ZxLerator

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.

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.