Should my startup join an accelerator?
Key questions to ask before applying to an accelerator programme.
26 June, 2018
Over the last few years, thousands of entrepreneurs have set up 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, there are a few questions to ask before you jump in.
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:
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:
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 Chief Technology Officers 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:
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:
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.
Common judging criteria - most programmes use a variation of these
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.
The traits entrepreneurs can't do without.