Niche accelerators are a growing trend in the
Spanish entrepreneurial ecosystem. They are associations focused on the development of proposals related to a specific sector. They usually have the support of a private company, an educational center or a public body to promote companies with innovative projects in a specific industry. "They are focused on providing support to entrepreneurs whose value proposition is close to the verticals of a specific business," says Nacho Ormeño, CEO of Startupxplore, an investment platform for companies with high growth potential.
There are already several niche accelerators that have established entrepreneurial roots in the Spanish startup ecosystem. According to data from Startupxplore, in our country there are some 628 private accelerators, a hundred incubators and another 50 public management incubators/accelerators.
Within these figures are the most general and specialized organizations. While the generalists give entrepreneurship a bath and try to help startups avoid mistakes, the niche ones are focused on the area in which the company develops its activity.
«The degree of specialization they have is the differentiating factor. And on many occasions, these niche accelerators are sponsored by a large corporation that can help the entrepreneur to open lines of business in that company," says Ormeño. In this way, private companies have found in these acceleration programs a branch to promote innovation within their sector and, in the event that it is an innovative startup that creates value, there is a possibility that it will end up being part of the corporation promoting the accelerator.
An example is the acceleration program of the Cuatrecasas law firm. Born in 2016, Cuatrecasas Acelera has supported more than 38 startups that have proposed innovative ideas in the legal sector. "The objective is to bring technologies, new business models and disruptive solutions closer to the firm that allow lawyers from different practices to acquire technological-legal knowledge when working with these cutting-edge projects," says Alba Molina, innovation project manager at Cuatrecasas.
Bigle Legal and Closd are two of the startups that have participated in the program. Bigle Legal is a company focused on document automation that participated in the first edition of the program and with which Cuatrecasas continues to work, while Closd is a French company that offers a transaction management solution. Closd, recently acquired by Lexis Nexis, also received an investment from Cuatrecasas Ventures, a company with which the law firm continues to accompany some of the startups that go through the program. "Cuatrecasas Acelera pursues strategic and cultural objectives, not financial ones, which is why it is 'equity free', and therefore we do not enter the capital of the startup", comments Molina.
These types of programs exist in various companies and industries. The Mahou-San Miguel group has the Barlab acceleration program, which promotes innovation in the hospitality sector; Prosegur has the Come IN program, which seeks innovative solutions in the field of security; o The Santalucía Group has Santalucía Impulsa, which supports projects related to the transformation of the insurance market.
The Basque Culinary Center educational center has, for example, since 2014 Culinary Action! its entrepreneurship program for entrepreneurs looking to have an impact in the gastronomic sector and which has already supported 75 startups. Meanwhile, from the public side, the National Security Institute has had the Cybersecurity Ventures program since 2015, which has accelerated more than 35 startups, or is also
the European Space Agency Business Incubation Center to accelerate projects related to the aerospace industry.
“A niche accelerator provides food companies with industry-specific knowledge that a generalist accelerator is more difficult to provide. It also gives them access to connections within the sector that allow them to boost their business," says Beatriz Jacoste, director of KM ZERO Food Innovation Hub, a food innovation think tank that was created in 2018 in Valencia with the aim of supporting the transformation towards a more sustainable food system.
In Jacoste's opinion, this type of niche program helps companies in a certain industry to be in the discussion forums where they should be, in addition to getting specific and strategic advice to scale their production. “A generalist accelerator doesn't have the knowledge to be able to provide it,” he says.
For Ormeño, from Startupexplore, the great growth that these niche accelerators have had in recent years demonstrates the plurality of actors in the Spanish entrepreneurial ecosystem whose mission is to make projects evolve. In this regard, both general and niche companies go hand in hand with the shared goal of promoting Spanish startups. "It is a sign of maturity that shows how this ecosystem is growing," says the expert.
KM ZERO Venturing is looking for ten projects that provide solutions to the challenges of the food sector. These are sustainability, digitization, creating new proteins, and health and wellness. Until June 1, entrepreneurs with proposals related to this industry can participate in this program that offers them an opportunity to scale their business with investment, in addition to other resources such as contacts within the industry and mentoring from experts from around the world. "The food system is undergoing a transition towards a more sustainable, healthy and accessible system and we want to contribute by leading this change collaboratively," says Beatriz Jacoste, director of the KM ZERO Food Innovation Hub.