What Indian Startup Accelerators and Incubators Should Learn from the ‘La Masia’

This article is part of the series called Startup Hatch, about incubators and accelerators in the startup ecosystem.

I love startups and entrepreneurship as much as I do football and legends. A recent turn of events in the entrepreneurial space in India could have a strong takeaway from something that has been a phenomenon in football. And I couldn’t wait to pounce onto pointing it out. The co-relation is between the spawning growth of Accelerators & incubators and La Masia- the youth academy of Barcelona Football Club.

Proving Premise 1

To add to the few existing well known names like the Morpheus, iAccelerator and Startup Centre, many other have entered the accelerator fray. Rajesh Sawhney set up the India’s first multi-city accelerator- GSF, eCommerce veterans Pearl Uppal and Gaurav Kuchru have started 5ideas, Freemont Partners has been initiated by 3 IT veterans, and another incubator for the digital media space, Gemini has been setup in Mumbai. There are others like the promising Windows Accelerator, tlabs as well and don’t be surprised to hear a few more announcements very soon (a very encouraging sign). So, yes we have a new breed of enablers coming up.

Premise 2 

Now, how is all this related to La Masia? Firstly, what is it? La Masia is arguably the best youth academy in the world. Located near the Camp Nou in the Les Corts district of Barcelona, La Masia is almost a military like training school which takes in close to 200 players and turns them into world class footballers. The current Barcelona (and hence Spain’s) football team is proof of that. Here are some of the players that have been through the rigours of La Masia: Lionel Messi, Cesc Fabregas, Jeffren Suarez, Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez and Sergio Busquets (to name a few. Complete list here)

So, what is that the Accelerators Should Take Away? (Or what is it that the Startups should look for while selecting an Accelerator?)

1) The Philosophy

La Masia’s philosophy consists of the application of total football mixed with traditional Spanish one-touch play (tiqui-taka) – a beautiful principle. As it’s technical director, Pep Segura once said, “It is about creating one philosophy, one mentality, from the bottom of the club to the top.” Similarly, an accelerator or incubator should stand for something, it should have a motto or principle by which it can be recognized. Every accelerator will endorse the lean startup way and it’s only logical to do so but there should be something distinct that sets it apart. If an accelerator is able to associate it with something strong, it’s a different ballgame all together.

2) Scouting and Selecting

One of the most expensive academies in Europe, La Masia takes the selection procedure very seriously. It has a stature and a great name but it doesn’t wait for players to bubble up and pick from that. La Masia builds and polishes players. It employs a system in which 15 scouts are deployed in Catalonia, 15 in the rest of Spain and 10 scattered throughout the world to pick the best. Taking a cue, it doesn’t matter if you, as an accelerator take a higher stake but if the startups you pick are not even heard of before, the branding you’d get is immense. Also, the startups know that you discovered them, nurtured them and took them to the next level. So investing in scouting could definitely pay off in a big way.

3) Rigour

The La Masia is no child’s play even though kids from the age of 6-8 join the academy. 200 are selected from more than a 1,000 extremely talented boys and the rigours these kids are put through, set them a league apart. La Masia houses about 60 players: 10 in the farmhouse, and the rest in rooms of the adjacent stadium. This is a very important quality an accelerator or incubator should have. Staying far off, weekly meetings, leisurely attitude is of no use. In this fast paced world, the mentors and investors need to be behind the startups. All the startups need to stay together and collaborate to learn & improve. They might get deviated or get discouraged but a questioning, behind the back mentor will keep the startup going. So, if you’re selecting an accelerator, make sure the mentor list has some rough and tough people on it. And that it has a co-working space.

Globally, 500 startups and YCombinator have managed to create this and closer home, the Morpheus comes nearest having had managed to create a very active and buzzing ‘Morpheus Gang’ community. More such strong players will go a long way in helping the ecosystem and I believe there’s only one thing that will enable this: adding value to a startup. Not concentrating on getting them access to more funding or time; it is the value an accelerator adds that will count. If a startup feels it was helped even by some degree, the team will talk about the accelerator and the word would spread. There is nothing more that is required, it’s all about creating value.

It’s more than just about football, it’s more than just about making a living. Let’s accelerate!

Here’s a video about La Masia to revel in:

Jubin Mehta

Jubin Mehta

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