On the up · 11 April 2017

Accelerator London’s Toby Kress: “It’s important founding teams share a vision”

Toby_Kress
Toby Kress was previously a director at CultureLabel

Based in Shoreditch in the heart of London’s digital media community, Accelerator London is a startup incubator gaining notoriety for housing London Metropolitan University’s enterprise programmes.

Business Advice met head of the organisation, Toby Kress, to find out more about the types of startup using the incubator as a launching pad.

(1) Who are you and what’s your business?

I’m Toby Kress, head of Accelerator London – a business accelerator for startups and home to London Metropolitan University’s student enterprise programmes.

(2) How long have you been around for?

I’ve held this position for three years. Previously I was a director at CultureLabel, a tech startup bringing together the best products and art from museum gift shops and cultural organisations around the world, and before that I co-founded a company called Groop Gifts.

I’ve always enjoyed working with creative people, and my first career after graduating was managing museums and art galleries in London and New York. Now, I’m inspired by the creativity of entrepreneurs and the innovation in the tech sector.

(3) How do you make money? 

Interestingly, our business model isn’t set up to make a profit – even though we spend all day helping other companies to improve their bottom line. We are part of London Metropolitan University, whose focus is on helping graduates create fulfilling careers, and for many that means following their dream of being their own boss.

(4) What makes you different and why should people take notice?

Accelerator was the first incubator for startups in Shoreditch. We’ve been doing this for 12 years and seen some incredible startups turn into scale ups and beyond, such as TweetPhoto and CloudIQ.

However, what really differentiates us is the model of harnessing the power of successful startups to help the next generation of student entrepreneurs get started.

Our mission has always been to support innovation and help graduates turn startups into successful companies. It’s so powerful for students to be able to tap into the amazing network at Accelerator London. And for entrepreneurs it’s rewarding giving back to young people taking their first steps in business.

(5) What was key in terms of getting started?

The best advice I can offer any budding entrepreneurs is to be action focused. We see people spend months or even years “perfecting” an idea, and by the time they go to market they have run out of money and energy and things fall apart.

(6) What’s your biggest achievement to date?

One of the projects I’m most proud of at the moment is our pitching competition for young people, the Big Idea Challenge. We’ve been running this at university level for many years but last year for the first time we expanded it to college students and now have 17 colleges competing.

We’ve been lucky enough to work with amazing companies like NatWest and Microsoft who have really got behind the competition and have supported the young people involved.

Big_Idea_Challenge
Big Idea Challenge is the new pitching event for young company founders

(7) What setbacks have you had along the way?

We work in a high risk industry, and even for the best teams the odds are stacked against them. The hardest thing for me is seeing incredibly smart and dedicated entrepreneurs doing everything they can and it still not working out, which happens sometimes. On top of having a great idea and a great team you also need the timing to be right.

The upside is that the founders of companies that don’t make it have learned so much on their journey that they instantly get snapped up for incredible jobs or they put that learning into a new idea and try all over again.

(8) In five years’ time, I will be…

Rolling the dice again with my own startup.

(9) What one tip would you give to others starting out?

Find good people to work with and have honest conversations early on about what you all want to get out of the experience.

Some people want to slowly build a company that they will manage for the next 20 years. Others want to grow fast and sell in five years. There is no right way, but it’s important that the founding team share a vision.

(10) Who are your business heroes and why?

Since joining Accelerator London I’ve had the chance to work with over 100 company founders. It sounds clichéd, but seeing close up how driven they are and the sacrifices they make it’s hard not to admire each and every one of them.

Occasionally you come across someone with an edge about them and just know they are going to make it. Those are the people that I’m excited to work with.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Fred Heritage is deputy editor at Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and international relations from the University of Kent and an MA in international conflict from Kings College London. He previously worked as a reporter at Global Trade Review magazine.

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