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5 Tips for Selecting the Right Accelerator

5 tips for choosing an acceleratpr

It’s been nearly 20 years since the first formally named accelerator program came on the startup scene, kickstarting a flurry of others to flood the market. They quickly gained steam as startups flocked to these programs, lured by the potential of massive funding and growth that accelerators promised. 

Fortunately, many programs did deliver on that promise, but others didn’t. Which continually begged the question, was it the program or the startup?

There’s no easy answer. In some cases, it was the program, but in others, it was simply a matter of the wrong fit. So, before you invest your time, energy, money or equity in an accelerator program, there are some key steps you can take to evaluate if the juice will be worth the squeeze.

What an accelerator is and what it isn’t

An accelerator, not to be confused with an incubator, is a time-bound program that is meant to accelerate your business. It is typically cohort- and mentor-based, providing intensive guidance, resources, support and structure delivered over a specific time frame––generally two to six months.  

Accelerators are typically geared toward early or mid-stage startups, whereas incubators are more ideal for those in the ideation phase. Accelerators also differ in that they are more structured, designed to guide your startup to scalability, and deliver years of learning in a compressed time frame. These programs also usually culminate with a demo day, in which founders present their businesses to investors, potential partners, media, or the community at large.

While most accelerator programs have a cost associated with them, some may be underwritten by a sponsor or investor funded. Those with a price tag, however, will either be fee based in which you pay outright for the program, or equity based in which you give up a slice of your startup. And this is an important feature to be aware of.

Today, there are hundreds of accelerators spread throughout the US, and thousands around the globe. Each differs in its area of focus, approach, structure, cost, and even effectiveness. Some are very transparent about their process, program structure and outcomes, where others are more illusive. 

You shouldn’t be in the dark about any part of the program. By taking the time to better understand the accelerator, you’ll be better positioned to align with one that will best serve you and your business. 

The right accelerator for your business: 5 tips

Not all accelerators are created equal. Doing your homework will help you get the most out of your investment and set you up for success over the long haul.  

Here are five key considerations to take into account when evaluating accelerators.

1. Know your business

Get clarity on the industry you serve. Some accelerators are very specific to industries like medtech, edtech, sustainability, or health and wellness. Know what industry your work falls into. Also, keep in mind, some accelerators will use broad categories like community health or communications. If it doesn’t specify the types of businesses it specializes in,  don’t be afraid to ask. 

Additionally, if your startup is very specialized or operates in a specific region or industry with layers of complexity, find out if the accelerator has expertise in that area. 

Also consider what stage your business is in. Some accelerators are designed for specific stages of business such as the prototype or pilot phase versus those that are in revenue or those that are in growth mode. 

Be honest with yourself about where you are in your business, it will help you better determine your specific needs. For instance, the needs of a founder who wants to develop a pipeline for talent recruitment will be very different from one who wants to build a stronger financial model. Or if finding sources of funding is important, does the accelerator teach you how to write grants, put together a strong pitch or connect you with potential investors?

2. Know yourself

In addition to your startup’s needs, take time to consider your personal needs. For instance, do you have certain learning styles or formats you prefer? Are you hard of hearing or partially sighted? Will the accelerator be able to meet your needs? 

Logistically, know how the program is delivered. Is it asynchronous or synchronous? If the latter, what times are you expected to be available? How much of the program is on your own time versus a set schedule? It will be a waste of your time and theirs if it doesn’t work with your life.

Do you jive with the culture of the team delivering the program? This is often overlooked, but nonetheless important. And it leads to the third tip.

3. Do your research

To get a better feel for the organization behind the program, make use of all of the resources they have available. If they have an information session, attend it. If they have an admissions advisor, book time on their calendar. 

Understand the format, delivery, time frame, cost, culture, area of expertise, and the type of network and resources you will have access to during and upon completion. Your time is valuable and you want to invest it properly. 

4. Make a list of goals

Make a list of your dream accelerators and identify other accelerator opportunities that you think might be a good fit. Some are more competitive than others, so having some backups ready will keep you driving toward your goal if you don’t get into your first choice.

Also, determine your business and personal goals. What do you want to get out of the program? This list will serve as your North Star for determining which program might be the best fit for you. 

5. Build a strong application

Typically, most accelerators require an application. When that’s the case, give yourself more time than you think to build a strong application. To save yourself time, especially if you are applying to multiple programs, create a base application to use as a template. Include: 

  • Your bio
  • What your business is
  • Who your customer is
  • What your impact is

Be specific about your business and what you’re solving. Tell a personal story. Share the journey that brought you to this solution or business. What drives you? What is your vision?

Going through this process will also help you with the first four steps. It forces you to think critically about your business, but it can also provide some insight into the structure and focus of the accelerator. 

Finally, keep in mind you don’t have to join an accelerator program to be successful. However, accelerators can provide skills, tools, mentorship and a network in one cohesive package rather than the entrepreneur having to source each individually. If that is a need in your business, an accelerator might be worth the investment, but make your program selection wisely.