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Applications Open For TechStars London, Or Rather The “Barclays Accelerator”; Depressingly Corporate Or A Good Thing?

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LONDON, UK - 7 SEPTEMBER, 2015: Business people blur. People walking in rush hour. Business and modern life concept

Goodbye Techstars, hello Barclays! For better or worse, it seems corporates are taking over responsibility for running accelerators. Perhaps it was all part of the “exit strategy”.

Start-up founders dreaming of game-changing and “disruptive” tech, massive Venture Capital investment, and world domination – probably need not apply – but if FinTech’s your thing, and you have a great idea for a business and want to refine your offering with lots of mentorship, office space and freebies, take note.

Applications are now open for the latest Barclays Techstars Accelerator.

Techstars London appears to be unique amongst Techstars accelerator programs, as unlike Austin, Berlin, Boston and Boulder, Colorado, San Antonio (for Cloud only), Los Angeles (for Healthcare), New York and Seattle, Techstars London is now called the “Barclays Accelerator”.

Well, perhaps it was only a matter of time, but corporate accelerators are now “a thing”, (Microsoft Ventures, Wells Fargo Start-up Accelerator, Capital One Growth Labs etc. etc.) – it probably won’t be long before Barclays acquires the naming rights to the capital city and we all have to refer to it as “Barclays London”, so we may as well get used to it!

The programme runs from Jan 23rd until April 19th 2017, and applications are open until October 15th 2016, which gives you a little over 2 months to perfect the filling in of the application form, which asks every clichéd question you can think of about your start-up, from “what problem are you trying to solve?” to “How did you meet your co-founders”, to “Who is your competition – please provide URLs”, and also wants to know whether you are doing any business in North Korea, Iran, Syria, The Sudan or The Crimea.

So if you were planning a disruptive ballistic missile start-up or “Tinder for state Coups and Civil War”, think again!

According to the website (all decked out in Barclays Blue with a nice big blue Barclays logo just in case you were in any doubt about who is in charge of this programme), start-ups will benefit from “introductions and guidance from key decision makers at Barclays”, “mentoring from leading entrepreneurs and FinTech industry experts”, “up to £120,000 investment from Techstars”, lifetime membership of the alumni community and an opportunity to pitch to the “influential tech community”.

But only bother applying if you have “capability in machine learning, lending, digital banking solutions, trading, cyber security, data analytics, payments, cryptocurrency, insurance, wealth management and beyond!”

With the exception of the “beyond”, which could mean anything, (Airbnb for sub-prime mortgage lending, perhaps? An exciting insurance mis-selling app?), it’s clear that this is not an accelerator for anyone other than people who want to work in finance, trading, and, well, banking.

Welcome to the world of “disruptive”, bank sponsored, banking accelerators. Oh, the excitement. Wow-ee!

Of course, it’s easy to criticise and make fun, and in our view Barclays should actually be applauded for stepping up to the plate and creating an initiative that may attract people who wouldn’t have thought they stood a chance of working at a large corporate that pays well.

People with imagination, entrepreneurs and disruptive types who have the balls to experiment and try and go it alone. People who are building platforms that can make a significant difference to the way people handle their money.

Plus, there is an impressive list of mentors involved whose time is probably worth a lot and who are prepared to give some of it up to support the scheme. Andrew Mullinger, the co-founder of Funding Circle, Nishul Saperia, an early employee at Markit turned Angel Investor, James Layfield CEO of Central Working.

It’s just…it’s not very accelerator-y, is it? It doesn’t feel independent. Would Mark Zuckerberg have applied to this? Travis Kalanick? But this is London, and you know what, Taavet Hinrickius, founder of Transferwise, probably would have – or any other FinTech founder you care to mention.

If anyone’s to blame for the slightly self-fulfilling nature of this particular accelerator, where literally anything can’t happen, maybe it’s Techstars themselves. There’s nothing wrong with a Barclays accelerator per se, but a Barclays accelerator “powered by Techstars”?

Didn’t Techstars used to stand for disruption? For independence? For lean methodology, coding in your gran’s garage and skipping meals to “make it”. Barclays stands for a lot of things, some good, some not so good, but it doesn’t stand for any of those things.

It kind of feels like Techstars fell asleep at the wheel, or grew old and disillusioned and sold out a bit. We kind of thought they were cool. The kind of people who funded entrepreneurs who discovered new ways of doing stuff, made cool apps, and made us all think tech really mattered and could genuinely change stuff.

The Barclays accelerator is not going to “deliver” a Deliveroo, a What3Words, a “Double” dating app or a Lost My Name – by its very definition. If it produces successful start-ups that is genuinely great, but they probably won’t be start-ups for long, and they are unlikely to inspire a new generation of people who want to challenge the status quo.

Shame.

Something to think about, maybe, as you ride your Barclays Bike to your Barclays sponsored co-working space to work on your Barclays sponsored project at your Barclays Accelerator, before grabbing lunch at Pret, playing Nintendo with your Apple phone and returning to the flat you pay an extortionate amount of rent for, because you can’t afford to buy it – off of Santander.

Plus ca change, eh?

Oh yeah, Techstars, I remember you – didn’t you used to be cool? Now you probably don’t even car-pool when you Uber.

 

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