Fewer Accelerators, More Co-Creators

Broadly speaking, before the myriad of startups, who are now creating specific AI solutions in the mobility space, there was Tesla. Before Tesla came Google. Before Google came DARPA’s autonomous vehicle challenge.

Now, if you had a potential “disruptive” experiment, technology or idea for autonomous vehicles fifteen years ago, when there wasn’t a willing market, when technology had not been validated – then chances are the 3-month accelerator or incubator model would a) not been right for you and b) without traction or the right market timing – no incubator or accelerator would have given you a second look.


Because, the goal of most incubators or accelerators, given the short time frame of three months, is to help you get to the “next significant step”. Disruptive experiments, however, are not about fast-innovation to meet the next growth or investor milestone. Rather what they need is purposeful co-creation with a whole ecosystem.

First, let’s define disruptive from our perspective – they are those solutions which operate at the intersection of fundamental inefficiencies, creating new relationships and new operating models. Autonomous vehicles, as a ‘disruptive’ example, addresses all three. They have the potential to address fundamental inefficiency of my car which is 99% idle on any given day, they foster potentially new relationships where rather than buying a car from a manufacturer I can summon a car at the point of need, and a new operating model of subscriptions instead of down-payments.

Second, to support potential ‘disruptive’ solutions, we believe that we need to design and test alternative support models such as the co-creator model.

Co-Creator Model:

We have come to the realization that an ideal co-creator model is built with the best of incubators, best of venture-client models, and best of startup studios.

We have identified that we need a one-year co-creator program, which addresses four problems of experimenters/founders:

Problem 1: The mentor-driven model is a black box for most startups.

What’s Needed: Outcomes-Based Programming

Having walked the talk with many founders, we believe they need a set of programs to attain five strategic outcomes. This list comprises product, team, funding, customers and pivot. Focusing on outcomes makes it easier for experimenters/startups to find the right individuals across the ecosystem to help them reach their goals.

For example, instead of recruiting C-Suite level for the role of mentors or advisors, ask the startup to frame the outcome as ‘Get your first customers’ where the latter can get actual and committed procurement orders. The executives’ job then becomes clearer in framing how to accelerate the internal work processes so that the C-Suite level actually becomes the first customer. This aspect of our co-creator model is inspired by the venture-client model.

Our operating model for outcomes-based programming: Over 60 days, 16+ hours of a one-on-one twice a week, 20+ hours of co-working, 5+ introductions, and up to $100K in procurement orders (for the ‘Get your first scalable customer group’ program).

Problem 2: Most startups spend way too long raising funds (up to 12 months) and end up using that funding for new hires (taking another three to six months).

What’s Needed: Virtual Team (Build Capacity)

Instead of accepting this current default scenario, we follow the path taken by more and more venture capitalists. We will provide an extended team, who co-creates with each experimenter.

Our operating model: Over 16+ hours per month in 30-day sprints. These pre-vetted virtual team members could be designers, developers, marketers, lawyers, coaches, or corporate executives who could serve the experimenters but only at the actual point where they need a particular service. The extended-team brings critical expertise to co-create with startups, run the right experiments, get things done, and plug critical gaps in their core-team. Without hitting the age old bottlenecks such as funding and hiring.

Problem 3: Most startup founders think they are fast, feel that they are aiming big and being disruptive. The reality is they probably are, but only within their local context. 

What’s Needed: Experiences

This is where the mindset shifts really need to happen. By leveraging the value of international ecosystems such as unconferences in Silicon Valley, courses in analytics’ at Harvard, site visits to study 3D manufacturing innovation in Shenzhen and engaging with the X-labs at corporates – we hope to customise certain valuable and hands-on experiences against each experimenter/founder, which will put them on a different trajectory to growth. These macro and micro-experiences are designed in a manner to really stretch their thinking and actions and way more powerful than providing value only through programs.

Problem 4: There is no shortage of networking opportunities. But very few of these opportunities are designed to build relationships. Which in turn translate into value.

What’s Needed: Relationships

Besides running fireside chats and founders’ dinners where relationships are a key design element, we are also investing in finding and bringing on board Head of Ecosystems from different regions of the world. Such individuals have deep connections to governments, corporates and startups. These people are critical to ensuring that the experimenters/founders form real relationships with the 50+ C Suite level from around the world. So that long after they leave the program, these relationships will continue to bear fruit. Ultimately, long after the intervention or program has concluded, it is the depth and breadth of relationships, which ensure continued impact.

Dosage of Humility

Is this to say we have the perfect model for all types of startups? No.

Of course, existing incubators and accelerators do serve a purpose – to solve for today. However, we need to design and experiment with different models in the pursuit of a significantly better tomorrow.

About AREA 2071

AREA 2071 is an ecosystem to design the future that includes government, creative individuals, innovative companies, and people from all walks of life.

Together, this community imagines and creates solutions to the world’s most pressing questions, especially those posed by new technologies and disruptions to society. To design a future that benefits humanity, we need to challenge existing assumptions and create fresh social and economic models. That’s what AREA 2071 is designed to do.

AREA 2071 was launched in 22 May 2017 by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai to become the experimental nucleus of a new model extending across the UAE to shape its future, while giving hope to the MENA region and the world.

The name AREA 2071 originates from the UAE Centennial Plan 2071, the naming of which signifies 100 years since the formation of the United Arab Emirates. Through its vision and objectives, UAE Centennial Plan 2071 seeks to invest primarily in youth and to work for UAE to be the best nation in the world by 2071.