Global solution provider Accenture on Monday unveiled Project Spotlight, touting it as a way to invest in emerging technology startups that takes advantage of the company’s experience in dealing with customer challenges to find potential investees and help them grow.
Project Spotlight goes way beyond just investing in a tech startup, said Tom Lounibos, global managing director of Accenture Ventures.
“Spotlight’s goal is to have entrepreneurs come in and engage with entrepreneurs around the world,” Lounibos told CRN. “Entrepreneurs trust entrepreneurs.”
That goal was expressed by someone who himself is a serial entrepreneur. Lounibos had two former companies of his go to IPO, and sold four others to larger companies such as IBM or Akamai. Because of that experience, he was brought out of retirement in to Accenture, initially as an advisor to look at the company’s engagement model, but eventually asked to head Project Spotlight.
“I became almost full-time as I looked over the company, its operations, and its labs,” he said. “I also explored the Accenture ecosystem of over 200 vendors, and looked specifically at emerging technologies, whatever was coming around the corner.”
A company as big as Accenture has so many people working in so many industries where customers are facing multiple challenges, a situation Lounibos said requires Accenture to find new ways to meet those challenges.
Project Spotlight is one way, he said.
Project Spotlight is an immersive model which means Accenture does more than just invest in a company’s equity, he said.
Unlike the traditional investment model where an investor focuses on the investment, Project Spotlight looks at how a potential investee fits what Lounibos called Accenture’s “Book of Secrets,” or its list of top customer challenges and Accenture’s deep knowledge about those challenges.
“I found the real power of the boardroom is in the entrepreneur and the technical people,” he said. “A startup might spend two years discussing the market. As a tech person, I would talk about the technology, but the entrepreneur may not understand the technology. So I see the need for a third party to come to help the entrepreneur. Now Spotlight comes in and shows the entrepreneur the importance of the market and technology, and helps Accenture understand the company.”
It is very common for investors to chase the shiny objects like quantum computing and blockchain, both of which are critical for the future, Lounibos said.
“But I look for things that are important to Accenture,” he said. “I go back to the ‘Book of Secrets’ and at what customers really need.”
Project Spotlight is slated to initially invest in a maximum of 15 emerging technology companies per year in order to ensure focus, although that could change over time, Lounibos said.
“There’s a demand for Project Spotlight,” he said. “A lot of people inside Accenture are talking Spotlight, Spotlight, Spotlight. But we’re focused on quality, not quantity.”
There are about 10 major items with several smaller related items on the “Book of Secrets,” but Lounibos declined to state them publicly.
However, he did offer one example, the skills gap co many businesses face as the business environment experiences increasingly rapid change.
“The labor market over the last 30 years shifted maybe 2 percent to 3 percent a year,” he said. “Now it’s changing up to 30 percent a year because of increasing automation. Now add in COVID, and some skills gaps are now up to 40 percent in a year. That leads to big issues related to how to find the right skills at the right time. One year ago, we started looking at this problem, and saw the need to solve it with A.I. and analytics.”
That led to one of the first investments through Project Spotlight, Vancouver, British Columbia-based SkyHive Technologies, Lounibos said.
“We saw SkyHive building a skills passport in Canada for refugees,” he said. “If someone came from another country, how do they build skills for use in Canada? SkyHive had an idea to use quantum labor analytics to break a job down to its basic tasks and then break a person’s CV (curriculum vitae) into skills, and then match the two.”
That was an important move for Canada, Lounibos said.
“In March, as the COVID-19 pandemic set in, Canada saw a big shortage of nurses,” he said. “It was logical for Canada to ask SkyHive to help. In a short time, SkyHive broke down the tasks and skillsets, and found that Philippine housekeepers in Canada were a place to look. It also found that 72 percent of nurses in Canada were from the Philippines.”
Looking forward, Accenture plans to expand on Project Spotlight to find new ways to invest in the future, Lounibos said.
While Project Spotlight is focused on incremental knowledge of the business ecosystem, the next play will likely focus on emerging platforms, followed by something like the optimization of quantum computing, he said.