Why Niche Accelerators Are The Future

How can a start-up business prioritise one from another with so many different accelerators to choose from? When there is equity up for grabs, it is important for entrepreneurs to be vigilant. So when you see an accelerator pop up in your local town – it may be a good idea to do some background research on the people and the companies involved, and to really question its r’aison d’être.

I pondered this question for many months as I toyed with the idea of building my own accelerator. I looked closely at the market and saw that it was reaching saturation point. Yet, everybody was still saying that this model was the future. I still very much agree – it is. Just the generalist accelerator model will no longer satisfy the entrepreneur’s hunger for niche expertise. It is fair to say that at one time, the tech sector could be defined as one sector. Not anymore. Tech is too general a term. In fact, some people say every business will soon be a tech business and that technology essentially will be the ever-present backbone – the conduit through which we acquire customers, deliver services, and engage with stakeholders. While the underlying technology becomes more commoditised, it is niche sector knowledge that will be the prized skill, particularly in industries that have been deeply entrenched in their ways, like property. This was my thinking when setting up my latest venture – Pi Labs (Pi stands for “Property Innovation”).

The future of the accelerator model is in offering niche expertise to early stage ventures that are breaking new ground in difficult-to-crack sectors. Property, in particular, is an old boy’s club – family links prevail, and you have to go ‘shooting’ together to create and sustain deep personal and business bonds. But what about the creatives looking to disrupt (and thereby advance) the sector who just don’t fit this mould?  These new entrants have no formal training in the sector but are bursting at the seams with new ideas.  They could be the future game changers of the industry, but only if mentored by the right people and connected strategically with the people sitting comfortably inside the ‘ivory towers” of the property industry.  Enabling cross-sectoral collaboration (property and technology in my example) at very senior levels is what can lead to transformational change in once-staid industries.  That’s where niche accelerators, in my view, can hold their own.

Y Combinator, TechStars and many more have been successful with running general accelerators. I believe there will still be a place for these accelerators – they may continue to help talented entrepreneurs and commercially minded people find a path and establish a career, but these companies were founded in 2005 and 2007 respectively. In this seven year period since, the speed of change in technology and what can be achieved has increased exponentially. To put it into perspective, 2007 saw the invention of the IPhone, 2008 saw the invention of Apple’s App Store and Facebook did not enter the Forbes 500 list until May 2013.

These three inventions alone have absolutely transformed the way we do business. In fact app making and marketing for Facebook have become entire industries in themselves. I believe that in the post iPhone and social media world (yes, for simplicity, I’m dividing the history of tech into two distinct chapters), every industry is being permeated by tech at unprecedented speeds, but some are proving more stubborn and complex than others.  In this new era, where the older more entrenched industries (like property) still stand largely untarnished, sector specific accelerators will be part of the answer. We have already seen this done to great success in the FinTech sector. I saw that the property world needed a similar programme, but one that was uniquely designed for the nuances of the sometimes difficult-to-navigate terrain of property.

This is why I set up Pi Labs – to help entrepreneurs innovate in this sector at a scale that can be truly impactful and commercially viable.