Generally, entrepreneurs will submit an application, and the host company selects participants based on how well the interests and goals of both sides align. Most set minimum or maximum benchmarks, a screening process that gives an indication of whether a start-up is capable of surviving the long haul.
Microsoft's BizSpark, for instance, only accepts start-ups that are less than five years old and have less than $1 million in revenue. It launched with roughly 5,000 start-ups five years ago, and now has more than 50,000. The company also hosts YouthSpark, a similar program that provides free software to students, and sees over 350,000 students participate in its annual Imagine Cup competition.
GE and StartUp Health, on the other hand, has no hard and fast minimum but requires accepted businesses to demonstrate that they are scalable. It will start by selecting 10 start-ups in 2013, the first year of the program. After that, the plan is to add approximately 100 companies per year.
"If you can feel their passion and they have an entrepreneurial spirit, then we usually know they will be able to figure it out and through the right guidance develop something bigger," says Stoakes. "But if someone is focused on one particular idea rather than why they are doing what they are doing, it can be an indicator that they may not even make the first pivot along the journey."
Riley Ennis, a member of the Kairos Society, an international student run organization of entrepreneurs and innovators from the top universities around the world, is working to develop partnerships between Kairos fellows and large science companies, including Johnson & Johnson, GE, and 3D design software company Autodesk, to work through major barriers such as clinical trials.
"When I started, I needed millions of dollars, patients, a whole process," Ennis recalls. "Under a parent company, you get to check all those boxes and not worry about it." His own biotech company, Immudicon, collaborates with research partners to develop new drugs and devices that aim to detect and treat cancer.
"Sometimes there is that perception that accelerators or incubators are a little bit out of the league of very early-stage companies, and a lot of the traditional accelerators and incubators will expect students to make the commitment to drop out or take time out to focus on their business," says Katie Sowa, director of operations at the Collegiate Entrepreneurs' Organization. "But they are starting to be more accepting."