Authors: Sonya Wach, Chandan Damannagari
Corporate AI partner and accelerator programs (also referred to as AI ecosystem programs in various contexts) are programs offered to AI startups and companies by larger corporations, usually within the tech space, and are focused on fostering relationships and driving industry innovation. For growing AI startups, these programs can offer benefits in the forms of tools, resources, and mentorships vital to building out AI solutions. The programs vary significantly in terms of size, requirements, offerings, and purpose, making it difficult to determine which program to join or why. Here, we list some advantages and disadvantages of joining AI accelerator programs for startups and what to look for when considering joining one.
There are several advantages to joining an AI partner program for startups of all stages including:
Access to Tools - One of the most useful and frequently-touted benefits of joining a corporate AI accelerator program is access to valuable tools for free. These benefits can range from cloud storage credits to cloud computing with access to CPUs and GPUs with built-in hardware acceleration and optimized software tools for the AI workflow. By gaining access to free solutions and tools just by joining the program, startups can continue to bootstrap and remain scrappy, stretching their funds and runway even further. Considering the small proportion of AI projects that are able to move from pilot to production, choosing the right tool suite becomes increasingly critical for success. This benefit can help early-stage companies succeed through sensitive stages with little capital.
Technical Expertise - In addition to free tools, startups can also gain access to expertise. Depending on the program, available experts may focus on the technology being developed, marketing and sales strategies, or even leadership and team development. This expertise can be invaluable to startups, which can gain insights from seasoned professionals with years of experience in their respective fields, and help companies overcome obstacles and prevent costly mistakes. Technical expertise can also help determine useful optimizations for AI models to increase performance and cut costs. This is particularly relevant in AI where the technologies are still evolving, model sizes are exploding, and data scientists and other experts are in short supply.
Increased Visibility – AI ecosystem programs also provide access to communities that would have otherwise been out of reach to fledging startups. Access to these communities, as well as events and marketing collateral, increases the visibility of the startup’s solutions to many key players and potential customers. Startups in programs may have the opportunity to give talks at large conferences or have articles written about them that are pushed through larger channels and platforms, further amplifying visibility. This is invaluable in a highly crowded space such as AI.
Customer Leads - Lastly, these AI accelerator programs may offer prospective customer matching for startups. Access to new leads provides a substantial benefit to startups who often struggle to find initial leads themselves. While there is high demand for performant and scalable AI solutions, customers are also more likely to buy a solution knowing that it is backed by a key ecosystem player.
There are very few disadvantages to joining an AI partner program, but a few things to keep in mind are:
Program Requirements - One reason a startup may not want to join an AI accelerator program is the requirements involved. Some programs require time commitments and may set deadlines which may not work for the startup. Others may include requirements that limit relationships with competitors or a need to provide equity to join.
Technology Lock-in - Another possible restriction is the requirement to use specific vendors’ solutions in the innovation being built, rather than being able to choose your own tools throughout the development lifetime. These restrictions may restrain the startup from using other tools that more closely match their needs.
What to look for
As an AI startup looking to join an AI ecosystem program, you should know how to evaluate each program to know which one is right for you. Start off by understanding why the program exists, and what the driving force of the parent company is for the program. If the program is aimed at generating millions in combined revenue but your startup is pre-revenue, the program is likely not the right one for you now. Ensure that the goal of the program matches your current stage, industry, and growth.
Other aspects to look for are the benefits that the company offers, as well as the requirements of joining the program. If the program matches your current stage and industry, then the benefits offered, such as access to free tools and expertise, will likely be useful for your startup to utilize. Understanding the requirements or restrictions of joining the program is crucial to evaluate your potential and future growth in joining the program.
It’s also a good idea to look at companies currently in the program and alumni from the program to understand their journeys. There are often case studies online describing companies and their successes and mistakes while participating in the program that are useful in gaining a perspective of what active participation in the particular program is like. It may be worthwhile to reach out directly to these companies and ask them about their experiences in the program to ensure a good fit.
Collaborating with Intel on AI
At Intel, plenty of collaboration programs exist to accommodate a variety of startups and companies at every stage and in many industries, especially in AI and machine learning. Intel’s focus on AI makes it a great option to collaborate with due to its portfolio of end-to-end AI tools and optimizations for popular AI frameworks such as TensorFlow*, PyTorch*, Scikit-learn*, XGBoost, and others. By building upon popular industry-standard AI tools and frameworks, startups can continue to use their preferred tools while utilizing built-in optimizations to increase the efficiency of their models and boost performance. Intel’s AI software portfolio is built on the foundation of the open, unified, standards-based oneAPI programming model and helps improve hardware performance and developer productivity. The productivity of Intel’s software portfolio is complemented by the breadth of Intel’s hardware offerings from Intel® Xeon® CPUs to GPUs, FPGAs, and Habana Labs AI accelerators that help you scale your applications seamlessly from edge to cloud. Intel also offers access to internal engineers and software support in many of the programs, making it even easier to determine and deploy the right optimizations for your use case and models.
Of the several programs at Intel, Intel® Ignite is a great option for early-stage startups looking to join a classical accelerator and gain experience in running a tech company. Intel® oneAPI for Startups is a program focused on startups specializing in deep tech, with more focus on the solutions being built and the resources to match. For more mature companies, Intel® AI Builders is a market enablement program for those looking to build AI solutions for enterprise adoption. Finally, Intel® Disruptor Initiative is an innovation program focusing on high growth companies revolutionizing an industry vertical. Intel also includes regional programs such as the Intel® Startup Program in India and the Intel® AI100 Innovation Incentive Program in China, wherein companies focus on building more region-specific solutions.
Good luck on your journey to scaling your AI startup!
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