“Accelerators” How a student wants to embed “pensions” in Britain’s start-ups

I’ve written before about Josh Collins, a student who’s managed to get a first in mechanical engineering without sitting his  A levels (it’s hard to do exams when you are homeless from 16-18.)

Josh sent me his thoughts on how we can instil an interest in workplace pensions into the leaders of tomorrow.

I haven’t edited Josh’s comments, the mentions to the Pension PlayPen are incidental, anyone wishing to help Josh in his endeavours to encourage young bosses to think pension, should contact me at henry.tapper@pensionplaypen.com so we can help him with his business plan.

If you’re reading this from the DWP or tPR or from a provider or a consultancy or if you are simply excited (as I am) that someone is taking his summer holiday  (Josh is now doing his Masters)  to promote pensions to his peers, GET IN TOUCH!

Note; the Pension PlayPen (trading as http://www.pensionplaypen.com) allows SMEs to assess  the workforce, establish a contribution framework, assess and select workplace pension offered to them and stage auto-enrolment. 


Start-up accelerators are a fairly new concept, with the first program (Seedcamp) being set up in England only in 2007. They are an incredibly popular way for smaller companies to lift themselves over the hurdle of focusing on developing their company while working part-time to pay their bills.

Several different payment methods are available, but usually the programs involve trading equity for support. The support that they offer can be financial, however the financial value is often seen to be quickly overshadowed by the non-financial opportunities that are available. Some companies are offered offices, or utilities, usually networking opportunities, and most notably: workshops and training. 

Gaining access to an accelerator can be competitive, and the number of available places is limited, however with the potential reported benefits it’s easy to understand why. Simon Jenner, CEO of Birmingham –based Oxygen Accelerator claims that it’s because: “You can do in three months what would take you 12 outside of an accelerator”. Cambridge University have found that accelerator programmes increase the “company survivorship” by 10-15% by the fifth year after exiting a programme. This competition is alleviated by restricting the amount of time available to be spent as part of an accelerator, with programmes lasting typically between three-twelve months.

There are several different kinds of accelerators available to start-ups, and of course the Pension PlayPen would benefit by adapting its approach depending on the accelerator.

While some accelerators are aimed at students and recent graduates and cater to a similar audience as NACUE (for example, the Manchester Entrepreneurs are looking at setting one up), others are more broadly focused and accommodate a wide range of company owners.

Each company has its own criteria which must be met before being considered, such as revenue generation, investment to date and current mile stones; some accelerators such as Oxygen in Birmingham also ask for a video to be submitted by the company founders explaining why they should be chosen. Different accelerators are more likely to be defined by the expertise in an industry, for example accelerators for health care, or accelerators for tech companies, however many of these also hold specific workshops for students which could be utilised using our current approach (i.e. offer temporary access to the dummy model to students who attend the workshops).

For the wider audience, it may be desirable to provide access to the Pension PlayPen to the accelerators themselves.

Some accelerators provide access to services such as accountants as part of their development programs, and similarly companies may appreciate the opportunity to attend workshops and advice sessions as part of the acceleration.

Ideally, it would be great to see these accelerators offering the entire package as part of their incubators (accelerators which cover all overheads temporarily from office space to utilities), however I can imagine that with this being an unfamiliar service those funding these programs may be reluctant to enter directly into a contract.

Instead I suggest that we focus on building the relationships between the Pension PlayPen and these schemes over the next year. The companies entering accelerators are typically quite small (< 30 employees), and so won’t need to auto-enrol their employees until October 2015 at the earliest. By focusing the next 12 months or so upon building the dialogue between the Pension PlayPen and the accelerators and developing a culture of pension education at accelerator level, we could see employers more likely to shop around once their staging dates approach.

Importantly, the entrepreneurial clique is largely about word of mouth and networking, and accelerators are a great example.

Mark Hales, a serial entrepreneur and key player in the Oxygen accelerator believes that the biggest benefit for start-ups is the opportunity to learn from others who have much more experience than has been available before: “When I took over a small business back in 1999, the best advice I could get was from the Business Link guy, who’d never run a business in his life and wasn’t able to offer that much help”.

The accelerator industry is also growing, with nearly 100 now operating throughout Europe. For these reasons, it’s likely that alumni from such schemes who have had the opportunity to develop their confidence around pensions will pique the interest of others and that some will ultimately go on to develop their own accelerators, passing on the culture of pension education.

Key players within the UK:

London FinTech:

Based in: London

Target industries: Tech

Funding available per start-up:  €15,000, plus €450,000 in partner services, plus mentoring and more in exchange for 8% equity.

London FinTech is part of Startupbootcamp, which is the biggest start-up accelerator in Europe according to Forbes. Partnered with MasterCard, Bank of Scotland, and Lloyds (among others) the selected start-ups work alongside 100+ mentors, partners, and investors to develop their companies before pitching their products to over 200 investors during a demo day. Alumni continue to receive support through the global support network.


Based in: London

Target industries: Digital and Tech

Funding available per start-up: €50,000 for 8-10% of the company, with reduced options available.

Successful applicants undertake a 12 month development program including monthly speakers and professional development sessions aimed at increasing the company’s competency in areas such as financing and HR. Start-ups are also given access to a large mentoring and professional network, and twice a year a taken for 4 weeks to America for meetings with companies including Google, and LinkedIn.


Based in: Nationwide

Target industries: Various

Funding available per start-up: N/A The accelerator classes are paid for upfront (starting at £1,100 depending on number of employees).

Funded by the BIS, GrowthAccelerator provides support and guidance for start-ups in exchange for a small initial fee. While the service isn’t as in-depth as the other accelerators, it seems to offer good value for money with the government investing in the development of the businesses involved.


Based in: Birmingham

Target industries: Various

Funding available per start-up: €7,000 per founder, up to €21,000, as well as €500,000 perks for each team in exchange for 8% equity.

Oxygen offer a 13 week incubation programme split into three phases including accommodation, mentoring, and business development sessions. It seems fairly easy to add “deals” to the Oxygen network, although I need to check that they are the kind of “deals” that we want to offer. Oxygen also offer chosen start-ups to attend “drop-in” and “expert” sessions where aspects such as HR and legal responsibilities are covered.


Based in: Cambridge

Target industries: The Internet of Things (Tech)

Funding available per start-up:  £5,000 per founder, to a maximum of £15,000 as well as support in exchange for 3-6% equity.

Springboard offer a 13 week mentor lead programme which provides seed capital, over $150,000 of free services and one to one support from experienced entrepreneurs. The programme ends with an investor day where start-ups have the opportunity to pitch their proposals to an audience of investors. An alumni network has also been developed.

While accelerators are predominantly tech orientated at the moment, a wider demographic is emerging. Oxygen for example, who were primarily tech are now open to promising companies from other areas. It’s likely that the scene will develop in a similar way to the US accelerators which now incorporate all aspects from retail to accountants. 

Pension PlayPen could work alongside these schemes in several ways:

By offering support as part of their “deals”

By holding workshops

By offering 1-1 advice sessions

The approach could see Pension PlayPen instilling a culture of pension education and confidence amongst employers in the early stages, a culture which could become further engrained into the company’s infrastructure as they develop.

The approach could also increase the dialogue around pensions and make shopping around for schemes a much more everyday scheme. Once schemes are set up, employers are unlikely to change their providers, by helping employers to make strong choices early on, Pension PlayPen could help employers to make the most of auto-enrolment for the benefit of all involved.

About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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