Entrepreneurs have traditionally looked for five things from their investors: capital, customers, product development, hiring and, eventually, an exit. Getting customer feedback as quickly as possible has been well-understood thanks to professor Steve Blank and author Eric Ries’s work at the start of the past decade and built into the National Science Foundation’s i-corps platform. But making it a reality is still challenging.

Accenture Ventures, the corporate venturing unit of management consultancy Accenture, has now taken as its own selling point to these entrepreneurs the opportunities to network with its own corporate customers and explore mutual innovation and partnership needs. It is a model taken and applied by others, such as Intel, Qualcomm and Microsoft in the US and ramped up by Xiaomi, Tencent, Alibaba and Baidu in China thanks to the cultural value ascribed to guanxi, and the vast majority of corporate venturers offer value-added support (see last year’s survey chart below and take this year’s one here).

Accenture’s programme, Project Spotlight, offers engagement and investment to emerging technology software startups to help fill strategic innovation gaps for the 2,000 main global corporations.

Startups will work with Accenture at its innovation hubs, labs and studios to adapt their solutions to the enterprise market and try and scale faster and more effectively.

Accenture said it invested in and formed a strategic alliance with SkyHive, a Canada-based work placement services company that has been part of Project Spotlight since March. In addition to collaborative R&D activities, Accenture’s talent and organisation/human potential practice and SkyHive have since supported dozens of client use cases related to pandemic response to their workforces.

Sean Hinton, founder and CEO of SkyHive, said in a statement: “This relationship has opened up new opportunities and dramatically accelerated both the speed and quality in which we go-to-market.”

In addition to SkyHive, other startups currently in the program include Synadia, a provider of secure communications technology for digital systems that Accenture Ventures invested in in July, and InCountry, a data residency-as-a-service platform provider Accenture Ventures invested in last month.

The challenge will be achieving the support at scale.

Q&A with Tom Lounibos, head of Accenture Ventures

Project Spotlight seems to offer a crucial value-add to entrepreneurs of customers (or at least feedback). How does Accenture Ventures select the entrepreneurs and customers beyond the core areas of closing the skills gap, data sovereignty, the future of work, edge systems at scale and predictive systems – i.e. any factors to decide e.g. D&I, revenue so far, etc.?

Our goal with Project Spotlight is to help fill strategic innovation gaps for our clients by engaging with the global emerging technology community differently. Our approach is market driven. We start by looking at the top challenges our clients are facing today and then we begin to look for and qualify emerging, early-stage startups that have the best potential to fill important whitespaces.

Is it offered after investment and any warrants or options granted if milestones are achieved?

For our portfolio companies, Project Spotlight starts at our very first meeting where we bring our industry, domain and go-to-market experts and our scientist and engineers to the table. That is Accenture’s unique value proposition. We have thousands of people with deep domain experience that is hugely valuable to the emerging technology startups to help them understand their own product-market fit. Investment comes after we have fully Spotlight certified these solutions for our clients.

Does Accenture charge its customers to give feedback on the startups?

No, the goal of Project Spotlight is to more effectively curate startups. To identify the best solutions for our clients, we use our extensive assets including our R&D Labs and our global network of domain experts. I also bring my experience as a six-time Silicon Valley entrepreneur and CEO to the evaluation process.

Accenture’s main goal seems to be to generate its own market insights to then consult and advise on tech needs for a broader swathe of corporations. Is this the case and, if so, how does it avoid conflicts of interest or proprietary information leakage?

The startup community has historically been ruled by a two-party system: the entrepreneurs and their investors. Boardroom discussions between these two parties have long focused on product-market fit, which can take years to pinpoint and refine. To fast-track this process, Project Spotlight introduces a third party to the system – the market.

Accenture has deep market experience from working extensively with the Global 2000, so we’re perfectly positioned to provide this perspective. Through Project Spotlight, we’ll be teaming with select early-stage startups, working with them at the engineer-to-engineer level at our Labs, Innovation Hubs and Liquid Studios to help them to quickly refine and adapt their product to the enterprise market. We then bring them into our client engagements — just as we would with our other, more mature technology business partners.