Drive with Belron, powered by investor and innovation partner L Marks, is back, launching a ten-week startup accelerator running from 30 April to 10 July 2018. Belron and L Marks will make available a fund of £200,000 to invest in winning startups. We spoke to Belron CIO, Nick Burton, to find out more about the accelerator and the types of applicants they are looking for.

Can you tell us briefly what prompted Belron to initiate this Accelerator? What’s its premise?  

Belron was looking to influence a change in mindset across its leadership group, and felt that running Drive would signal a real change. We hoped to spark a curiosity in what startups can offer, give leaders an opportunity to work with startups and see how they solve problems, and perhaps also find solutions that can make a real difference to our business. If I was using a cupcake analogy to describe the reasons for doing Drive, the cake would be mindset change, the icing would be a great solution that helps our business, and the cherry on top would be an investment that becomes valuable.

What kind of tech companies are you looking for from applicants? Both in terms of stage of their development, as well as area of tech…

Nick Burton (CIO) Belron

We are open to companies in almost any stage of development – as long as they have a working prototype of their product or solution. They can be from anywhere in the world. This year we are looking specifically for companies that can help us disrupt our ways of working using Artificial Intelligence, transform the vehicle body damage market, make our customer journey even better, and make working life easier for our people. For the first time this year we also have a wildcard category where we invite startups to surprise us with what their technology can do!

What will companies gain from being part of this accelerator? How have previous entrants benefited?

The most important thing a startup would gain is access to a multinational company that is very passionate about their product or service. And I mean that – we use passion as the key differentiator for our countries when selecting which startup that they will work with. This results in very engaged project teams, and great relationships as we work together to get a real pilot up and running in 10 weeks. It will help them prove and refine their technology, their sales pitch, their pricing, and get valuable and honest feedback on their business strategy from a friendly customer. Previous entrants have often received investment, which can be key for them, but also gained a customer and often also a group wide licensing agreement that makes it easy for them to do business with our different countries over time.

How did the relationship with L Marks come to fruition, and how do you work together? 

We discovered L Marks through the J Lab programme that John Lewis runs, and immediately were impressed with what they were doing, and how they were doing it. The model just felt right, and as we then began to discuss how a programme might work for Belron it became clear it could make a real difference while helping us with our purpose to solve people’s problems with real care. The team from L Marks help with the communication, startup outreach, logistics and practicalities of running a tailored programme, which is different every year due to the “known unknown” i.e. which Belron countries will take part and where will the startups be located. It’s a real partnership.

Do you feel corporate companies are doing enough to embrace innovation the way Belron are with this accelerator? If not, what would you say seem to be the hurdles to wider adoption? 

I personally think the barriers to doing something like this are practically speaking quite low. We were able to get our first programme launched in a matter of weeks. It requires courage, and clarity as to the purpose of the programme, and this is often where innovation initiatives can get bogged down in many companies. I’d really encourage other companies to get clear on what they are trying to achieve when supporting innovation and then to experiment with different approaches – there is no certain outcomes with these types of programmes, but if you don’t experiment you won’t learn.

When do entries close, and how should people apply?

Apply at before midnight on the 4th February 2018