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British Airways CEO: Corporate accelerators need the startups that don’t want them

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Alex Cruz, CEO at British Airways, explores why corporate accelerators need to attract startups that don’t necessarily want them in order to maximise innovation.

As corporate leaders pat themselves on the back for launching accelerators to fast track innovation in their business, they may want to take a reality check.

Where is the real innovation happening? Is it with the startups in their accelerator? Or is it with startups that deliberately want to bypass them to create more effective disruption without being stifled by a corporate mind set and processes?

Could tech accelerators soon become a thing of the past?

Many companies think that by giving startups their data, that’s mission accomplished. True, data is a great thing, but many startups are already disrupting businesses without access to the stats.

Stifling innovation

Within the airline industry, there are examples of startups who have developed effective baggage location systems or flight tracking schemes that give passengers accurate real-time effective information. And they’ve achieved this without access to the airlines’ data.

British Airways’ parent company International Airlines Group recently launched its Hangar 51 accelerator programme. We’re determined not to fall into the trap of other corporates of resting on our laurels and thinking that, because of who we are, the most disruptive startups will be banging on our door.

There is technology out there that is going to screw our life up – and that’s exactly the technology that we want. If a startup’s objective is to steal our passengers then they are exactly who we want to attract.

But we’ve got to be careful. Many corporates stifle innovation as soon as the startups enter their inner sanctum. They are narrow minded and try to harness innovation to improve current business processes or find a new way of achieving the same goal. This overlooks the talent of genuinely disruptive startups. Corporates shouldn’t focus on how something can be done better but how it can be completely avoided.

For example, all aircraft will eventually have WiFi connectivity on board. This completely changes airlines’ operational and commercial thinking but also how they interact with passengers. Each passenger will have several IP addresses and that provides selling opportunities not only onboard but from the ground. The whole flying experience is going to be radically changed through access to high-speed data.

Harnessing potential

On the ground, should airlines be looking further ahead when it comes to local transport links around airports? Should British Airways have automated cars to pick you up from home? Should it do a trial or take leadership? The future is not just getting a taxi but bypassing taxis completely and using automated vehicles.

There are many startups aimed at enhancing passengers’ flight experience that don’t involve airlines or airports in their process. Their ultimate target isn’t IAG’s one hundred million annual passengers but the one billion passengers that fly each year. These are the startups that need our attention.

Corporates need to attract the startups that really don’t want them. To do this, they need to show that startups will have access to data and mentoring without being strangled by corporate bureaucracy and pre-conceived ideas. By joining them, startups will move faster, have better data and get to market faster.

The challenge to corporates is to give startups the freedom and expression they have already by being solo disrupters. Only then, will they harness the full potential of their accelerator programme.

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