Building a company and a startup is not an easy path. Many startups are facing a lot of uncertainties. Often times not all founders and team members have all the experience to scale up and get enough traction to enter the desired market.
All being said that startups usually need some kind of guidance along with the way and for that matter institutions like accelerators, incubators and mentorship programs are on the rise. Let's focus on accelerators and see what are they, where you can find them and how they can help.
What are accelerators
Accelerators are institutions that create programs for startups that help them with finding their target market, customer segmentation, and understanding go-to-market strategies. They usually provide:
- educational program,
- the hiring of cofounders/team members,
- matching with mentors,
- introduction to investors/VCs,
- access to the market/network.
Accelerators are "celebrating" the end of the educational programs with huge demo days. These events are meant to show the progress of the startup during the acceleration program, demo the product/service and introduction to investors. It is also pretty common that the accelerator itself can make an investment in the startup for example, YCombinator is investing up to 150k.
Acceleration programs are usually free of charge for startups. The way they operate is, having a fund that is provided by the accelerator founders that they use for the investments and the revenue they get is from the startups they invested in after they have a successful exit.
Where to find accelerator that fits you
Finding an accelerator that fits you is pretty easy. Here are some resources you can use to easily find the list of accelerators:
- F6S - For success is probably the best resource for finding accelerators. They have a curated database of venture funds, accelerators, contests, and startups. It is also a good idea to register your startup here (everyone loves a bit of traffic and backlinks, your SEO will thank you later).
- SeedDb - this is another great resource. Here you can also see the funding amount and number of exits for the accelerator.
Obviously there are hundreds of accelerator programs in the world given the hype around startups these days. Applying to each one of them will be very time consuming and borderline non-productive as each accelerator has its niche and focus in terms of market, startup stage, etc. For example, HAX is the largest hardware accelerator, and applying there as CRM startup will be unreasonable, Wise Guys is focused only on B2B startups and so on.
How to understand if the accelerator fits your needs
Here are some things to look for, when you're going for an accelerator hunt.
1. What are the acceptance requirements?
First of all, you and your team need to understand are you ready for responsibilities that come with applying to accelerators. Some accelerators require the team fully to relocate into their coworking space or community. You may be obligated to go on meetups once or twice a week, submit progress reports, go to 1-1s meetings with their team.
2. What fields are they interested in?
As mentioned before accelerators usually are investing in some specific fields (like fintech, entertainment etc). Yes, acceleration programs provide a lot of exposure and media coverage, which for startup can open ways to generate new leads and find new customer segments, but also participation in acceleration programs requires a lot of effort, so you better as well invest your time in the program that has expertise in your particular market.
The best way to evaluate the accelerator interested field is to review their portfolio companies. For example, you can find all YC graduates on the YC database website.
3. Are other startups recommending it?
This one is kind of obvious but I don't see a lot of startups doing it. In-person testimonial is very important, and it is really easy to find previous batch startups. You can use the portfolio, as I mentioned in the previous point, and also cyberstalk them on Linkedin :)
How to apply to the accelerator
Right off the bat, there's no magic recipe to apply to the accelerator and get accepted.
Hey there, so there's no recipe but decent preparation can help with decreasing the anxiety. Each accelerator has it's own application form, but there are some exercises that will help you in filling out. For example, you can prepare a business model canvas/lean canvas which helps you to understand what is your company about and where are you going.
Spend 2-3 days doing market research (here's my guide on market research) to know the answers to the question on market and competitors.
Take some time to create the story of your startups and mission you're going about. It should be one simple statement that clearly states the problem you're trying to solve.
The best way to do this is to fill out the application and to show some business people that you know. This helps not to stay in your small bubble and look at the application from the outside perspective.
Accelerators are created to help founders in meeting their goals and the success of the accelerator is highly correlated with the success of the startups. If you got accepted to the accelerator of your dreams is to leverage most of the resources they provide, use the matching with mentors and investors and also if the accelerator provided service to hire cofounders/teammates this also can be helpful.
The demo day will help you to connect with your potential investors, so creating a network of customers and beta-testers can be one of your goals as an accelerator participant.
Don't underestimate the importance of the community, most accelerators are staying connected with their graduates and share opportunities with their graduates.
Stay connected and be part of the community.
Good luck with the accelerator hunt!