Accelerators and the Decentralization of Tech Startups Globally

Dissertation Research

Fieldwork in Singapore and Buenos Aires was complemented by interviews with dozens of other accelerator participants and personnel globally.

Can the innovation ecosystem of Silicon Valley be replicated? People often discuss the potential to create such a startup scene in other places. Accelerators, which foster high-tech startups, spread Silicon Valley values and practices and have exploded globally in recent years. Through fieldwork at startup accelerators in Singapore and Buenos Aires, Argentina, and research with others globally, I investigate the expansion of this Silicon Valley model of innovation, its implicit and explicit values and practices, and how it is transformed and implemented in other contexts, aiming to understand the broader impact on the types of technologies created and the development of startup ecosystems.


Some characteristics of accelerators.

In recent years, the number of technology startups has exploded worldwide. A combination of cloud computing platforms, programming frameworks, code sharing, APIs, easily accessible marketing platforms, distribution channels, social media networking, etc. have lowered barriers to creating a technology startup. Alongside this development of infrastructure to support startups, innovation models have spread the “know-how” of doing a startup from Silicon Valley, decentralizing tech creation and making the processes more accessible and uniform. Seed accelerators, incubators which foster high-tech startups, provide such soft infrastructure to enable tech entrepreneurship. They bring together cohorts of international startups to develop their teams and products and learn from each other in a limited duration “bootcamp,” based on Lean models of innovation. The initial seed accelerator, Y Combinator, started in 2005, and has spawned such well-known companies as Reddit, Code Academy, Heroku, DropBox, and Airbnb. Since then, accelerators have been expanding all over the world, with an estimated 200+ in 33 countries now. Aside from their economic impact, estimated in the billions of dollars, accelerators have a clear impact on the flows of innovation patterns and production and implementation of creative ideas globally. They serve as sociotechnical systems that bring together groups of people to foster creativity in technology development. But at the same time as accelerators and the startups they foster seem to be exploding globally, discourse around digital innovation seems firmly centered around Silicon Valley’s ecosystem and whether it can—or should— be copied, with many suggesting it cannot.

Questions and Methods

The goal of my dissertation work is to better understand accelerators as sociotechnical systems enabling technology development and to explore the impact they are making globally. How well does this model work in different contexts? What matters about the place in which an innovation ecosystem is created? What roles do cultural, social, and geographic boundaries play in tech development? On a practical level, how are accelerators impacting the technology landscape? These questions are important because accelerators follow a distinct model, yet are situated in a variety of settings, and thus the technologies created emerge from very different, specific contexts. Does this type of innovation work in all places? What determines whether and how it works? On the one hand, there are questions of what these global ecosystems, especially in emerging countries, can learn from this Silicon Valley model of innovation and how it can be integrated in different cultural, political, social, and economic infrastructures. On the other hand, there are implications for what Silicon Valley (or any more developed, “elite” tech hub) can learn from local adaptations of the model and other principles and methods, especially from emerging regions.

Over the past academic year I have been exploring these topics in situ through ethnographic fieldwork at two different international field sites —an accelerator in Singapore and another in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Over the course of this research, I have been following 27 technology startups through their respective accelerator programs, looking at their processes, the artifacts they create, and the impact of their participation on the product and the team itself. This has been complemented by initial research in Silicon Valley on the accelerator model as well as interviews with other accelerator participants and personnel globally, including North America, South America, Africa, Asia, and Australia.


Peer-Reviewed Conference Papers

Haines, J. K. (2014). Iterating an Innovation Model: Challenges and Opportunities in Adapting Lean Practices in Evolving Ecosystems. Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference Proceedings (EPIC 2014). 

Haines, J. K. (2014). Accelerating Cultural Capital: Reproducing Silicon Valley Culture in Global Ecosystems. ACM International Conference on Collaboration Across Boundaries (CABS 2014).

Short Papers and Posters

Haines, J.K. (2014). Accelerating Innovation: A Global Model in Local Contexts. Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference Proceedings (EPIC 2014), New York City.

Haines, J.K. (2014). Cultures of Innovation: The Accelerator Model in Local Contexts. The ACM International Conference on Collaboration Across Boundaries (CABS 2014), Kyoto, Japan.

Haines, J. K. (2014). Emerging Innovation: The Global Expansion of Seed Accelerators. The ACM Conference on Computer Supported Collaborative Work (CSCW Extended Abstracts), Baltimore, MD. 


Accelerating Innovation: A Global Model in Local Contexts. HASTAC Conference. Lima, Peru. (2014, April)


Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference (EPIC 2014)
September 2014 in New York City

ACM Collaboration Across Boundaries Conference (ACM CABS 2014), 
August 2014 in Kyoto, Japan

Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory Conference (HASTAC 2014)
April 2014 in Lima, Peru