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AWS and startups: Using accelerator programmes to help enterprises address their pain points

The early days of Amazon Web Services saw its public cloud technologies keenly adopted by the startup community. Now the company is continuing its support for this customer sector by rolling out its accelerator programmes

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The startup community were early adopters of Amazon Web Services (AWS), laying the groundwork for the company to become the preferred cloud provider for so many enterprises today. 

The public cloud giant has an enviable and growing roster of reference enterprise customers that are drawing on its portfolio of services to digitally transform their operations, but it was the startup community that drove much of the demand for its services in its early days.

This demand gave rise to the now all-too-familiar narrative about how enterprises across the world were finding their business models and competitive edge under threat from this new breed of “born in the cloud” startups.

Unhindered by the legacy, on-premise IT investments and considerations of their enterprise rivals, these startups were using Amazon’s off-premise storage and compute services to get their cloud-native products to market more quickly – and with a much smaller financial outlay.

Many of these firms had also tapped into agile and DevOps-like software development processes and protocols when building their products, making it possible for them to tweak their designs and offerings quickly in response to changing market conditions and customer demands.

The narrative – as told through published customer stories and case studies at various AWS events – said enterprises in all industries were being subjected to disruption as cloud levelled the playing field for these smaller, nimbler, newer market entrants.

Meanwhile, it was difficult for a lot of enterprises to try to fight fire with fire by using cloud technologies themselves because of the large, pre-existing investments they had made in their on-premise IT estate.

There were also regulatory, IT security and data sovereignty concerns for enterprises to overcome, as well as a high degree of scepticism from senior IT leaders about the benefits of cloud, which would ensure large-scale cloud migrations would be off-limits to these companies for some years to come.

In response, Amazon has spent most of the past decade making a concerted effort to help enterprises overcome the skills and regulatory barriers to adopting cloud. It has also invested millions – if not billions – of pounds in building out its datacentre footprint across the world to allay enterprises’ data sovereignty concerns.

Even so, seeing these startups evolve into scaleups and continue to thrive and disrupt the markets they operate in with the help of cloud is sure to have put a rocket under their enterprise rivals and spurred many of them on to consider shaking up their IT strategies.  

Threat of disruption

AWS is very much an enterprise public cloud provider now, and it could be argued that the threat of disruption posed by its customer base of startups since the company’s inception in 2006 is one of the driving forces behind why so many enterprises use cloud now.

The company’s technology continues to be keenly adopted by startups, which, according to Max Peterson, vice-president of worldwide public sector at AWS, continue to play an important role in helping guide its enterprise customers on how to negotiate their journey to the cloud.

But that’s not all. The startup community is also assisting AWS customers in verticals such as healthcare and space tech to overcome business challenges through their participation in the public cloud giant’s growing list of accelerator programmes, says Peterson.

“One of the biggest things we can do to spark innovation and help customers move faster is by bringing expertise together in a very focused way to help governments or businesses or startups or others move faster in these really focused efforts,” he says. “And one of the things we have learned is that starting with an applied area and a collection of problems can focus the discussion and help people go faster. So we have many different accelerators that are aimed at doing exactly that.”

Through these programmes, participants receive specialised training, mentorship and also some much-needed connections. “Sometimes its connections to adjacent businesses that are innovating in a similar space, and when they combine forces, they can move faster together,” says Peterson.

“We are looking at these challenges that our customers face in the public sector and trying to bring startups, innovation and problem-solving to these spaces through our accelerator programmes. So we get a whole bunch of creative, innovative ways to help solve the problems of governments, the education sector, national health systems or the aerospace and satellite sector, for example.”

List of accelerators expanded

The company recently expanded the list of accelerators it operates in the UK, which already includes programmes focused on space tech and healthcare, with the addition of one focused on addressing the needs of the defence sector.

Launched at the UK Defence Disrupted event in London on 26 May 2022, the accelerator programme is being run in collaboration with UK government technology consultancy Public, which specialises in helping public sector bodies shape the digital services they offer to citizens.

The AWS Defence Accelerator, as it is known, is a four-week programme that will offer participants access to technical, business and mentorship support and is open to startups across Europe, the Middle East and Africa that intend to do business in the UK.

They will also receive credits that can be used to purchase AWS services and will also benefit from access to training in how to use its offerings, as well as to subject matter experts in the field of defence.

“We have notionally laid out that we think there are opportunities for game-changing acceleration in cyber, data, in space and – importantly – sustainability,” says Peterson. “Those are the broad themes for the defence accelerator.

“Of course, we are open to any good ideas. Space is somewhat constrained, but we are targeting 10 folks for this accelerator. We typically receive far more expressions of interest than we actually have spaces available, but even the folks that make expressions of interest, we try to assist with different resources and online tools.”

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The programme is open to any startup that specialises in the provision of “mission-critical solutions” for land, air, maritime, space or cyber defence, as laid out in Amazon’s defence accelerator blog.

“The initial cohort will include 10 defence startups that already have existing customers and revenue, and demonstrate that they can use AWS services to solve big challenges in the defence industry,” says the blog.

“Applications are evaluated on several factors, including the project’s innovative and unique nature, the team’s ability to delivery a solution, creative uses of AWS services to develop the solution, and the overall value of the solution to the UK’s defence industry.”

The beneficiaries of the programme are the startups taking part and the end-user organisations in the defence sector that will use the resulting products to help solve whatever pain point that is troubling them.

AWS also benefits, says Peterson, but not from a company ownership perspective. “Unlike others, we don’t expect any equity or take any part of the financial participation in these programmes,” he adds.

Obvious benefit

An obvious benefit for AWS is that the participating startups must use its technologies to build their products, and – if they progress to become scaleups – it logically follows that their use of its services will grow accordingly, which all helps grow AWS’s bottom line.

And, in the same way that the early-days adoption of AWS by startups has inspired enterprise take-up of its technology, the accelerator participants are also blazing a trail to show others how far the adoption of cloud-based infrastructure can take you, says Peterson.

“We help these startups launch entirely new businesses – usually digital-first businesses – and it shows the way for others in terms of how you can apply modern cloud infrastructure and put it to use,” he says. “These startups become the scaleups and some of them the unicorns that help drive economic growth around the world.

“It’s an important exercise for us because it continues to be about how do we knock down the barriers, the things that people don’t think they can accomplish? Because they haven’t seen somebody else do it.

“But when we talk to customers, you want to show them real-life examples of how it is possible to tackle some of the most intractable problems that we’ve got. It’s about getting that focus on customer problems, it’s about getting innovative organisations to think differently and solve it with cloud technology.”

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