Articles and studies on accelerators argue the peer support as a key feature of accelerators and a powerful mechanism in supporting young ventures. What is peer support? Why does it matter? How does it work? Based on our experiences as a program manager of xEdu edtech accelerator and as a researcher focusing on young and new ventures, we try to illuminate the power of peer support with this post.
What is Peer Support?
The startups benefit from the peer support in the accelerator at two levels: 1) through other startups joining the same cohort and 2) through the alumni community i.e. the startups, which have been in the previous batches. The accelerator is a hub bringing together all the startups and both planned and unplanned encounters may lead to unexpected ways of collaboration.
The sector specificity influences the nature of the peer support. xEdu is categorized as a sector-specific accelerator since it purely focuses on the Education business domain. Many of the xEdu startups have joined other accelerators/incubators before, parallel or after the program. There seems to be a significant difference in peer support activities between sector specific and non-sector specific accelerators:
“the value for the accelerator comes through the industry specificity… in another accelerator we just said ´hello´ to the other startups there was no point for looking for synergies..here we are at the heart of the Finnish EdTech ecosystem”
A strong peer community provides a basis for the potential collaboration activities both locally and internationally. The background of the entrepreneurs is versatile and the startups learn from each other through sharing. Since xEdu facilitates already an international community of startups by having alumni from 8 countries, the peer support means expanding international networks as well.
Why Does it Matter?
The life of startup entrepreneurs is full of uncertainty. One needs to believe in the idea, the vision and the team. Other startups are important role models, who help in that crucial confidence building. Success stories and role models are powerful.
“like it is role modelling to some extent… different aspects of what they did that I could look up to and yeah because they are your peer group it still feels accessible “
“under the surface we share the same problems and feel the same uncertainty”
Sharing experiences and asking for advice are the usual forms of everyday peer support. The startups may also support each other e.g. recommending new team members when somebody is hiring or introducing leads.
”This is a remarkable community like you always find those links so there is no need for cold calls here and there but usually you always have somebody who says I will introduce you to that person and it helps further”
A typical example of collaboration is to share a booth in an exhibition. Or a form of collaboration may be inviting other startups to piloting events, sub-contracting, offering physical premises… you name it, only the sky is limit.
Some of the xEdu Spring '18 Program's Peer Activities
How Does it Work?
Within the cohort, the peer support happens through an intensive program of training modules whereas in the alumni community the peer support is mainly facilitated through the events and increasingly through the social media channels. xEdu has also put more effort into systemizing the alumni activities.
When speaking about peer support, it is good to remember the unplanned and unstructured encounters. They take place especially among in-house startups but among others as well. To sum up, the accelerator is a facilitator. It enables the startups to take giant leaps. It seems, the more active and open-minded attitude, the higher probability to truly benefit from the peer community.
The role of xEdu accelerator as an enabler for the peer support is central. It starts by a considered selection of startups, the role of the accelerator is a match-maker. Furthermore, xEdu aims to foster team spirit among the companies in the same batch. Thus, there are regular social events targeted towards the team building activities at the beginning of each batch. Moreover, xEdu organizes social events for the entire alumni community.
The activity of the startups also plays a big role. The startups in the cohort are encouraged to interact and share outside of the planned activities. Real friendships develop between the peers. The atmosphere of openness and support is showing at pitching events and fairs.
If you're considering to apply for acceleration or incubation program for your startup you may want to check this guide on how to choose a suitable program. Also, read how to make the most out of the acceleration program and apply for xEdu Acceleration Program! The application will be open until 8 August.
Anette Kairikko is a senior lecturer at the Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences and PhD Candidate at the Westminster Business School. She is currently doing research on startups in the accelerator context.
Anna Dementyeva is the Program Manager of xEdu.