Over the last few years, thousands of entrepreneurs have setup exciting businesses across every sector of the UK economy. With this, many, many accelerators have been set up to help startups grow faster.
Some of these accelerators are great, some are good and some… not so much. So, if you are thinking about applying to a programme, here are a few questions to ask before you jump in.
- What do you need from the programme?
- What does the programme offer?
- Are you prepared to work from it?
- What does the accelerator get out of the programme?
What do you need?
There is an important step before starting your accelerator journey, and that relies on a good old fashioned look in the mirror. Be honest with yourself, what is holding your startup back? There are many potential answers to this question, some of the common ones are:
- I need a co-founder;
- The product is not ready yet;
- We need funding (this is often listed as a reason, but often is not what’s actually holding you back);
- We are great at tech but don’t know the business side;
- We don’t have customers, etc…
If you can identify the top 3 issues holding you back, then you are already half way to overcoming them. Regardless of whether you are looking to join an accelerator, you will go much further by identifying your own bottlenecks before your customers or potential investors do.
What does the programme offer?
There are lots of accelerator programmes out there, in fact almost every week a new one is announced. Accelerators were not created equal, each one offers something different. Before you apply you need to understand what the accelerator can do for you. Most accelerators will offer a similar set of promises:
- Pitch training;
- Customer access;
- Funding/Access to Investors, etc…
There are also more specialised programmes that can help you technically or find you a co-founder.
Do not take their promises at face value, there are costs to joining a programme (both time and financial) you must do your homework and understand each programme’s Unique Selling Proposition (“USP”). Some programmes really do have fantastic mentors, and others have CTOs in residence who can seriously accelerate your product roadmap.
One of the easiest way to do this is by speaking to companies who have gone through the programme. You should try and speak to at least three companies to get a clear picture.
We are now halfway there. Before continuing, have a look at your answers to question 1 and compare them to the answers for question 2. In other words, can the accelerator actually help you? Make sure that the accelerator addresses the issues that you have identified, otherwise it is going to be a big waste of time and maybe even your equity.
Are you prepared to work for it?
Yes, of course you are. But are you really? I have spoken to many programme managers who become frustrated by startups who join their programmes and then go off on their own missions.
Ultimately whether you are in a programme or not, you need to do what you think is best for the company. But, keep in mind that programme managers are just people at the end of the day and they will tend to go further out of their way for the companies that are giving the most and are participating fully.
What’s in it for the accelerator?
Each accelerator will have different motivations, most are for-profit companies and are looking to benefit from your participation. Here are some of the common types:
- Private Programme: – Fees/Equity
- Corporate accelerator: – Equity/Marketing/Innovation
- Social Enterprise/Government:- Equity/Economic Empowerment
Before signing up to join the programme, you need to make sure that your objectives are in-line with the accelerator’s. Here are a few things to consider:
- If you join a corporate accelerator in your sector, you may gain one client (the corporate) at the expense of the rest of market who will no longer work with you.
- If the programme is purely fee-based, what is their incentive to help you after the programme?
- If they are taking equity, are the terms fair and can the accelerator provide any follow-on funding?
- If it is a government programme, are you going to have to prove that you are creating new jobs or bound to other admin?
Other useful information
If, after going through everything above, you still want to join a programme here are a few tips to help you get in. All of these are based on my experience of being on selection panels for new cohorts.
- Your pitch should be pretty similar to the one that you give to investors. It should cover: (1) your team; (2) your product; (3) market size (make sure it’s big); and (4) any traction.
- In addition to the above, tell them why you think that their programme will help your company (don’t give a generic answer, personalise it for that programme). You should also tell them why you want to get in to their programme and not any others.
- Keep your pitch as short as possible, make sure to leave a lot of time for questions.
- Keep to time, if they give you 5 minutes to pitch – don’t over run.
- Be sober! I have been there when founders try pitching while drunk (or worse) – It’s not pretty.
- Do not be afraid to admit your issues, you are there because you need help.
- Do not get defensive, and take feedback openly. Accelerators are looking for people that are prepared to learn.
- Don’t swear – you see it in movies, but in reality most people are just put off.
Common judging criteria: – most programmes use a variation of these
- Strength of the founding team;
- USP and product/market defensibility;
- Market size;
- Coachability (probably not a real word) – i.e. are you willing to learn;
- Can they add value to you.
So there you have it! In some ways accelerator programmes are like reality television, it can be a great way to gain exposure and launch your career, but equally lots of people succeed without making the front-page of tabloid newspapers.
Still not sure? Be in touch on email email@example.com or twitter @jonathanroomer