Expert opinions, STARTUPS

Venture studios: New opportunities for startups and innovation teams

Venture studios and corporate accelerators are investment models aimed at supporting startups and innovative projects. They provide access to financial and expert resources, and business development assistance. There are several large companies in Russia with their own venture studios.

Rostec, Russia’s state-owned technology conglomerate, has established a venture studio to support investment ideas in their early stages of development. The studio is dedicated to creating new products; it takes a customer-centered approach and uses a proprietary algorithm for developing high-tech products.

Another example is state lender Sberbank, which has created a private innovation ecosystem. The company cooperates with large corporations as well as startups, providing them with access to advanced technologies and products of the venture capital industry. This approach promotes innovation and stimulates the national economy.

The TechnoSpark venture studio also helps new projects with funding or tech facilities for the development of their products.

Other venture studios established by major Russian companies include:

  • MTS Startup Hub, a comprehensive platform for technology projects, which includes an accelerator, a venture fund, a 5G testing center, and a venture studio. The studio can engage projects that are potentially of value to the MTS ecosystem users, proposed by MTS employees or any external entrepreneur.
  • Kaspersky Product Studio creates new digital products for the Kaspersky Lab portfolio, selecting ideas with high commercial and technological potential that are synergistic for the brand. The resulting product is introduced to the market either as one of Kaspersky Lab’s products or as the company’s spin-off.
  • LaunchPad is a startup studio by ADV Marketing Communications Group, one of Russia’s leading communications companies focused on AdTech, automating business processes, optimizing marketing, as well as AI for small and medium-sized businesses.

It is a common practice in Russia and beyond for venture studios to work with companies, products or ideas for a longer period than conventional accelerators usually do. Some studios even decide what kind of company they want to create and hire startup founders specifically for the project.  

In addition to attracting innovative projects and promising startups, venture studios as magnets for young professionals, and here is why:

  1. Opportunities to work with advanced technologies. Venture studios are highly involved in innovation and tech. Young professionals benefit from learning about advanced technologies, the latest tools and developments. They can boost their skills and stay ahead of conventional companies.
  2. Working with seasoned experts. Venture studios are populated with experienced professionals with extensive background in innovation, startups, and risk management. Young professionals can learn a great deal from their mentors, to grow as professionals and take their careers to new heights.
  3. Dynamic and creative environment. Venture studios offer a dynamic and creative environment where people are encouraged to experiment and think outside the box. Young professionals get a chance to showcase their creativity and offer fresh ideas. It is a nurturing environment for professional growth.
  4. Financial support for their own projects. Venture studios can offer young professionals funding for their own innovative projects so they can succeed as entrepreneurs.

Venture studios appeal to both startups and young talents as they offer unique learning opportunities, experience, and chances to work on one’s own ideas. All this boosts employer appeal among the ambitious youth who lean towards innovation.

Venture studios and corporate accelerators as new formats have had a significant impact on the innovative ecosystem in general. They contribute to developing innovation, supporting startups and attracting investment into promising projects. Venture studios also become magnets – and talent factories – for newcomers. Venture studios usually focus on creating new startups and developing innovative projects, which expands the innovative potential. Corporate accelerators, on the other hand, provide startups with access to resources, expert knowledge and corporate infrastructure to speed up their growth and development.

In the future, venture studios and corporate accelerators may become even more important as components of the innovative ecosystem. They will play key roles in attracting talented entrepreneurs, developers and innovative projects, as well as in creating an innovative culture inside corporations. Thanks to these tools, potential innovations will be selected and supported more effectively, which should increase the number of successful startups and innovative projects in general.

Furthermore, the future of venture studios is shaped by several prevailing trends:

1. Growing number of industry-focused studios.

Historically, venture studios have maintained an industry-agnostic approach, extending broad support across a diverse spectrum of startups. However, a recent development is the rise of industry accelerators concentrating on specific sectors like healthcare, financial technology, or sustainable development. These specialized accelerators furnish tailored mentorship, expertise in relevant subjects, and connections with industry luminaries, thereby enhancing the prospects of success for startups within those sectors.

2. Expansion of regional and niche accelerators.

In addition to industry accelerators, there is an increasing number of regional and niche accelerators. These programs are tailored to startups in specific geographic areas or niche markets. By comprehending the distinct challenges and opportunities within a particular region or market segment, these accelerators can offer customized assistance, connections, and funding opportunities aligned with the startup’s target audience.

3. Models of virtual and hybrid accelerators.

With advancements in digital technologies, an increasing number of venture studios are transitioning to hybrid models. Virtual accelerators enable startups to access resources and mentorship remotely, surmounting geographical barriers. While face-to-face networking remains valuable, the virtual model facilitates a more diverse pool of startups and mentors, broadening the impact and outreach of startup accelerators.

4. Expansion of offerings.

Initially, startup accelerators primarily focused on mentoring, funding, and networking. However, as the startup ecosystem evolves, accelerators are diversifying their services to offer more specialized support. This may encompass access to specialized facilities or laboratories, legal and intellectual property assistance, marketing and branding support, or even dedicated research and development resources.

5. Modifying the corporate venture studio model.

A recent trend in corporate incubators’ development implies a studio becoming independent from the company and allowing contractors to take control. This model expands the accelerator’s opportunities to seek partners and technologies.

Another trend involves creating intercorporate accelerators and joint venture studios that work with several corporations focused on implementing science and technology solutions. This format allows large companies to share the costs of supporting the innovation ecosystem and ensure efficient exchange of experiences and expertise.

There is also a possibility of emerging online venture studios for companies to pick the required venture companies in the industry. Sberbank’s SberUnity, a platform that offers an option to find the necessary corporate solution, is an initial stage of development but already a clear indication of the increasing trend for venture studio digitalization.

The trend towards integrating external solutions into corporate innovations is caused by several factors. First, external solutions provide companies with access to new technologies and expertise that would otherwise be unavailable internally. Second, such integration allows for reduced development costs and a faster introduction of innovative solutions. And finally, the process promotes diversity and flexibility in innovation through an access to different sources of ideas and approaches.

Importantly, successful cases of external solution and corporate innovation integration were observed in 2023, such as iSimpleLab that was chosen for introduction of the digital ruble, a landmark event for the company.

Also, VTB successfully conducted a pilot implementation of Smart Data Hub, a solution for advertising campaign analysis.

Efforts to integrate external solutions into corporate innovations could become a successful trend due to the demand for access to new technologies, lower costs, and a greater scope of various ideas.

Research and development (R&D) projects currently boast greater flexibility due to blending external and internal innovation. These trends allow to find the most optimal solutions for corporate problems without contradicting each other.

Choosing strategy for corporate innovation development depends on several factors:

  1. Company goals and strategy: internal projects would be preferable for a company that seeks complete control and integration of innovation into its ecosystem, while external partnerships would be more advantageous for a company that is looking for new ideas and accelerated growth. Interaction with external partners can cover the so-called blind spots that corporations fail to notice.
  2. Resources and competencies: companies that lack access to the necessary resources and competencies within their organization may choose to collaborate with external innovation partners.
  3. Risks and opportunities: different innovation strategies present their own risks and opportunities. Internal development may require large investments without guaranteeing success, while collaboration with external partners may provide access to new markets and technologies.

By Maxim Vozhagov, General Director, Opportunity Accelerator

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