Here we take a look at an Italian tech accelerator that places the emphasis on “accelerating people” rather than mentoring and guiding existing startups.
Trento RISE, the Italian arm of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology ICT Labs initiative recently implemented the TechPeaks programme. If that sounds like just another tech accelerator among the many that have emerged since the early 2000s, there is a major difference. Instead of helping to drive forward young startup companies, as traditional incubators and accelerators do, TechPeaks focuses instead on individual people. The idea is to bring together people with high potential, selected for their skillsets, ideas and motivation, as a basis for putting together the most effective teams possible.
Traditional model, novel goal
The first six-month phase of the programme was inaugurated by Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta on 1 June this year. The TechPeaks approach is based on the thinking and ideas that have proved successful at the major business incubators and accelerators in the United States. After some weeks, during which participants work in different groupings getting to know each other, project teams are set up. The teams then pitch their initial projects to a panel of investors, with the aim of obtaining a grant of €25,000, to which TechPeaks may add up to €200,000 worth of matched funds on completion of the programme when the teams start to attract investors. However, the main contribution from TechPeaks is its focus on working directly with the participants. The programme follows Lean methodology and has lined up a large number of expert mentors, the goal being to maximise participants’ individual skills through personalised training tailored to apparent needs. The accelerator is recruiting both mentors and participants internationally, aiming to create a close-knit network made up of the best people in their fields. It will also help participants coming from outside the EU to obtain visas.
An unusual but promising initiative
The first phase of the programme is still underway and the organisers stress that the content and approach are still evolving. However, the guiding principle seems to be well-grounded. Rather than compete with private-sector accelerators, TechPeaks has positioned itself upstream of their processes, so that at the end of the programme the best teams can move into launch mode or join a startup accelerator. Steeve Louzoun, co-founder of French startup investor 5M Ventures and co-author of Incubators of the World, Best Practices from Top Leaders , stresses the value of meeting people during the accelerator process: “In Europe people tend to remain rather isolated, but the TechPeaks model meets the need to encourage people to create a collaborative atmosphere.” He argues nevertheless that “as (US seed accelerator) Y-Combinator has shown, the quality of the TechPeaks experience will depend on having strong leadership and a real community.” We can only hope for TechPeaks that the large number of top-quality mentors will help to make up for any deficiencies in these aspects of the programme.