Inside university accelerators: MDXcelerator Programme, at Middlesex University’s Dubai campus
Commercial accelerators move over: there are some new faces emerging. Increasing numbers of universities are choosing to set up accelerator programmes to help their students access knowledge and ideas about starting up businesses — and to enable Business School staff to use their experience to help their students through practical learning.
Around the world, there are increasing numbers of university-based accelerators. The most obvious candidates, such as MIT, Harvard and Stanford, have been supplemented by accelerators at a number of European universities and beyond. This article looks at MDXcelerator, the accelerator at Middlesex University Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates.
Aims and ambitions
Middlesex University Dubai has close links to its parent university, Middlesex University, as well as its own thriving identity. It has grown by over 50% in the last four years and now hosts over 3000 students. Its accelerator programme, MDXcelerator, was set up in January 2020. There is a similar programme at the parent university in the UK, but the two are not linked.
MDXcelerator’s aim is simple: to support innovation and entrepreneurship. However, its vision is ambitious, because it wishes to be the preferred entrepreneurship accelerator program in Dubai. It plans to achieve this through the quality of the programme, and by the opportunities that it will offer to participants to accelerate their business by working with the accelerator’s network of partners.
It is open to both undergraduates and postgraduate students at the university, as well as alumni. The objective is to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs in the country and provide the skills that they will need to operate in a fast-moving business world. The programme aims to do this by creating an ecosystem around entrepreneurs, linking them to external partners and networks that can help them to accelerate their start-ups.
The programme is currently funded by the university, although there are ongoing discussions with a venture capital firm in the UAE. The ultimate aim is to find a partner or angel investor with a network of contacts in local businesses who can help the participating entrepreneurs and businesses to develop and find funding.
Current status and offering
The accelerator currently hosts 12 different entrepreneurs and has a capacity for 25. Students had to apply by submitting a form and a video setting out their business idea. The programme lasts a year, because its resources are fairly limited, at least at present. However, in that time, the entrepreneurs involved should be able to develop some robust business models, and also useful skills to help them in future.
The program is designed to contain both formal workshops and other more informal activities. Overall, it promotes design thinking and problem solving as methods, by developing associated skills. It also encourages participants to think about ethics and corporate social responsibility, and promotes both agility and sustainability. The accelerator’s website makes clear that workshops are designed to help participants to develop a robust business model — because this is the best foundation for a business that is both marketable and sustainable.
Involvement from the university faculty includes both heads and members in a number of different specialities. All those involved are there voluntarily, because they are interested and want to help young entrepreneurs. The university’s marketing department also supports the programme by raising awareness of its existence among students and beyond. Participants are encouraged to find mentors by drawing on expertise on campus.
Participants are given access to some physical infrastructure, including a working space with computers and a high speed internet connection. They also have access to printers and other resources.
Measuring success and moving forward
The programme is still very new to be talking about measuring success. However, those involved claim that they can already show some important changes made to business models as a result of input from partners or faculty. The participants, too, are much more confident and ‘business-ready’. They are in touch with a number of partners, and developing their businesses all the time.
Looking forward, the aim is to grow the facility and make participation in the programme more rewarding for both entrepreneurs and partners. In the future, it is hoped that the accelerator may become a significant profit centre for the university, as well as providing a nexus for collaboration with industry.
However, in the meantime, those involved are clear that the programme really needs mentors and partners much more than cash. Potential partners and business angels in or around the United Arab Emirates or Middle East area — please get in touch!