Alex: Behind the Scenes of Zxlerator

Read a behind-the-scenes take on the experience of running Demo Day 2018 from Alex Savona, new member of the Explore team and former Zxlerator intern!

Alex Savona, GMBA Class of 2018, pitching to internal investors at Demo Day 2017 as an intern.

Alex Savona, GMBA Class of 2018, pitching to internal investors at Demo Day 2017 as an intern.

June 11, 2018 was a day of firsts. It was my first day of work at ZX Ventures, and it was also the first day of the third Zxlerator program, which brought together 27 MBA and undergraduate interns and 26 intrapreneurs. But this wasn’t your normal first day; the buzz around the coworking space and “problem statements” was very familiar. That’s because this was my second Zxlerator.

Last summer I was a GMBA intern on the TAPT venture, where I spent 13 exhilarating weeks launching a start-up alongside other interns and ABI employees. The experience culminated in a pitch at Demo Day, which is the moment when each of the Zxlerator teams show off the product of their summer’s efforts. It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with ZX’s ways of doing things, the ZX Explore team, and the Zxlerator program – it was all unlike anything I had ever seen before. From the start I knew this was something I needed to be a part of. I was over the moon when I received my full-time offer back to the ZX Ventures team and the opportunity to help with the coming year’s Zxlerator.

Now I was seeing the program from a completely different angle – as someone helping to run the Zxlerator rather than a participant. I immediately jumped into Bootcamp, helping our coordinators refine content from last year and collecting examples of work done to show our new class. But most importantly I was going to be an Explore Partner for three of the teams, serving as a mentor to help these ventures throughout the process.

As a brand new team member equipped with one summer of Zxlerator experience, I wondered how much value I could offer to seasoned employees of the company and my MBA peers. But then, just like last year, I decided to trust the ZX operating system. I leaned on my experience as a prior “consumer” of the accelerator to guide my teams and offer them tips for running experiments, validating hypotheses, presenting to VPs, and preparing for Demo Day.

Not only was I able to leverage that knowledge myself, but the rest of the Explore & People teams running the accelerator leveraged it too. They so innately felt that “the consumer was the boss” that they quickly and openly accepted my suggestions to the program, continuously building, measuring and learning, to bring our strong program satisfaction score even higher, up to 94%. Perhaps most excitingly as a new hire, the team lived up to the ABI principle that the company’s people are its greatest asset. They trusted me off the bat to help shape the program and mentor three of the teams - the most of any Explore Partner. It was incredible to see how much one could learn in one Zxlerator and how the experience fundamentally changed how people thought about problem solving. Alums of past accelerators wouldn’t miss Demo Day for anything; they even showed up wearing their ventures’ swag! It gave me hope for how this program could become even bigger, with former participants sharing this mindset back in their countries, business units, and future accelerators.

As Demo Day concluded and I took off my headset in the AV booth, I was sad to see the program end, but I realized this was just the beginning both for my career at ZX and the Zxlerator. There were funding decisions to be made, recruits for next year to find, feedback to implement, and opportunities to take the program even further in 2019.

Summer Beer Trends

With summer heating up in the Northern Hemisphere, we sat down with Innovation Brewer Thomas Hartman to talk about the beer trends we can expect to see this season. Here’s what he had to say!

More Session and Sessionable Beers, Especially IPAs

The trend of making IPAs ever hoppier seems to have slowed, with the pendulum swinging back toward more mellow, drinkable session beers. In a session beer, brewers try to maintain the balance and flavor of an existing beer style while reducing the ABV (usually to about 4% or below). In addition to packing less of an intoxicating punch, sessions tend to be mellow in flavor. These are beers you can drink all afternoon.

It’s important to think about session beers as more than just watered-down versions of other styles though! A good session IPA, for example, is formulated with an eye toward specialty malts, mash formulations, and hop profiles that result in a less-overwhelming flavor, less bitterness, and a lower ABV while providing a distinct flavor that you’ll want to drink all afternoon. Look also for fruit flavors in some of these sessions and sessionable brews.

More Accessible Sour Beers

Just as the pendulum has swung away from outrageously hoppy, 110-IBU IPAs, the extremes of sour beers are receding in favor of a more accessible drink. The craft beer market is typically American: when we do something new, we start out really big! Early sours were mouth puckering, eye watering, and sometimes barely drinkable. Today both sour fermented and kettle sour beers are being developed in lower acidity, lower ABV versions. Blending with fruits, such as passionfruit, to balance sweetness with sourness is also a welcome development. Kettle sour beers, where the acidity is the byproduct of bacterial fermentation, are harder to control, but here too brewers are improving balance while maintaining the refreshing zing of these quintessentially summery beers.

More Local Ingredients and Local Variants

With the trend toward eating and buying local in other industries, it’s no surprise that beer drinkers are looking to drink local too. Small hop farms are popping up all over, with producers working to distinguish themselves with different and novel hop varieties. Both Michigan and upstate New York have vibrant hop-grower societies with an intense demand for their locally grown hops. The same is true of small malthouses providing locally sourced malts and other ingredients. Wine drinkers have known for years that the flavor of wines depends on where their ingredients are grown. Wine made from Malbec grapes grown in Chile is completely different from wine made with those same grapes grown in France. Similarly, Cascade hops grown in Yakima, Michigan, and Germany have distinct flavors and qualities. Expect to see more local ingredients and more regional specialties. The cloudy or hazy IPAs that are being perfected in New England are one delightful example of this regional specialization.

Non-Beer or “Near Beer” Options

With the uptick in local brewpubs and breweries as popular gathering places, there’s a growing demand for non-beer options for those who haven’t yet embraced traditional beer styles. This summer, look for more radlers: a 50/50 mix of beer and fruit juice or soda, generally light and crisp in flavor and only 2 to 3% alcohol. Some breweries are also developing malt-based “near beer” beverages, processing traditional wort in new ways to create drinks that appeal to a non-beer crowd.

Company Culture at Zx Ventures

Guilherme Lebelson, Global VP of eCommerce, and Jerome Pellaud, Global VP of Specialties, discuss their favorite aspects of the company culture at ZX Ventures and how these facets enable success. 

Guilherme Lebelson, discusses what he loves about the 10 principles of the company culture at AB InBev and ZX Ventures.

Jerome Pellaud, Global VP of Specialties, talks about the opportunities for learning, growing and making an impact at ZX Ventures.

Jerome discusses taking calculated risks and learning on the job at ZX Ventures.

Photograph courtesy of The Muse

Photograph courtesy of The Muse

What is the Zxlerator Program?

By Luke Cherrington

We recently kicked off our second ZX Ventures Zxlerator in the heart of NYC. We have an amazing cohort of 50 (!) intrapreneurs and summer interns tackling 14 huge challenges. This is all driven by a key question, “How do you start new companies inside a large organization?” Let’s discuss.

Zxlerator is the internal accelerator program of ZX Ventures and AB InBev.  We think we’ve built something unique.  Accelerator programs tend to be run by investment vehicles with external, existing startups. Think Techstars, Angelpad, YCombinator, etc. They take an early stage company and give support, mentorship and investment to make it grow faster (i.e. “accelerate” it). We’ve built on this concept. Using Zxlerator, we take internally-generated ideas and put them through a structured three-month program to see if they can develop into validated, launch-ready businesses.

During the program, existing employees and summer interns work together to identify a real problem, validate a solution, and build a viable business model. Basically, they start a business. These ventures are early stage – often starting from just an idea – so we start out with an intensive two-week boot camp. This is a crash course in how to start a company. During boot camp you’ll hear phrases any experienced entrepreneur would recognize. Build, measure, learn. Desirability, viability and feasibility. Experiment, experiment, experiment. Now that we’re into the core program, teams have a slew of internal and external mentors to call on, and programming designed to help them leverage our core business.  We’ll wrap the program with Demo Day, and make final decisions on which ventures we’ll fund.

The ventures in Zxlerator, first and foremost, are solving real problems for real people. We’re not looking for incremental innovations to existing products or processes within our business. Our core innovation team can (and does) crush that type of innovation. We’re focused on new problems that have yet to be addressed. We also expect teams to adapt and pivot from their initial thesis. Testing, learning, and potentially changing course if they find a more important problem to solve. It’s agile innovation.

So why did we create Zxlerator? Simply put, we needed it. If you’re going to fail (most new product innovations do), better fail fast and fail cheap. Learn, adapt, and try again. This isn’t exclusive to AB InBev. All companies are quickly understanding it’s critical to add this new methodology to time-tested innovation. Exploring, validating and launching new ventures on the pillars of lean and design thinking. It’s also imperative internal intrapreneurs are given a vehicle to build inside their company. Zxlerator is our vehicle.

And it really is all about the people. Whether for interns or longtime employees, Zxlerator offers the experience of an entrepreneur with the support and resources of a global company. From the very first day of the program, they are treated as founders who own a business – and are expected to demonstrate the ownership and urgency worthy of the title.

We have every confidence this summer’s cohort is going to absolutely rock it and build investment-ready businesses. It is an experience unlike any other – transformative for both our participants and our company – and we couldn’t be more excited to see where the teams land.

Insights from our Specialties Team: Craft Beer Trends in the U.S.

Jerome Pellaud, Global VP of Specialties, maps out the impact of influential craft beer trends in the U.S. and how you can brew more than beer.

Jerome explains that you can brew beyond beer as long as you have yeast or bacteria, and a source of sugar and a process.

Photograph courtesy of The Muse

Photograph courtesy of The Muse

3 Takeaways I’ve Learned From Working at Multiple Startups

By Martin Suter

Startups differ from mature businesses in some fundamental ways. Often, as it is here at ZX Ventures, the pace in a startup is faster, the goals are loftier, and there is much more at stake than in an established company. Through my work with ZX Ventures, in addition to the other startups I’ve launched over my career, I’ve learned many lessons about starting a company that I’ve used to refine my approach with each subsequent new business. Here are three takeaways that I’m using now to help advance ZX Ventures.

1. In startups, the only certainty is uncertainty.

Uncertainty is a hallmark of startup culture. Since startups are created to meet a consumer need in a new or better way, there will always be an air of uncertainty just over the horizon. Will the start-up be able to solve the customers’ problem? Will the customers’ need persist, or is it a fad? Will the company be able to properly plan and fund its needs and follow those plans? Practically every aspect of startup business is rife with uncertainty.

It takes a particular kind of employee to manage and thrive in this atmosphere of uncertainty. In my experience, the people who function best in a start-up environment are those who are willing to push boundaries and challenge the status quo. They are the type of people who see seemingly insurmountable challenges as exciting opportunities to grow, both personally and for their company. A willingness to meet uncertainty head-on, with enthusiasm, is critical to success in a startup.

2. In startups, you need a Swiss Army knife.

Startups must have multifunctional employees. Being able to tackle a variety of issues is a key to success in the early days at a startup. Everyone in the business needs to be able to wear multiple hats, and essentially function as Swiss Army knives, which are known for being helpful in a variety of situations, instead of exceptionally strong in one area. Usually, a startup won’t have the funding or ability to hire specialists for every task in the early stages of growth. You have to rely on people and tools that can do many different things competently, similar to a Swiss Army knife.

Someone who views himself narrowly as a specialist or who lacks the ability or the will to solve diverse problems is likely to struggle in the startup culture. One way to prepare to serve as a Swiss Army knife, and help across multiple functions, is to read about startups in order to learn what types of issues typically arise and how generalists respond to those challenges. A particularly good introduction is The Lean Start-up by Eric Ries.

3. In startups, speed matters.

Speed is critical to success as a startup. If a company—and by proxy, its employees—is not willing or able to move fast, that company is almost certainly doomed to fail. The ability to act and react quickly, adjusting on the fly to market and investors’ needs, can be the difference between a company that gets off the ground and one that gets left behind. Speed also helps once the company does get going: the faster a company is able to grow and respond, the more momentum it will build to carry it through its second year and beyond.

Startup employees need to think fast and work fast. Understanding that speed is an asset, and working to make it a habit, is crucial in a startup’s success beyond the first few months.

Working in a startup environment is invigorating, especially if you, like me, consider yourself a natural problem-solver or a builder. After working with one or two new businesses, you’ll start to see how every startup, while unique in some facets, shares similarities with your previous projects. Understanding these similarities and effectively managing them will ultimately help you focus your time on the meaningful parts of each project—those qualities that caused you to get involved in the first place.

I joined ZX Ventures because I believe it can benefit from all the skills I’ve learned in my previous ventures and because I appreciate the depth of opportunity available here within the ZX Ventures portfolio. In my first six months here, I’ve learned that the skills needed to thrive in a startup perfectly mirror ZX Ventures’ cultural principles. Cross-disciplinary challenges, meaningful and ambitious missions, meritocracy—these are as valued by ZX Ventures as they are in the startup world. It’s a great fit for me.

The Entrepreneur’s Bookshelf: 5 Books You Need to Own



What should you read to better prepare yourself to work at ZX Ventures? We asked Pedro Earp, Chief Disruptive Growth Officer for AB InBev, to tell us what books he has on his shelf. Each offers insight into the key principles that guide our day-to-day operations. 

The Four Steps to the Epiphany: Successful Strategies for Products That Win by Steve Blank

The Four Steps to the Epiphany is a classic that has helped to launch thousands upon thousands of new ventures. This influential book spearheaded the lean startup approach to business, recognizing that the needs of startups differ significantly from those of existing and large businesses. Blank introduces a four-step customer development process and shares real-world examples of its use in thriving startups. Just as The Lean Startup is crucial to understanding how ZX Ventures has made decisions, so too is this text.

The Startup Owner’s Manual: The Step-by-Step Guide for Building a Great Company by Steve Blank and Bob Dorf

Uncertainty plays a role in almost any startup enterprise; this 608-page reference manual can provide some clarity when obstacles arise. The Startup Owner’s Manual employs a rigorous approach to entrepreneurship, highlighting how important it is to use the scientific method of repeated and stringent testing to determine results. It describes an innovative customer acquisition process and explains how the right metrics can fuel business growth. 

Exponential Organizations: Why New Organizations Are Ten Times Better, Faster, and Cheaper Than Yours (and What to Do About It) by Salim Ismail

Technology is the key to successful performance in almost any type of business. Ismail identifies a new type of organization that has recently evolved—the Exponential Organization—that experiences accelerated growth by leveraging tools such as big data and algorithms. We have incorporated Ismail’s 10 main characteristics of Exponential Organizations into our work at ZX Ventures.

The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses by Eric Ries

Failure is preventable. In The Lean Startup, Ries outlines a novel approach to erecting sustainable startups that make faster, better decisions. Through a process of continuous re-evaluation, these businesses can ensure greater efficiency and optimal success. The Lean Startup is a key book for many employees at ZX Ventures and has influenced many of the decisions we’ve made over the years. It is also a seminal text for participants in our ZxLerator program, as it functions as a primer for many of the decisions they will need to make when working with startups.

The Innovator’s Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book That Will Change the Way You Do Business by Clayton M. Christensen

In this book, innovation expert Christensen focuses on disruptive technologies and how companies miss out on innovation because they are not working to their full disruptive potential. From exploring how companies have failed or succeeded, Christensen synthesizes a set of rules for using disruptive technology. At ZX Ventures, we are trying to redefine the world of beer. We are following the rules outlined in this book to make faster progress toward our own goals.