Katie Lewis is the Business Growth Manager for Innovation Warehouse’s resident accelerator, the Accelerator Academy. In part 2 of this interview series, Innovation Warehouse sat down with Lewis to find out what investors really care about when getting into bed with a start-up, and what’s hot on the 2018 tech innovation scene.
What is the ideal outcome for start-ups on the Accelerator Academy programme? Have there been any recent success stories?
We had a great success story at the end of last year with one of our businesses, Twizoo. They were mentored by Stephen Bloch and exited to Skyscanner. That was a great success story for the team – they’d come through as co-founders and then slowly built up their team, raised funding from two or three different investors in the landscape, including VC funders and then were able to take it through to an exit. It was a three-year journey for them.
It was great for them to be in a supported environment, taking advantage of the network and knowledge and then being able to build on that themselves – knowing they were heading in the right direction to be able to access the right types of funding and take them on to that next stage of growth.
We also have dozens of business that are now generating really significant revenue, growing their teams and making key hires and building truly sustainable growth businesses. Some of those metrics are more difficult to capture, but I have no doubt there’ll be more success stories to come.
In your experience, what do investors look for in a start-up?
Team is first and foremost. It’s essential to be able to relate to a team, connect with a team and build that relationship – and perhaps most importantly, respect the founders and have the confidence that they know how they’re going to drive the business forward.
You can get insight into a team’s rationale and strategy by looking at their business plan, but everyone knows that business plans don’t necessarily survive their TUG with reality. Investors need to be comfortable and believe in the team to be able to execute on things as the market changes and unexpected challenges crop up.
The second priority is the idea, the product – the actual solution for the problem being solved, and I think people are now looking increasingly at business model innovation. Have the founders really explored their market, and have they got the right kind of business model that could be more compelling for the target market?
From a more personal perspective, is this a sector that the investor is interested or expert in? That can get people excited and engaged more than anything, and from a VC perspective, is it something they’ve been tracking or examining data on, and that’s a growth area or market that’s ready for disruption?
Once again, you can never underestimate the importance of the management team.
What trends have defined 2018 so far, and where do you see things going in the tech start-up scene?
There are three areas we’re seeing from The Accelerator Network point of view. One trend is cyber security, which we’ve spent the last 18 months getting more heavily involved in, and which I believe will underpin the success of technology businesses – and of Britain being the safest place to do business.
That goes for B2B, B2C, government – everything. For me that’s a really exciting space, where you’re able to tap into people who have incredible depth of industry experience; people who are coming out of roles in the MoD, GCHQ and corporate environments, who’ve spotted opportunities for technical solutions or products in the cyber space as the general public and businesses become more aware of its importance.
The second area would be immersive technology – so looking at the augmented and virtual reality worlds and seeing that evolve from being something that was considered part of the entertainment sector into things like training across health and safety, medical, and people being able to unlock another layer of value for their customer base.
And then, of course, there’s the whole consumer play about engaging with experiences and being able to access more than what’s just on the surface, from wherever you might be.
The third area is Internet of Things (IoT) – connected devices that link across cyber and immersive as well, helping people to track, measure and access things with really strong IoT technologies. For example, looking at air quality control for cities – and in a city like London that’s very topical – looking at road damage and potholes, and controlling the costs.
Technology that tracks where potholes are and the likelihood of them occurring will help take the pressure off local councils and allow them to make better use of resources. It’s all about creating opportunities for greater efficiency.