Fireside Chat with Anneli Bartholdy, The Maersk Group – Key Ingredients in Corporate Innovation

In this Fireside chat, I meet with Anneli Bartholdy, Innovation Portfolio Manager at the Maersk Group, who Accelerace is collaborating with in our international accelerator program In the program Maersk is working with high-potential startups as way to create, develop and sustain new innovative businesses, and startups in the field of global trade, shipping and energy get a unique access to the large Maersk network and in-house expertise and know-how.

Get a deeper insight of corporate innovation in this fireside chat that touches upon areas such as culture, strategy, leadership and not the least what to measure.

3 things to consider when working with corporate entrepreneurship

Many larger companies today want to work with startups. This is very positive. But whatever it is they want to achieve, there are 3 important things they must consider.  

“We have worked with startups over the last 7 years, but didn’t really benefit from it, so now we’ve decided to focus on our own innovation department instead”. Hypothetically, this could be an interview with a CEO of a large company in 3 to 5 years. And that’s the conversation I fear the very most. Startups need corporates and corporates need startups. And the entire ecosystem needs close interaction between startups and established companies.

An increasing number of corporates have during the past few years begun to work systematically with startups. It’s very positive and for me, it’s a dream come true. Six years ago, I wrote a paper that Denmark would never succeed in building a strong ecosystem for startups unless the established companies were involved. Today many of them want to be a part of the startup ecosystem. That’s why we have a responsibility to keep up momentum and live up to their expectations by developing the right models for startups and larger companies to work together, so they can both gain value.

There are many different reasons for why big companies want to work with startups. They may be looking for new products, new ideas, new ways of self-innovation, CSR, training of employees and so on. But whatever it is they want to achieve, there are 3 important things they must consider.

#1:  Innovation is about volume
Everyone knows that 80 per cent. of all innovations are not successful. This means that they do not provide the expected return. Even the very best venture investors have not over a period of many years managed to change those statistics. Venture investors who work professionally with selecting innovative projects and startups have not succeeded in getting a higher hit rate. It‘s still about 80 per cent of all investment in the venture capital industry, which only returns the capital between 0 and 1 time. This means that they don’t even return the capital invested. So even if you work fulltime with selecting startups and innovations, it’s quite difficult to select the winners.

If 80 per cent do not provide a return, then 20 per cent should be a success. But that’s not the reality either. Looking at venture investors, 20 per cent of all investments are returned, however only between 1 and 3 per cent. are returning the investor’s capital 5 times. So the number of successes is actually much lower.

The problem with the 80/20 rule is that it often leads to very wrong conclusions. If the 80/20 rule applied, then one would expect that if you worked with 10 startups, then one would get 2 successful startups.  And if a corporate engages with startups, they just need to find 10 startups in order to get at least one success. And larger companies that attracts 100 startups per year would be quite well off.

This, however requires a few things. First and foremost, that the corporate company is capable of spotting and selecting successful startups i.e. “picking the winners”. Secondly that good startups are equally distributed in any batch. Both assumptions may prove to be false. As mentioned, even with the most trained eyes, it is difficult to identify the winners. And if you don’t actually do selection on a professional basis, the hit rate might be even lower.

When a venture investor makes investments, he or she typically views 1,000 cases to make just a few investments and of these, only between 1 and 3 per cent. will become large successes.

So in practice the success rate is below 1 percent. It’s actually much harder to raise money than to become an astronaut. So a large company that succeeds in attracting 100 startups will find that only 0.1 is successful. This is not a particularly good chance. And that requires a reasonably high quality of the 100 you see.

#2: Grab talent market share
Therefore, we must think differently. We must think in terms of market share i.e. how large a company’s share of startup talent is.  If you have a large market share, all things considered you will be expected to perform better than with a smaller market share.

However, the notion of market share is rarely in focus. Instead the quantity is. If you look at 100 startups in a market, in which there actually is 1 million, then you have a small market share and an even smaller chance for finding the most successful startups. I haven’t yet seen the company who measure their market share among startups.

But it’s a must.

It’s not easy to get a large market share. For five or ten years ago, startups would queue up if a large company announced that it was looking for startups in its field of business. However, reality has changed. The number of offers for startups in the form of investors, business angels, crowdfunding platforms, accelerators and other offerings have exploded in the recent years.

It is of course very positive since it gives startups more and better opportunities to get the help and the funding that matches their needs. But it also increases competition for the best startups. Therefore, it’s no longer enough to have a strong corporate brand. It doesn’t necessarily attract startups in the same way as serial entrepreneurs or highly branded accelerators like Y-Combinator etc. If a startup, for example, must choose between working with Elon Musk or a large company, they would most likely chose Elon Musk due to his status as being one of the world’s most admired founders among startups.

#3: Focus on the value delivered to startups
So the world is upside down. It’s increasingly startups who choose their partner and not the other way around – especially among the best startups. Therefore, corporates should also focus on the value they deliver to the startups. What is it exactly they offer startups? And what value? Is it access to a market, access to infrastructure, access to specific skills, access to channels, to funding or something else.

This part needs to be taken into consideration even more so than in the past, if one is to be chosen by the best, and not only by those who have no other options.

Fireside chat with Jonathan Løw

An increasing number of corporates have during the past few years begun to work systematically with startups. Six years ago, I wrote a paper that Denmark would never succeed in building a strong ecosystem for startups unless the established companies were involved. Today many of them want to learn from startups as a part of their corporate innovation strategy. It’s a very positive trend, however a trend which is also based upon a fear of being disrupted. In this fireside chat, I discuss the potential of corporate innovation together with our former colleague, serial entrepreneur, author and lecturer Jonathan Løw who also gives his views on disruption…

Do we need a Champions league for startups?

(A.C. Milan lifting the European Cup after winning the 2002–03 UEFA Champions League)

Imagine if we could gather the entire startup ecosystem of incubators, accelerators, business angels, VC’s and other key organizations to work on a common interest of growing startup talents. I believe this could leverage the startup ecosystem to a whole new level and support the development of startup talents in all levels of the food chain.

Let’s take a closer look at the world of football where the Champions League has been excellent at fostering European talents with an incentive structure that engages the entire football ecosystem from the smaller local clubs to the absolute top clubs like Barcelona, Read Madrid and Manchester United.

How Champions League foster talents efficiently
European football clubs have over the last 10 years won the World Championship for Clubs eight times. Before that the World Championships for Clubs was primarily dominated by Southern American clubs.

The last three World Cups for national teams have been won by European countries. This is a predominant role for one continent in the World Cup history where Europe and Southern America have usually taken the trophy interchangeably.

But why is Europe so dominant in football right now? Is it a coincident? I believe the success has a name: Champions League. In the middle of the 90’s UEFA introduced the group play format and the possibility that the best leagues in Europe could participate with more than one team per nation. Champions League is Big Business. By participating in Champions League alone means a gain of at least 20 million Euro. The winner of the tournament gains a 100 million Euro.

The way that money is distributed in Champions league means that smaller leagues like the Danish will have a larger share by their participation compared to larger leagues such as the English league.

At about the same time that Champions League was created, UEFA introduced their Solidarity system which means that clubs that have been part of the training of young players and talents, will benefit from the player’s success when the player is sold. The system is unique in a sense that the original club gets a share of 5 per cent of the transfer fee each time the player is sold. The 5 per cent is divided between the different clubs in which the player has been trained since he was 12 years old and the exact amount depends on how long the player has been part of the club. In other words, the shares are divided to the clubs that have had the largest costs for the player’s training and talent development.

A codependent ecosystem of talent development
Football is an ecosystem and has a food chain. There are many small and local clubs which typically focuses on training while the players are taking an interest in the sport as children. After this stage, there are clubs which are part of a national league, which attracts the most talented players to their academies and the like. In the next stage there are the larger international clubs in larger leagues. At the top stage there are the absolute top clubs like Barcelona, Read Madrid and Manchester United.

The whole philosophy in football is that the better training and work with talents that takes place in the first part of the food chain, the better are the chances of success in developing top players, which in effect increases the quality of the super-clubs at the top. This means to a certain degree that everybody in the system is co-dependent. Without a high quality of training and development throughout the food chain there wouldn’t be an elite – and the other way around. The interesting fact about European football is that there has been build an economical viable model to support this codependence.

When Champions League was created there were a lot of sceptics. Many thought that the system would be the death of the national leagues and that the system would mean that the winners would take it all. But history has proven this to be wrong. The quality of the national leagues has increased and the national leagues have been better financed and the quality of the individual players has grown enormously. The economic model of the Champions League and UEFA’s Solidarity system has had an enormous effect which have leveraged the quality of the entire ecosystem of European football.

How do we foster startup talents?
Today we are talking about ecosystems for startups. And many surveys are pointing at the importance of the quality of startup ecosystems to the development of startups. The ecosystem of startups is much alike the food chain in football. At the bottom of the food chain there are many institutions that works on fostering an interest in entrepreneurship among young people, where accelerators and other organizations takes over the more specialized part of the training unto the local and national investors and business angels who makes the first capital investment in startups. The international venture funds are equal to the super-clubs in the world of football and are in large part dependent of the activities that takes place in the lower parts of the food chain.

Where the world of football has managed to create a business model and an incentive structure for the entire ecosystem, we still haven’t gotten that far in the startup ecosystem. Perhaps we haven’t gotten to the full acknowledgment of the fact that the training in the bottom of the food chain is very crucial for the development of total amount of successful startup companies. We don’t have a Champions League or a Solidarity system that redistributed the gains in a smart way and provide all parts of the ecosystem an incentive to strive for excellence.

Champions League for startups
Imagine if we had a system like that. Just take a second to think about if we had a Champions League for startups that all organizations would which to be part of, and think if we could begin to systematically work on securing that a part of the gains that are created in the top would benefit organizations at all layers of the food chain.

In USA today we are witnessing early signs for a system like this e.g. where venture funds are actively financing accelerators like Y Combinator. Their motives are probably linked to the high quality of deal flow that is very valuable to them, and because they believe that the overall quality of the ecosystem is key to how well they are thriving. The same tendencies are not prevalent yet in Europe. Perhaps because the quality of European accelerators and other organization isn’t on the same level with that in the US. But you’ve got to ask yourself if Y Combinator had achieved their current level of success without someone believing in the model and had the guts to take the risk?

Cracking the code
Since we haven’t found a viable business model for the overall ecosystem in Europe it is all too often the countries’ governments and regions that are financing the lower levels of the ecosystem. On the short run it may be wise, but on the long run it doesn’t necessarily provide the best quality since the investments in the ecosystem to a large extend depend on the individual nation’s economic policy and governmental priorities.

Champions League has sought to give all clubs regardless of their size and place in the food chain a reason to invest, train and develop talents which in effect has risen the level of investments significantly. And successes will only lead to even bigger investments to stay at the top of the food chain.

Some might say that many organizations in the startup ecosystem already take equity which works in similar ways. Yes, it is possible to take an equity stake in the talented startups that organizations work with. It is correct in a certain sense. The problem with equity stakes are that they are being diluted over time. And not even the best accelerators in the world can do the math that proves that their equity model on the long run is profitable. In football this is easily solved by looking at who have incurred the most cost and reward those with what is equal to a non-dilutable stock. This stock will still be equal to the specific level of quality. The equity model also creates an incitement to foster own successes and a reluctance to help startups onto the next levels in the food chain. This means that many organizations tries to take a higher equity stake in startups which removes the incitement of the founder team. And this is not healthy.

I don’t believe that we can improve the European startup ecosystem before we can crack the code of how to create a business model and an incitement structure for all organizations in the ecosystem. But if we do, we’ll be able to create immediate and wide-reaching results that will benefit the startup ecosystem as a whole. The world of football exemplifies this where Europe in just 15-20 years has overtaken the rest of the world by a distance.

Will the new Scale-Up Denmark create billion dollar talents like Pernille Blume?


The Olympic Games in Rio ended this Sunday. Two weeks of amazing competitions, incredible athletes, world records and Olympic medals ended in a big show celebrating the motto of the Olympics – faster, stronger, higher.

I love watching the Olympics.

When the Danish swimmer Pernille Blume won the 50-meter freestyle and burst into tears when she realized she had won I found myself on the couch at 3 am in the morning with goose bumps all over and tears in my eyes. I love to see the emotions of the winners and I feel deeply with the ones that did not perform the way they hoped and I understand the sacrifices that all athletes have made for more than four years.

There is only one thing I love more: that is seeing startup founders succeed. See the dedication, attention to details and hard work turn into successful businesses. And especially I love seeing the founders of startups that against all odds makes it just like Pernille Blume did. It is a total similar emotional experience for me as watching the Olympic Games.

Denmark ended up winning 15 medals. That was more than we had hoped for. We set out to win 10 medals. On the overall ranking of nations, we ended up being number 28, but if we compare the number of medals per capita, we ended as number 5 in the world. That is totally amazing!

At the day the Olympics ended the regions of Denmark launched a new initiative under the headline Scale-Up Denmark. Scale-Up Denmark is about developing the next generation of startups with scalable business models. It is about finding startups and founder teams with potential that against all odds can turn their talent and dedication into great businesses. It is brought to live with the vision that we in Denmark are able to develop billion dollar companies – just like in US, Sweden, Israel etc. The vision that we can develop startups that will provide new solutions for the problems of tomorrow. And the vision that we can create the most interesting startup ecosystem in Europe – giving optimal conditions for Danish startups and attract foreign startups. It is our ambition that we can perform like we did in the Olympics on the global startup scene.

Our success in the Olympic Games has a name – Team Denmark. Without the ambitious law of Team Denmark passed by the parliament in 1985 we would probably not be able to be number 5 in the world.

The motto of Accelerace has always been to be for startups what Team Denmark is for top athletes. A company specialized in attracting, selecting, developing and financing promising startups and turn them into scalable businesses. A company specialized in seeing the talent where others do not and turning that talent into stars – against all odds. Accelerace is going to be the main driver in turning the regions ambition of Scale-Up Denmark into a reality and turning promising startups into scalable businesses.

The Law on Team Denmark was not destined to be success. There were many skeptics.
Can we pick the winners, can we select the sports with the biggest chances of success, what about the local clubs and what about the mass of athletes? These were some of the questions when the law was passed. With Scale-Up Denmark we will have a similar discussion and there is no guarantee of success.

Top athletes are highly specialized. Their body is fitted to the specific sports they are in – Michael Phelps, the 23 times gold medalist in swimming, has an arm span that is almost 10 cm longer than the average person with the same height. Simone Biles, 4 times gold medalist in gymnastics is only 145 cm tall. They practice differently depending on the sport, their equipment is different, they eat differently and so on.

Until now there has been a tendency to look at startups as a homogenous mass of founders with approximately the same skills and the same type of capital and training needs – even though we know there is a big difference between building a scalable tech startup and a scalable life science company. The big problem is however, that we have very little knowledge on how many different “sports” the startups represent.

With Scale-Up Denmark, Accelerace is taking a new approach trying to be specific and narrow. Trying to fit attract, select, practice and finance specific startups in different sectors. And trying to fit the development of the startups to their specific individual needs.

Usually accelerators run in batches with joined selection, one financial model and taking the batch of startups through approximately the same program. Accelerace will as one of the first accelerators apply a more individual model with continuous uptake that fits the timing of the startups and provide a customized program with focus on the specific needs of the startup both in length and content, an individual financial model and a specific group of mentors.

Our 15 medals at the Olympics in Rio would never have happened if it was not for the great effort of the individual athletes, the hard work at the local clubs and the support of sponsors etc. Scale-Up Denmark will never succeed without a similar ability to engage the entire startup ecosystem.

So my hope is that I will find myself on the couch at 3 am in the morning with tears in my eyes celebrating successful startups.

Fireside chat with Karim, CEO of Washa : Extreme Bootstrapping

Bootstrapping is one of the more popular forms of early financing for startups in Copenhagen. After the initial FFF capital (Family, Friends and Fools) is exhausted, startups usually arrive at the brink of so called”valley of death”. It is a stage in a startup development process, after the product MVP has been developed, but the commercialization has not been reached yet. It is not uncommon to see startups pivot multiple times before reaching a clear proof of business, and the process can easily take months. This is where bootstrapping skills often come into play.

If you think about bootstrapping, you have to think about Washa – a startup which became legendary for starting with a single washing machine in their apartment, and scaling out to become one of the most promising Danish startups. Hear Karim, the CEO of Washa, tell us how his team executed proof-of-business and got a strategic investor after 18 dry months of bootstrapping.

Check out what Washa is about here:

Fireside chat with Thor Angelo: from entrepreneur to investor

I met Thor Angelo for the first time, when he was still in LanguageWire, and was a part of the very first Accelerace rounds. Today he’s a Business Angel using his experience as entrepreneur to help startups like CodersTrust and Tutee with investment, selling, developing and setting up teams. If you’re a startup, you definitely want to watch this fireside chat to get some of his valuable advice – and if you’re just curious like me, I’m sure you will find it interesting to hear about his journey from being an entrepreneur to becoming an investor…

Building entrepreneurship communities – with Jasenko Hadzic

Startup communities are popping up everywhere from cities all over the world like New York, Seattle, Tel Aviv, London, Paris and of course Silicon Valley as the number 1 hotspot for startups. Cities across the country are eager to build or strengthen their startup communities. They recognize that entrepreneurs thrive when they live in a supportive environment. And when entrepreneurs thrive, so do their local economies. It’s a win-win.

In this fireside chat, I have invited Mr. Startup Community himself, Jasenko Hadzic to a chat about entrepreneurship ecosystems and what triggered the Danish startups to suddenly take the lead in a grass root initiative like #CPHFTW.

I hope you will find this talk as interesting as I did…

Small Scale Testing – a fireside chat with Jens Reimer Olesen @Ontame

I keep being impressed by many of the startups that we have been working with in Accelerace and Jens Reimer, founder of Graduateland and now Ontame is no exception.

A while ago, we had a very interesting talk about his experience in his new startup, Ontame with doing small scale testing before making key decisions. The topic is interesting since the whole idea behind lean startup methodology and the way we work in Accelerace is that a startup is a long series of experiments: first you formulate assumptions around your company, then you test them and figure out the pattern in this data and then you build the concept (or you find out that the assumption was basically wrong). One of the issues that we’re facing working with startups in Accelerace is “how do you design real life experiments?” In my opinion, it’s a result of asking the right questions and designing the right experiments.

Watch this talk to find out how Jens did and how he used the output for developing his business.

Building a team – a firesite chat with Steffen Frølund @Bownty

The other day, I had an interesting chat with the founder and CEO of Bownty, Steffen Frølund about how to build a team, when you are a startup.

The topic is super relevant because no matter how strong an idea you have, the fate of your startup ultimately rests on the shoulders of your team. After all, it could take only one weak member to bring down your entire business.

From an investor perspective, you also want to test the ability of the founder team to attract the really skilled people, since it’s an important indicator of whether you’re on to something or not. For example: Is there a sufficient amount of people who believe in the story of the business? And how good are you as a founder at convincing people that this is the next big thing?

I hope you will get inspired from this chat, which definitely brought thoughts to my mind…