How a start-up factory works: meet the new model for innovation

Connecting corporates with start-ups, in order to increase innovation on one side and reduce the risk factor on the other, is a challenge many are taking up. We hear from Founders Factory, an organisation that believes it has found a solution to suit all parties...

Founders Factory, a Kensington based multi-sector digital accelerator and incubator co-founded by Brent Hoberman, Henry Lane-Fox and Jim Meyerle, think they’ve created the new model for starting businesses and driving innovation. They may just be right. 

Take the might of corporate giants, combine it with the world’s brightest entrepreneurs, add a healthy dose of expert in-house operational talent and top it off with a vast and expansive network of the biggest movers and shakers in modern business, and you’ve only scratched the surface of what’s happening at Founders Factory.

As the London start-up scene enters its adolescence, Founders Factory believe that their value proposition - their three pillars: the model, the talent and the network - puts them in a unique position with which to simultaneously combat the challenges of corporate innovation and mitigate the risk of start-up failure, whilst creating innovative products and services that the world needs.

But just how troublesome is this unlikely matrimony? Can start-ups and corporates really connect to create something more powerful than either could achieve alone, or is this one cross-breeding experiment that’s doomed to bare mutant offspring?

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"The value exchange between corporates and start-ups is hard to get right," co-founder and head of business development George Northcott [left] told me in their west London home. "A large company has huge assets in terms of access to customers, distribution, data insights and ultimately capital, whereas a start-up has new technology, an innovative business model and a unique culture, so bridging those two together and creating a value exchange can be incredibly powerful."

So it would seem.

Although still in its infancy, Founders Factory have already partnered with Aviva, L’Oreal, Holtzbrinck Macmillan and Guardian Media Group, who have signed exclusive deals in the fintech, beauty tech, edtech and media tech spaces respectively.

As part of each deal, Founders Factory and the corporate partner will invest in and scale five early stage start-ups and co-create two new companies from scratch every year.

One such company that Founders Factory have accelerated is Vidsy, a platform allowing brands to connect with mobile-first video content creators. 

"We’ve been working with Vidsy to transform their business from a pure agency model to a software platform where brands and creators can manage their briefs and video content from one place," George told me. "We’ve made connections for them with regards to marketing partnerships and distribution companies, and they’re doing some fascinating work with The Guardian that’s been changing how they think about their own video offering."

Read: How will artificial intelligence change the way we network?

Vidsy CEO Gerard Keeley has found the access to Founders Factory’s corporate partners to be an invaluable source of insight into how to work with, understand and sell to large companies. In the world of start-ups and venture capital, Founders Factory offers a potent unfair competitive advantage. 

"We are selling a B2B product to global brands, so understanding how to develop strong partnerships and sell to corporates was very important to us. What we’ve been able to do with Founders Factory is start talking to the right people in corporates from the start, cutting through the red tape and speeding things up."

The Founders brand is growing its roots deep into London’s start-up ecosystem. Since the inception of Founders Forum, a private network of entrepreneurs, CEOs and senior investors boasting the likes of Arianna Huffington (Huffington Post), Reid Hoffman (LinkedIn) and Richard Branson, the name continues to spread, and with it an inherent stamp of credibility.

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Founders Keepers specialises in executive search and recruitment, Founders Intelligence offers specialised digital consulting, Founders of the Future offers a grass-roots version of the Forum for young people, and Founders Pledge is a social movement encouraging the most successful entrepreneurs to donate two per cent of their wealth towards philanthropic causes.

The common denominator between the Founders family is simple: connecting world-class people with each other. 

In a world where technology is enabling consumers to prioritise access over ownership, Founders’ greatest asset is its access to the collective intelligence, resources and opportunities available through its vast human networks. 

Read: Unusual places to make business connections

"A lot of the best applications we get come from referrals from other entrepreneurs, and that’s where Brent’s network and Founders Forum really helps us," George told me. 

"It’s not enough just to have an entrepreneur with a good idea. [Starting a business] is a very hard thing to do and that’s why so many startups fail, so we’re trying to create the additional ingredients to enable that process to work more effectively. We’re trying to bring together a huge network of corporates and entrepreneurs with a dedicated operating team who are specialists in building businesses and technology, and we think that this can be the new model for innovation."

21st century innovation is predominantly technological, but it’s human connection that provides the catalyst for sustainable transformation. Founders Factory, and the rest of the Founders family, know it. Watch this space.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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