twitter using event hashtags and be clear about how people can find you; look out for workshops to meet relevant startups or organise your own
6. Allow time to find the right startups.
Because of the specialised focus of our challenges, being able to attract the right startups was crucial. The days when you put out an open call and wait for startups to apply are long gone. If you want to find the real gems, you need to be proactive and scout. There isn’t a right or wrong way of doing this and programmes may find that some approaches work better than others. If you are not sure, try a mix including desk research using online portals such as AngelList and F6S or an advanced web search; online communities for startups; local networking events and tech conferences. If your programme is designed for very early stage startups, universities’ data science departments are a good place to find innovative newly created spin-offs that might fit the bill. We recommend allowing a couple of months prior to the end of your open call to scout startups and leverage existing contacts for personal introductions.
However long you think things will take, they will take longer! Think about how long each phase takes and where the crunch points could be. We found that the design of the challenges was significantly accelerated by engaging with decision-makers from the start. These typically included an internal champion, often from the innovation department or the head of a business unit that faces a challenge; a technical person that understands what datasets the company has, and someone from the legal team that can facilitate a smooth contract-signing process later on.
8. Create a win-win relationship for both data provider and data user.
Success for our data providers is resolution to their challenge. Success for our startups is creating a solution that has a validated use case in the real market and can be scaled. Attentive and supportive facilitation is needed to steer both sides towards their goals. We recommend clearly setting out objectives for all parties from the start, putting in place a detailed but agile work plan which everyone signs up to, monitoring progress weekly and facilitating conversation between the two parties during the programme
9. Think about how you will show impact.
Being able to prove return on investment for your programme is essential, especially when most startups won’t be able to deliver demonstrable economic and financial impact in the short term. For example, investments secured by startups, number of datasets shared, and the reach of the programme to target audiences. Make sure you capture both quantitative and qualitative metrics: the human success stories, as well as the hard figures. We advise collecting impact data internally by tracking metrics, as well as externally for additional wider context. If you are planning to commission an external impact assessment, make sure you allocate reasonable budget aligned with the scope of the work.