Sooner or later on your entrepreneurial journey, you will face the question whether you should go for an accelerator. And if, for which one.
Accelerators can really help you accelerate your growth (hence the name). But only if you find the right accelerator for you. And if you are ready for it. Just going with the most famous one or the one closest to you can do you more harm than good. The accelerator needs to fit your startup’s needs.
Here are a couple of things to take into consideration when looking for The One for you, or if you really should even go for one.
1. How committed are you?
If I had to choose just one word to describe accelerators it would be intense, both in good and bad.
During the accelerator, you are going to work hard, probably harder than ever before. Everything is accelerated. And what’s everything? Well, that depends on the accelerator (and you!). But things like learning, making right and wrong decisions, changing routes accordingly, reaching customers, pivoting, maybe even more than just once. In essence: a lot of things will happen and all of it will happen at the same time. Though only if you are there and putting in the effort. Accelerators accelerate, they don’t do the work for you. And intense results require intense work.
So, you need to figure out what is your commitment level, if you are ready for all that. Will you be able to put in your 100% and more during the months of the program? Or would something less intense work better for you instead?
Think about your life realistically.
Are you just testing the waters if your idea has any potential and want to still continue in your day job just in case? Then an accelerator that requires fewer hours might be the best option for you. Or do you have a baby coming, sickly parents to take care of, pet, hobby, anything that prevents you from giving your all during the accelerator? Most likely you also need to relocate for the accelerator (unless you are super super majorly lucky and the best accelerator for your startup is right next door). Is that possible? Yes, some things may be worked out, but those kind of compromises always show.
For some accelerators, it is even a requirement to work full-time on your startup. That’s because they know how big of an effect it is going to have on your results. And not only does it show that you are committed it also proves you truly believe in your idea. If you don’t believe in your own idea enough to work on it full time, why should they?
So, think about your day to day life and be realistic about how committed you can and will be. If you put your mind into you will find the accelerator that is going to help you the most. AND can actually work with your life, even if it means joining an accelerator a bit later in your startup journey.
2. What kind of network do you want to build?
Accelerators are great at helping you grow your networks and be known where you need to be. But only if you choose an accelerator that makes it possible. Not all networks are made equal. If you go to an accelerator where you can grow a good-sized network, but of the wrong kind of contacts or in the wrong market, does it matter? No. You won’t really get anything out of it. At least when compared to if that network was filled with contacts that were actually relevant to your business.
Let’s say you are a fintech startup and big banks are your potential customers. Then a fintech accelerator that is done in collaboration with bank(s) is probably your best bet. But if you are a biotech startup, going to a bank accelerator will not the best choice for you. No matter how close it is to your home or how great the people behind accelerator are. Accelerator is great for you only if it helps achieve your goals.
So think: What is your industry? Are you a B2B or B2C startup. Where is your target market located? Who are the people, the influencers you need to reach? Can the accelerator give you direct contacts to your customers? Accelerators will not only help you create networks with your alumni but also with the key people in the industry, customers, investors, advisors and much more. That is why it is important to find the accelerator that matches your goals.
Ask yourself: which accelerator can connect you to the people and create the networks you need?
3. Your preferences & musts?
Every startup has different needs. After you have figured out your realistic level of commitment and what kind of networks you want to build, there are still many many things to consider. Things that are specific to your startup. Some of the key ones include:
What type of accelerator are you looking for? Do you want more hands on approach where you get help specifically for your startup? Or would you rather just hear tips from the ones who have already done it?
There are as many kinds of accelerators as there are accelerators. There really isn’t an official definition of an accelerator. That’s why the spectrum of different accelerators is also quite wide. When we talk about accelerators we mean intensive, time-limited coaching and business development programs that offer investments. Some accelerators offer investments, some don’t. Some accelerators emphasize building networks, some coaching, and more hands-on workshops. Figure out what would be most helpful for you.
Mentors & mentoring:
Different accelerators have different kind of people as their mentors. They even mean different things with the word mentor. Are the mentors they have relevant to you? Knowledgeable of your industry, issues you struggle with, do they have knowledge from your customers’ side?
And what does the accelerator mean by mentoring? Is the big name mentor going to give a lecture and a short Q&A or will he or she sit down with you to work on your startup? How important it is for you to have that one-on-one time with the mentors? What do you really want mentoring to be like?
Do you want to get help from them also after the accelerator program itself ends? If you do it might be better to go to one that invests in the startups in its programs. That is because they probably want to make sure their investment is doing well and are much keener on helping you, their investment, also after the program. Or would you rather just get the learnings during the accelerator and not be bothered with keeping in touch with it? Also, what does it really mean get help after the accelerator ends? How much effort is the accelerator willing to put into helping you after the program?
Do you need funding and how much? How much of your equity are you willing to give away? Do your numbers match with the accelerator’s? When thinking about the investment from the accelerator, you need to consider the overall package: for example, the coaching and other support in addition to the invested money.
Though remember that you should never do it just for the funding! It is not going to take you far, far from it. Though I am sure you are one of the smart ones and the thought didn’t even cross your mind ;)
4. Are you coachable?
I.e. are you ready to learn, accept others’ advice and in general, know you cannot know everything needed in this world. In short: your attitude.
If you already know everything, attending an accelerator might not be for you. I mean, accelerators are for learning, why would you go to one if you already know it all? You’re just going to waste your own and the accelerator people’s time. Though of course, if you do it to build a network then accelerator might still be worth your time (but are you worth the accelerator’s time, that’s a different story…).
Being coachable is also the very same thing investors are looking for. Nobody likes the know-it-alls that only want money, especially not investors.
TL;DR Do your research. Think what are your needs and what you can give, and apply to the the accelerator(s) that matches those. And remember: there is no one ‘best accelerator in the world’. It is different for everyone!
What are the ‘musts’ you are looking for in an accelerator? Share in the comments, we’d love to hear!