Adrian Peter Tse
Jun 9, 2015

Accelerators provide big brands with innovation halo, maybe more

HONG KONG - Peter Dingle, director of innovation accelerators at Nest, talked to Campaign Asia-Pacific about the venture-capital firm’s accelerator initiatives with big brands including DBS, AIA, and now automaker Infiniti.

AIA's health innovation accelerator with Nest
AIA's health innovation accelerator with Nest

Giants fall harder, large corporations have more to lose and the future is a quiet enemy waiting for big brands to stagnate or misstep. That's the rationale many big brands have stated for taking part in startup accelerators. 

As Dingle puts it, even strongly profitable brands such as AIA need innovation in order to continue to own their strong positions.

“AIA doesn’t have good insight into future technology and what might knock them off their position,” said Dingle. “And because they have this gap they need to work more like a startup.”

In other words, he added, AIA is on the lookout for disruptive technologies that could change the local market dynamics. 

However, when pressed to elaborate on how an accelerator helps a brand like AIA beyond the halo effect of being involved with innovation, Dingle responded: “Don’t play down the association with innovation."

He then added, "Companies like AIA are loaded with resources, and they’re not investing in accelerators or startups to make money. It’s about creating a culture of innovation. Making money from a startup is a long-term play that takes five to eight years.”

However, Dingle believes that since AIA has identified a gap, it has begun implementing "LEAN, Agile and human-centred design thinking" from the startup world.

Concluding last week, the AIA accelerator with Nest concentrated on startup ideas in the healthcare sector. The initiative received 76 applications from 17 countries. Participants included “established revenue-earning businesses”, newcomers with ideas and entrepreneurs with proven track records.

Nest’s involvement included performing due diligence to ensure the submitting companies or individuals owned the ideas. After a series of phone interviews and a 'Super Saturday' showcase where 25 companies pitched to Nest, major sponsors and specialists in the health sector, eight of the most promising startups made it to the final round.


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The health accelerator culminated at PMQ in Hong Kong last week when these eight startups made final presentations to a crowd of some 200 investors.  

“It’s like a match-making event," Dingle said. "Startups have a problem to solve, present their solution, and the best founders go with that idea and make it happen. But it’s not just about these startups gaining venture capital from investors, it’s about the expertise and intellectual resources investors can bring to a startup to ultimately make the startup more successful.”

The startups featured in the AIA accelerator sound impressive. For example, Prenetics claims to use pharmacogenomics to analyze peoples’ DNA to determine the proper doses of drugs, including those that are ineffective or cause unacceptable side effects. Another called Heartisans wants to use data analytics and machine learning to enable people to predict heart attacks.

“This could save so many lives," Dingle said. "Imagine if you could receive a 10-minute warning about an impending cardiac arrest on your Apple Watch,” said Dingle. According to Dingle some of the startups from the AIA accelerator are already in discussion with investors.

Meanwhile, Nest has just announced a new accelerator with carmaker Infiniti, whose global headquarters is in Hong Kong. The initiative includes a 12-week accelerator program that aims to unearth ideas in the areas of smart cities, hardware, manufacturing, transportation, technology and entrepreneurship.

 

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