Every year, thousands of hopeful entrepreneurs around the world pack their bags and head out to participate in an accelerator program. For the most part, most of these programs are similar. They typically invite a class of startups into a coworking space for around 3-6 months and work alongside them to accelerate startup growth. The accelerator usually provides an initial investment and the program culminates in a Demo Day, where startups pitch their company to a room full of investors.
Choosing the right program can make or break your startup. Take it from Efrem Weiss, the CEO of YouGift, whose company shut down after a horrible accelerator experience that left the business in worse shape than when they’d arrived. If chosen carefully, the rewards will be invaluable, and you’ll join the ranks of Airbnb, DropBox, and Uber.
As you evaluate accelerators around the world (don’t limit yourself to your city of residence or even your country), prepare to sort through FAQs and reach out to programs directly with a list of questions. The goal is to avoid any discrepancies in the future and ensure you’re matched with the best possible accelerator.
What kind of startups are they looking for?
Different incubators have different areas of expertise and interests. Make a list of companies that have a record with working with similar startups and list what each brings to the table. Finding out what each accelerator is looking for is simple. Many programs have detailed FAQ sections blogs. Additionally, browse through the startups from previous classes to get an idea of what they gravitate towards.
How can they help you achieve your goals?
In most cases, many programs list what they offer on their website. Beyond the money they can offer, compare their offerings to your startup needs. For example, if you have a product and plan to launch a crowdfunding campaign, some accelerators specialize in helping startups succeed on platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo.
What’s the atmosphere like?
As a startup trying to get off the ground, you’re not looking for Animal House-like common areas and shoddy coworking spaces. Ask questions about where you’ll be meeting on a day-to-day basis and what your living quarters will be.
What are the terms?
This includes the amount of equity you’re giving up and how much you’re receiving. It should also be clear whether the accelerator will give back that equity if the startup drops out, and if so, what are the applicable rules?
The Mentorship Program.
Standard practice for many accelerator programs is to invite a roster of mentors who can provide relevant and real-life advice. They’ve built their own businesses to success or worked for leading startups in their field. Mentors can help guide you in several ways: they’ll help you understand what angel investors are looking for, the importance of managed IT services, the best custom marketing strategies, crowdfunding advice, and much more.
Their advice is so important because they’ve dealt with these issues firsthand. And while most programs have a mentorship program, not all are run the same. Some accelerators have an inefficient mentor-to-startup ratio, while others have too many mentors to truly benefit and engage with any one of them. Keep in mind that, at the end of the day, it’s up to you to reach out to mentors and cultivate relationships beyond the program. The most successful mentor relationships are sustained because the startup founders were proactive in building them.
Look At Success Stories.
Research a few of the startups that have participated in the accelerator program and see where they are now. Check out their websites, social media, and AngelList profiles for updates on company progress. If you still want an up-close idea of how the accelerator is run, go the extra mile and reach out to some startups about their personal experience. To get a well-rounded opinion, try talking to startups who were both successful post-program and those who haven’t shown much movement. These accelerator success stories will also serve as inspiration if you’re on the fence;.